Read Part 1 of The US as Police State.
In part 1, I took a very brief look at the history of the United States from 1787 to around 1980 and found a history of government repression of citizens at varying levels of government: restrictions on voting, vote fraud, and slavery. Not to mention the genocide of the Native Americans at the hands of the US military.
So now I turn my attention to Ronald Reagan and the point where the “War on Drugs” actually became a war, and not mere prohibition. The drug war is meant to stamp out the “drug problem” in America. A problem that the government helped engineer in t he first place. As detailed in Gary Webb’s series of “Dark Alliance” articles for the San Jose Mercury News, and later a book by the same name, the C.I.A, with the explicit knowledge of the Reagan administration, supported Nicaraguan contras in their sale of cocaine to drug dealers in Los Angles starting around 1981. For more information, see Webb’s 1998 article for the Orange County Weekly, The Crack-Up.”
In his article “The CIA, Contras, Gangs, and Crack” William Blum quotes Webb saying the CIA’s drug network “opened the first pipeline between Colombia’s cocaine cartels and the black neighborhoods of Los Angeles, a city now known as the ‘crack’ capital of the world” and notes that “the huge influx of cocaine happened to come at just the time that street-level drug dealers were figuring out how to make cocaine affordable by changing it into crack.” Blum goes on to write “The foregoing discussion should not be regarded as any kind of historical aberration inasmuch as the CIA has had a long and virtually continuous involvement with drug trafficking since the end of World War II.” Blum then outlines this history. The article provides a quick overview, and I presume he goes into more detail in his book Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II.
“In my 30?year history in the Drug Enforcement Administration and related agencies, the major targets of my investigations almost invariably turned out to be working for the CIA.”
So the government, having spurred the “crack epidemic” and having trafficked drugs since at least WWII, instead of scaling back its own drug running operations expands it military empire to a new front: the homes of US citizens.
Radley Balko chronicles the increase in the use of paramilitary force for servicing drag warrants in his paper Overkill: the Rise of Paramilitary Raids in America. Balko writes:
The use of paramilitary police units began in Los Angeles in the 1960s. Through the 1970s, the idea slowly spilled out across the country. But at least until the 1980s, SWAT teams and other paramilitary units were used sparingly, only in volatile, high-risk situations such as bank robberies or hostage situations. Likewise, ‘no-knock’ raids were generally used only in situations where innocent lives were determined to be at imminent risk. America’s War on Drugs has spurred a significant rise in the number of such raids, to the point where in some jurisdictions drug warrants are only
served by SWAT teams or similar paramilitary units, and the overwhelming number of SWAT deployments are to execute drug warrants.
The Posse Comitatus Act, according to Wikipedia, “was intended to prohibit Federal troops from supervising elections in former Confederate states. It generally prohibits Federal military personnel and units of the United States National Guard under Federal authority from acting in a law enforcement capacity within the United States, except where expressly authorized by the Constitution or Congress. The Posse Comitatus Act and the Insurrection Act substantially limit the powers of the Federal government to use the military for law enforcement.”
In her 1999 paper “Warrior Cops: The Ominous Growth of Paramilitarism in American Police Departments” Diane Cecilia Weber notes a massive blow to the Posse Comitatus Act:
In 1981 Congress passed the Military Cooperation with Law Enforcement Officials Act. That law amended the Posse Comitatus Act insofar as it authorized the military to “assist” civilian police in the enforcement of drug laws. The act encouraged the military to (a) make available equipment, military bases, and research facilities to federal, state, and local police; (b) train and advise civilian police on the use of the equipment; and (c) assist law enforcement personnel in keeping drugs from entering the country. The act also authorized the military to share information acquired during military operations with civilian law enforcement agencies.
She goes on to list further erosion or violations of the act:
In 1986, President Reagan issued a National Security Decision Directive, which declared drugs a threat to U.S.
‘national security.’ The directive allowed for yet more cooperation between local, state, and federal law enforcement and
the military. ”
In 1988, Congress ordered the National Guard to assist state drug enforcement efforts. Because of this order, National
Guard troops today patrol for marijuana plants and assist in large-scale anti-drug operations in every state in the country.
In 1989, President Bush created a series of regional task forces within the Department of Defense, charged with facilitating
cooperation between the military and domestic police forces.
In 1994, the Department of Defense issued a memorandum authorizing the transfer of equipment and technology to
state and local police. The same year, Congress created a “reutilization program” to facilitate handing military gear
over to civilian police agencies.
She also notes: “In 1996 President Bill Clinton appointed a military commander, Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, to oversee enforcement of the federal drug laws as the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.”
By the time George W. Bush nullified the Posse Comitatus Act 2006 (see Wikipedia), it was as good as dead.
Balko goes on to detail how the movement of military equipment to local law enforcement agencies and federal funding incentives for drug enforcement encouraged expansion and deployment of SWAT team units.
In 1972, there were just a few hundred paramilitary drug raids per year in the United States. According to Kraska, by the early 1980s there were 3,000 annual SWAT deployments, by 1996 there were 30,000, and by 2001 there were 40,000.70 The average city police department deployed its paramilitary police unit about once a month in the early 1980s. By 1995, that number had risen to seven.
Balko explores the problems that the militarization of the police force has created at length in the rest of the paper. Overkill is excellent and illustrates just how far the War on Drugs has really gone.
According to Wikipedia: “Martial law is the system of rules that takes effect when the military takes control of the normal administration of justice. Usually martial law reduces some of the personal rights ordinarily granted to the citizen, limits the length of the trial processes, and prescribes more severe penalties than ordinary law.” The current system stops just short of trying drug offenders in military tribunals, but the mandatory sentencing laws (first signed into law by Reagan in 1986) implemented under the The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 constituted a significant change in the severity of sentencing and seized the power to sentence criminals from the judicial branch.
In conclusion: the US government helped create a social problem, and gradually implemented martial law to solve it. The need to formally declare martial law wasn’t necessary – in fact it would have been a hindrance.
Perhaps worst of all the utter failure the War on Drugs has actually been on solving the problem. Detailing why it’s been a failure and all the different ways it’s been a catastrophe for civil liberties is far beyond the scope of this article, but here are some further resources:
Drug Policy Alliance.
Families Against Mandatory Minimums.
The Cato Institute’s Drug War section.
This Foreign Policy magazine’s article on the drug war.
Radley Balko’s blog.
End part 2.