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Extreme and More Extreme 1/28/05

David Borden, Executive Director, borden@drcnet.org

Last week, members of a drug task force in Niagara Falls in upstate New York caused severe injury to an innocent bystander in the process of conducting a drug raid. Someone had the bright idea of using a "flash bang grenade" to distract possibly armed suspects and reduce the risk of injury to the police officers. It caught fire, and a woman living in the house, who was not a suspect, was hospitalized with second and third degree burns. Members of the community are troubled by the extremity of the task force's tactics, and the police are deservedly on the hot seat.

Peter Christ, a retired police captain from nearby Tonawanda and a leader of the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, told the Buffalo News, "These are like military devices. When you use it, you're putting people in danger." Without judging the specific situation absent all the facts, Christ offered an analysis of why extreme tactics such as use dangerous pyrotechnic devices like the flash grenades have become so routine. "The reason people accept the use of devices like this is our society's lack of respect for the people who are being arrested. They're just 'drug dealers' or 'drug addicts.'" And the innocent get caught in the crossfire, too.

At least Niagara's police didn't intend to hurt anyone, or so one presumes. On the other side of the world, death squads are massacring supposed drug offenders in a wave of extrajudicial vigilante killings, with the outward approval of the nation's president and likely collusion by a popular mayor. Doubtless the same kind of attitude is at work, though in a much more extreme way -- they're just "drug dealers" or "drug addicts," they're criminals, not good enough to even take to trial, just kill them off and clean up the streets.

That is troubling enough. What is doubly troubling is the US government's recent decision to enter into collaboration with Filipino anti-drug police and military agencies in the very same region. Will US drug agents and military serviceman, employed with US taxpayer dollars, indirectly participate and subsidize one of the worst manifestations of human barbarism, death squads? Is our government truly willing to not merely overlook mass government-sanctioned and sponsored murder, but to closely work with the very people in the very places who work with and support the murderers?

Evidently yes. And that is abhorrent. How best to engage foreign governments and leverage our relations to promote human rights is a complex issue, an issue on which reasonable people can reasonably come to different conclusions as to what they feel is the best course to take. But there is no possible benefit to human rights from linking our own drug enforcement bureaucracies so closely to known death squad activity. If our government won't stand up to that evil, at least it should not reward it with cooperation -- certainly not in drug enforcement, which decades of experience proves does not work. This is not an issue where it can be argued that one evil should be tolerated for a greater good.

Unfortunately, there will be more outrages before they stop. Let outraged voices ring loud and clear around the globe.


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