breonna taylor

Breonna Taylor and the Moral Bankruptcy of Drug Prohibition

She would still be alive if politicians did not insist on using violence to enforce their pharmacological prejudices.


Last Friday, three months after Louisville, Kentucky, police officers gunned down a 26-year-old EMT and aspiring nurse named Breonna Taylor during a fruitless drug raid, acting Police Chief Robert Schroeder initiated the termination of Detective Brett Hankison, who he said had "displayed an extreme indifference to the value of human life" when he "wantonly and blindly fired 10 rounds" into Taylor's apartment. But Hankison's recklessness is just one element of the circumstances that led to Taylor's senseless death, which never would have happened if politicians did not insist on using violence to enforce their pharmacological prejudices.

The March 13 shooting, which has figured prominently in recent protests against police brutality, followed a sadly familiar pattern. Hankison and two other plainclothes officers broke into Taylor's home around 12:40 a.m., awakening her and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, who mistook the armed invaders for robbers.

Walker grabbed a gun and fired a single shot, which hit one of the officers in the leg. The cops responded with a hail of more than 20 bullets, at least eight of which struck Taylor, who was unarmed. Several rounds entered a neighboring apartment, where a pregnant woman and her 5-year-old child were sleeping.

Walker, who called 911 that night to report a break-in, was initially charged with attempted murder of a police officer. Prosecutors dropped that charge last month.

This sort of operation is inherently dangerous because the same tactics that police use to catch their targets off guard, in the hope of preventing resistance, predictably lead to that very result as residents exercise their constitutional right to armed self-defense. That scenario has played out again and again in cities across the country for decades.

Although Hankison and his colleagues were serving a no-knock search warrant, they say they nevertheless announced themselves before breaking in the door with a battering ram—a claim that Walker and neighbors disputed. Even if the cops did identify themselves, that information could easily have been missed by terrified people awakened in the middle of the night—a reality that should temper expectations about what can be achieved by the ban on no-knock raids that the Louisville City Council unanimously approved this month.

Beyond the reckless tactics and wild shooting, there is the question of what the cops were doing there in the first place. Detective Joshua Jaynes obtained the search warrant for Taylor's apartment based purely on guilt by association, citing her contacts with a former boyfriend, Jamarcus Glover, who was arrested along with another suspect the same night for selling drugs from a house more than 10 miles away.

Taylor had no criminal record, and there was no evidence that she or Walker was involved in drug dealing. "There was clearly no probable cause to believe drugs were being dealt from her apartment, and no probable cause that Breonna or her boyfriend were doing anything illegal," says Daniel Klein, a former police sergeant who handled many drug investigations during his 20-year career in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Nor did Jaynes' affidavit cite any evidence specific to Taylor that would justify a no-knock warrant. USA Today reports that Jefferson County Circuit Judge Mary Shaw approved that warrant, along with four others involving Glover and his alleged drug-dealing partner, "within 12 minutes."

Taylor was black, while Jaynes and the three officers who invaded her home are white. Those facts, along with the disproportionate impact that the war on drugs has on African Americans, explain why the case has become a leading exhibit in complaints about racial disparities in law enforcement.

Yet the problem vividly illustrated by Taylor's death goes beyond race, as similar cases involving white victims and black police officers show. The problem is the attempt to forcibly prevent Americans from consuming arbitrarily proscribed intoxicants, which is fundamentally immoral because it sanctions violence as a response to peaceful conduct that violates no one's rights. That problem cannot be solved by tinkering at the edges of drug prohibition.

© Copyright 2020 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. 95% of the problem between the black community and cops could be solved by ending drug prohibition.

    1. I disagree. I think it’s only about 92%.

      1. The war on drugs is a phony war. Cops only go in black ghettos arresting free lancers, who do no bribe the authorities and therefore can undersell those who are bribing the authorities. Hence they have to be taken out.
        I live on a street that was drug central, black kids selling drugs up and down the entire street. Customers were all mostly white form the suburbs. The cops knew what was going on but claimed they could do nothing. One day two of the young pushers were killed, most likely because they witheld moneys from their bosses. They were killed to send a message to the other kids selling. With the media outraged, the cops posted a car on one end of the street and another at the other end. They were there for a week, they satisfied the media and left. As soon as they left the drug market was back in full business. The street has been selling drugs for two decades and the cops says they can’t do anything? Bull.
        I worked at at a couple of ad agency, they didn’t have to run to the hood to get drugs, it was delivered. Cops never raid suburbs were kids are geeked up every day in school.
        During prohibition, there was never a problem buying booze.
        The bootleggers paid off cops, judges and politicians. Al Capone was not charged with any smuggling, murder or making illegal moonshine. If tried to charge him on those crimes, they would have to expose all the local authorities who were getting bribed and looked the other way. Instead the Feds had to charge him with tax evasion. The drug war is no different, it is illegal so as to keep the prices up. If legalized, the stuff would be cheaper than lettuce and not worth selling.

    2. So, murderous young black males in Chicago would all become legit businessmen, join the Rotary, and promote a new pacifist utopia?

      1. This is the problem as I’ve seen it for decades. The illicit narcotics trade produces very few in the way of criminal types. What it does is capture a great many of the criminal types who already exist.

      2. Probably not. But it would kill their ability to fund their activities through the illicit drug trade. Ending the war on drugs would also stop a lot of young men from being swept up into the jail/prison system, which is where a lot of them get recruited and trained for worse crimes.

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    3. I think 95% is a trifle optimistic…but as low as 20% would be worth it.

  2. What I’ve gathered from any of the discussions regarding police is that there is always some contingency who can justify any law in the name of some abstract greater good, with incidences like Taylor’s being some unfortunate casualty to it.

    With maybe the libertarian-leaning Colorado being the exception, it is the best explanation as to why police reform has been all over the place with very little of substance being done.

    Even for Colorado, one of the justifications given for merely decriminalizing psilocybin was that the regulatory nightmare of legalization of marijuana just meant a different class of people were being thrown in jail for not having the proper forms.

    This is why we can’t have nice things.

    1. And that’s a good observation. If an intoxicated person commits any real offense then it should addressed by the law that governs all conduct. It’s not like there isn’t legal redress to account for harm that could result from problematic intoxication. We deal with alcohol consumption and it would little difference than that and probably less problematic than alcohol. Alcohol is about as bad as intoxication gets for purposes of problems for third parties.

      1. Talking about the scheduling of drugs is even more infuriating than talking about the war on drugs, in general. That marijuana is schedule 1, while cocaine is schedule 2 and alcohol isn’t even on the list tells you everything you need to know about how arbitrary that list is.

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    2. I may be wrong, but it is my strong impression that the vast majority of non-border-related problems between brown people and cops take place in areas controlled by Democrat administrations. These administrations may not actually LIKE the tension between police and minorities, but they certainly ACT as if they do; and it does tend to get them support from both sides.

  3. Is this piece from the upcoming issue of the magazine? I could have sworn I read this exact same article a few days back.

  4. Legalize ’em all and let god sort it out.

    1. This guy gets it.

  5. The supposed crime is irrelevant. The tactics used would be unacceptable if they thought a mass murderer was in the house. The real outrage isn’t the nonexistent drugs, it’s the midnight home invasion and shame on Reason for trying to drag the focus away from that to their preferred talking point about drug legalization.

    1. It’s all of it. It’s fucking disgusting the way they hunt down and sometimes murder but always kidnap and basically torture people over intoxication. It’s insanity almost like burning witches or hunting down jews. The conduct of these drug warriors types is even more barbaric in places like the Philippines or Saudi Arabia but they all mostly alike. You could take the language the Nazis used to dehumanize and describe jews it would fit with the language used by the drug warrior terrorists to describe people who use drugs. When you add that fact that some drugs like alcohol are perfectly legal it makes it even more apparently awful.

      1. Then there’s added insult that it doesn’t work. The murder, the terrorism, the mass incarceration and here we are with nothing to show for it. We’ve helped create drug cartels and the untold misery that comes with it. Will this madness ever fuckimg end? You makes a decent person almost want to find a drug warrior figure and crucify the mfer to show them that they are scum and subhuman.

    2. While it’s true that these tactics should be unacceptable regardless of the crime, it’s also true that historically they were started largely because of the “war” on drugs and true that the vast majority of the current abuses are in drug-related cases. Ending the drug war will not magically stop all police abuse but it would drop the volume by an awful lot. Maybe enough that other reforms might be realistic.

      1. I think people can reasonably argue that all, some, or no drugs should be legalized and various localities should be free to legislate on that as they see fit. But trying to push legalization with this case is blatantly trying to ride the coattails of the current anti-police brutality outrage, which may I remind you has been started and inflamed by two cases that had nothing to do with the drug war. Overuse of force in policing is a problem that extends beyond the drug war and is largely unrelated to it. It’s just that some of its most egregious examples are found in that war because the public largely doesn’t care what happens to junkies.

        1. The Breonna Taylor case has everything to do with the drug war. Are you referring to different cases starting the anti-police outrage? This one is certainly part of the outrage.

        2. “I think people can reasonably argue that all, some, or no drugs should be legalized”
          No, they can’t. Drug prohibition is fundamentally evil and the people who argue in favor of it are either unethical or incompetent.

          1. Why not both?

  6. What if any consequences will the judge face? Want to see this stuff end fast give them some for not researching the alleged reason for the warrant being issued and if the person in question even lives at this address. How many deaths have happened because the address in the warrant was not even the residence of the suspect? This Mary Shaw took 12 minutes to approve a no knock warrant, what if any questions did she ask or did she just rubber stamp it?

    1. Not to nitpick, but to further add to the absurdity the article seems to imply that in addition to the 1 for Breonna Taylor’s residence 4 additional warrants, 5 total, were approved in less than 12 minutes.

  7. Make drugs not only legal but free. Within 90 days those who can’t control themselves would be gone.

    And no, I don’t give a shit about “humanity”.

  8. So the boyfriend shoots the intruder in the leg and Ms Taylor gets shot 20 times? Did they just miss him all 20 shots? That’s some bad shooting.


    1. maybe they got those NYPD glocks with the 40 lb triggers

  9. She would still be alive if politicians did not insist on using violence to enforce their pharmacological prejudices.

    The idea that drugs should be legal because the belief that they are harmful is a prejudice is absurd. Drugs are clearly harmful in and of themselves. Denying that simple fact is a political strategy to get them legalized, same way as the fiction that there is systemic racism in the US. Both are, of course, ideas that Reason keeps paying lip service to.

    From a libertarian point of view, drugs should be legal since people have a right to destroy themselves any way they want; the inevitable problems that arise from drug use should be taken care of by private means: charity and discrimination.

    1. I take your point, but your statement is essentially the inverse of what you say Reason’s statement is, and just as logically flawed. You say ‘drugs are clearly harmful in and of themselves.’ I say ‘which ones and in what dosage? Who’s using them, and what for?’ The usage case must be taken into consideration. For example, take morphine:

      1. A doctor uses it to treat your 3rd degree burns and prevent you from going into shock.
      2. A doctor uses an overdose to euthanize a (willing? Uncommunicative but long-suffering?) human patient.
      3. An addict uses clean needles and never steals to fund their habit, but injects morphine for decades with no serious health effects.
      4. An addict mugs old ladies to support their habit, and shares dirty needles for decades.

      Which is ‘good’ and which is ‘bad?’ The morphine doesn’t care because in every case, the morphine does the same thing from a pharmacological standpoint. It’s only the human behavior that is considered ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ In that way, drugs are very much like guns – they are inanimate objects, neither good nor inherently bad. But they can certainly be used for good, bad…or, if you’re smart, not at all (or at least not abused.)

      Now, of course there are different degrees of abuse liability, but even that is not settled science. Some people are prone to addiction and others are not, and this varies with age and environment.

      At any rate, the drug scheduling powers the government granted themselves don’t reflect science or even reality. As another commenter pointed out above, non-addictive LSD is classified with Heroin in Schedule I as having NO medical use. Both are rated above drugs like Fentanyl (+-50x stronger than Heroin), with horribly addictive drugs with potentially lethal withdrawal syndromes like Alprazolam in Schedule IV. The most widely abused and harmful drug – alcohol – isn’t even scheduled (because our forebears realized Prohibition did way more harm than good!)

      1. Which is ‘good’ and which is ‘bad?’

        I didn’t make a statement about “good vs bad”, I made a statement about harm and risk. Something that is harmful or risky isn’t inherently good or bad.

        I say ‘which ones and in what dosage? Who’s using them, and what for?’ The usage case must be taken into consideration.

        Morphine always carries harm and it always carries a risk of addiction, no exception. That’s true for most of the illegal recreational drugs.

        In that way, drugs are very much like guns – they are inanimate objects, neither good nor inherently bad.

        Both guns and recreational drugs cause harm when used, which is why people want to ban them. You are foolish if you think you can convince people who favor drug prohibition by simply pretending that drugs do not cause harm.

        At any rate, the drug scheduling powers the government granted themselves

        You’re not going to change people’s minds on drug prohibition by starting by questioning the legitimacy of our democratic institutions and processes.

        I’d like to see recreational drugs fully legalized. The biggest obstacle to that is people like you.

    2. “Denying that simple fact is a political strategy to get them legalized, same way as the fiction that there is systemic racism in the US. Both are, of course, ideas that Reason keeps paying lip service to.”

      Oh, yeah? So what’s the problem? If it helps the libertarian agenda why should I give a fuck? Don’t be a chump, Mark.

      1. Bad arguments don’t help the “libertarian agenda” because both conservatives and progressives destroy such arguments immediately and just make all libertarians look like fools by association.

  10. I’ve always been against the war on drugs (despite never actually using an illegal drug). But a few years ago I decided that the war on drugs is the single greatest systemic injustice of our time. It will go down as the worst thing our country has done to its citizens since Jim Crow. Future generations will look back on this period and wonder what the hell we were smoking to think that the war on drugs was a good idea. Hopefully they will also look at how long it is taking for us to kill the war on drugs before they decide to engage in a similar folly.

    1. But a few years ago I decided that the war on drugs is the single greatest systemic injustice of our time.

      I don’t see how laws against a voluntary, self-destructive, unnecessary recreational activity rises to the level of “greatest systemic injustice of our time”. You can easily avoid running afoul of those laws: don’t take drugs.

      1. I’m rolling a J in your honor. I’ll smoke it to help commemorate what might be the worst take I’ve ever read. Seriously, why are you even on a libertarian site if that’s your opinion?

        1. As a libertarian, I’d like to see drugs legalized. But if drug legalization is at the top of your list of libertarian issues, ahead of state violence, ahead of state theft, ahead of all the other crap the state forces on people, your priorities are screwed up.

          1. Much of that state violence and nearly all the theft through asset forfeiture developed from the war on some drugs.

            1. Much of that state violence and nearly all the theft through asset forfeiture developed from the war on some drugs.

              So the only state violence you recognize is police brutality and asset forfeiture? How about the US military killing people abroad and the state taking half of our earnings in taxes?

              It’s no wonder that people laugh at libertarianism when people like you hold such patently absurd views.

      2. See? His step-daddy distributed “Don’t be a Jew” pamphlets in 1942, and Wallace flyers in 1968. Conservatives never change. Libertarian spoiler votes can, however, change their collectivist platforms…

        1. As a matter of fact, my parents nearly died under the Nazis.

          And you’re a textbook example of someone who has his priorities screwed up: you care more about the state telling you not to tell drugs than you care about state sponsored murder and theft.

      3. Last check still has heart disease as the number one cause of death.

        When the police are monitoring your ingestion of double-bacon cheeseburgers, or there is a nationwide monitoring of how much pork you’ve purchased, well talk.

        Fun fact- per the FDA in the 70s, if they had a better idea of the effects of caffeine, it would have been a scheduled drug.

        That would have gone over well.

      4. When we treat drug abuse solely as a medical issue and remove all criminality out of it, then we’ll go that route. Right now innocent people are dying over “war on drugs” tactics. We’re nuking mosquitoes. And any talk about “collateral damage” or “breaking eggs to make omelets” is only adding insult to injury. One person caught in the crossfire of cops trying to shoot alleged drug dealers is one too many.

        1. I am for legalizing drugs. I simply object to the statement that the war on drugs is the “greatest systemic injustice of our time”. Do you seriously want to claim that prohibition of a dangerous activity rises to the level of killing thousands of people in wars? To government sanctioned theft of half of our GDP?

          When we treat drug abuse solely as a medical issue

          You have swallowed progressive b.s. hook line and sinker. Although medicine can help drug abusers, drug addicts still have free will and make a free choice every time they take drugs.

      5. Millions imprisoned. Tens of thousands dead (hundreds of thousands if you count Central and South Americans). Police theft (civil asset forfeiture and abuse (planting drugs on suspects) run rampant. Before there was a war on terror, the war on drugs was the prime excuse for invading everyone’s privacy with dubious warrants, no-knock raids, wire tapping and surveillance. Oh wait, it’s still the prime excuse. Enabling black markets that fund gang activity.

        And all of that… for nothing. Everyone still has easy access to drugs. Tens of millions of Americans use illegal drugs every year. The government can’t even keep drugs out of its own prisons! Even if you consider the goal to be a good one you can’t deny that the war has failed and only made things orders of magnitude worse.

        1. Forgot to mention how much of the war on drugs was specifically designed by the government to target black communities, from making marijuana schedule 1 to distributing crack.

          1. Forgot to mention how much of the war on drugs was specifically designed by the government to target black communities, from making marijuana schedule 1 to distributing crack.

            Yes, and you also forgot to mention that black politicians supported and even pushed for this, because they thought that getting drugs and drug dealers out of their neighborhoods was a good thing.

            That is, contrary to what you are implying, this wasn’t some white supremacist plot to send millions of blacks to prison, it was a progressive attempt to help blacks. And crack use has indeed gone down substantially.

            As a libertarian, I’d like to see the war on drugs ended, but unlike you, I don’t pretend to know what the consequences will be, nor have I bought into the progressive fairy tales that you keep repeating.

            1. “You want to know what this was really all about?” he asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news.” – John Ehrlichman, Chief Advisor on Domestic Policy to President Richard Nixon

              1. Bullshit:

                The 1994 alleged ‘quote’ we saw repeated in social media for the first time today does not square with what we know of our father…We do not subscribe to the alleged racist point of view that this writer now implies 22 years following the so-called interview of John and 16 years following our father’s death, when dad can no longer respond.

                And even if it were true, it wouldn’t change the fact that black voters and black leaders championed tough drug law enforcement. It’s not difficult to understand why either: their communities were being destroyed by drugs.

        2. I wasn’t defending the war on drugs. I was saying that calling the war on drugs the “greatest systemic injustice of our time” is absurd. Yes, millions are in prison because of the war on drugs, but they actually are there because they made a choice to violate the law. Many people hurt or killed by US government have no choice whatsoever. I’d say that constitutes a greater injustice.

          It is also incorrect to assume that those millions wouldn’t be in prison without the war on drugs. Many of them would likely be in prison or government institution for other reasons without the war on drugs.

          You don’t need to convince me that we should end the war on drugs: I’m already convinced. But your arguments and the arguments in the article are absurd, irrational, and most of all, politically unconvincing to the people whose minds we need to change in order to make progress.

          If you’re serious about ending the war on drugs rather than wallowing in self-righteous indignation over the supposed misdeeds of other libertarians, you need to improve your arguments.

      6. That didn’t work for Breonna.

  11. the drug issues aside this was a bad warrant which puts the blame directly on the police. Drug war or not you will still have bad cops doing bad things.

  12. Sullum misses the mark completely. Before Herb Hoover was even sworn in Chicago cops in uniform jumped out of a cop car and machine-gunned 5 people, and the klepto-media blamed it on Al Capone over in Florida. Henry Virkula was murdered by a Customs ambush in front of his wife and kids… Thousands of such dry dry killings made no impression. But when prosecutor Mabel Willebrandt got the supreme court to trash the Bill of Rights for the Prohibition and income tax, then quit and in August-Sept 1929 explained to the American people how prohibition meant tax forfeitures and confiscated cars, homes and savings money moved from banks to hoarding, the banking system collapsed, and a third-party repeal plank won the next five elections.

  13. How many times has this story’s equivalent been written?

    1. Not enough. Not enough by far.
      It has to be written, published, read, understood, taken to heart, and used to motivate action.
      End the Drug War.

      1. Yes, we should end the drug war.

        But bullshit articles like this will be politically ineffective in making that come about, no matter how often you repeat it.

  14. As someone who cares about civil liberties, ending the War On Drugs is, to me, one of the most obvious ways, probably THE most effective way, to reduce the interactions and impact that the State and police have on black men. So, if all these protests are about George Floyd and police abuse, you’d think that ending drug prohibition (which is blatantly unconstitutional) would be a high priority of the groups protesting. It is not. I can’t be sure why, but I have an idea; most of these protesters, especially now that we’ve gotten further out from George Floyd’s death, are neo-Marxists and other aspiring revolutionaries. While they may talk of individual rights, almost all of them believe in bigger, more robust government, they just don’t want that to include police. The problem, for them, with ending the War On Drugs is that, fundamentally, one has to embrace ideas of individuality and self-determination; one must reject the State’s claimed authority over its citizens’ bodies, commerce, and movement.

    Groups like BLM are collectivists who largely do not value the individual over the group. To reject the idea of the War On Drugs, as a function of government, is to admit that the government should not be ubiquitous in the lives of the people. They don’t agree with that, they want the State and the government to be present and engaged in the lives of citizens, just not in the way that it’s currently being used. They don’t have any interest in challenging the philosophical authority of the State. This is a struggle for control of the levers of government, not a struggle to destroy the levers themselves. Like almost all movements that claim to be about the people, it is about power.

  15. She wasn’t well-served by her boyfriend’s exercise of his Second Amendment rights here either.

  16. When Eric Garner was choked to death for selling single cigarettes, untaxed, George Will wrote a column pointing out how he’d still be alive if government weren’t being such a nanny state, and were simultaneously not so voracious for cash that they wouldn’t feel a need for such vigorous enforcement of tax delinquents.

    It didn’t go down so well with the left.

  17. The War on Drugs is the largest coordinated government program on the planet. It touches on every aspect of our lives and has turned the entire planet into a modern day equivalent of prohibition era Chicago. Its toxic stew of propaganda has confused the worlds population into accepting extrajudicial murder as neccessary to keep the public safe from the pusherman. My pusherman serves me tea and homemade scones while we watch the hummingbirds at the feeder on his deck. Somebody better do a life-ending wellness check on him fast…for the childrens sake.

    1. The War on Drugs is the largest coordinated government program on the planet. It touches on every aspect of our lives and has turned the entire planet into a modern day equivalent of prohibition era Chicago.

      Most of the planet is run by socialists or dictators, people are forced to serve in armies to kill and be killed by the hundreds of thousands, government-sanctioned pollution and environmental destruction kill millions each year, regulations and taxes steal half of everybody’s income, and you seriously want to claim that the War on Drugs is a serious problem in comparison? You need to check your priorities.

      The vast majority of Americans don’t take drugs and simply don’t care about drug legalization as an issue. That’s who you need to target your arguments to if you want to see change.

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