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by Peter Moskos

June 25, 2015

The Futility of the War on Drugs

Given the recent discussion started by Michael Wood, Jr. this last excerpt from Cop in the Hood couldn't come at a better time:
It may seem incongruous for police officers to see the futility of drug enforcement and simultaneously promote increased drug enforcement. But for many, the drug war is a moral issue and retreat would “send the wrong message”:

“It’s a crusade for me. My brother and a cousin died from heroin overdoses. I know that on some level it’s a choice they made. But there was also a dealer pushing it on them. I want to go out and get these drug dealers.”

Another officer was more explicit: “You’ve got to see it [drugs] as evil. What do you think? It’s good? When we’re out there, risking our lives, we’re on the side of good. Drugs are evil. It’s either that or seeing half the people in the Eastern [District] as being evil. I like to think that I’m helping good people fight evil. That’s what I’d like to think.”
The attitudes of police and criminal are largely controlled by a desire to protect their turf while avoiding unnecessary interactions. On each call for service, drug dealers generally do not wish to provoke the police and most police officers are not looking for adventure. At night, curfew violations can be enforced on minors. Open containers can be cited. People can be arrested for some minor charge. But arrests take officers off the street and leave the drug corner largely unpoliced while the prisoner is booked. Nothing police officers do will disrupt the drug trade longer than it takes drug dealers to walk around the block and recongregate. One officer expressed this dilemma well: “We can’t do anything. Drugs were here before I was born and they’re going to be here after I die. All they pay us to do is herd junkies.”

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