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Enforcing the drug laws they oppose

(Via The November Coalition listserv.)

The Manchester Union Leader recently ran a feature on LEAP. In particular, the article is on members of leap who are currently active police officers, like Bradley Jardis of Epping, New Hampshire. The article is called Opposing the drug laws they enforce:

When he’s working, Epping Police Officer Bradley Jardis is just like any other cop.

He’s patrolling the streets to catch people with drugs because that’s what he’s supposed to do.

But when he’s off the clock, this 28-year-old officer is speaking publicly about why he believes existing drug policies have failed and why it’s time for lawmakers to legalize drugs.

It’s an unusual position to take for a police officer charged with enforcing laws, but Jardis insists that prohibiting drugs leaves the dealers in control, creating a dangerous black market that breeds crime and gives kids easy access.

Jardis believes drugs should be regulated by the government just like alcohol. We treat alcoholism as a public health problem, but we treat drug addiction as a criminal problem, and that’s wrong, he said.

And he’s not the only officer who feels this way.

Jardis, of Hooksett, is among a growing number of current and former New Hampshire law enforcement officers and others in criminal justice who have joined a Massachusetts-based nonprofit organization called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, or LEAP.

Rick Van Wickler, superintendent of the Cheshire County Department of Corrections, joined LEAP in late 2007, and Ron White, superintendent of the Merrimack County Department of Corrections, came aboard about a month ago.

LEAP’s membership in New Hampshire has now grown to 132, with as many as 20 new members joining in the past three months, according to Tom Angell, the group’s media relations director.

LEAP, which began in 2002 with five founding members, now has more than 11,000 members in 90 countries.

— Jason Schreiber, Manchester Union Leader (2009-02-21): Opposing the drug laws they enforce

The story is presented as a policy debate between cops in LEAP and other cops who support drug prohibition. As such, it’s fairly boring, and not especially insightful or well informed. (Did you know that if drugs are legal then people will completely disregard any medical advice or personal judgment about the harms of drug abuse? On the contrary, sir! Prohibition makes drugs more dangerous! And blah, blah, blah.) But what’s far more interesting to me is the theme that keeps recurring in the story without ever being remarked on. This is not just a story about a policy debate among cops; it’s also a story about individual conscience, and about the fact that the supposedly anti-Prohibition Law Enforcement types who the story profiles apparently have no problem continuing to lock harmless drug users in cages, and to rigidly enforce the laws that they themselves publicly admit to be foolish and destructive. The story is called Opposing the drug laws they enforce; but of course it could just as easily have been called Enforcing the drug laws they oppose:

When he’s working, Epping Police Officer Bradley Jardis is just like any other cop.

He’s patrolling the streets to catch people with drugs because that’s what he’s supposed to do.

But when he’s off the clock, this 28-year-old officer is speaking publicly about why he believes existing drug policies have failed and why it’s time for lawmakers to legalize drugs.

. . .

As they try to spread their message, Jardis, White and Van Wickler say they’re careful not to promote LEAP while they’re on the job. Jardis said he never lets his views prevent him from enforcing the current drug laws when he’s at work.

. . .

Too many young people also are being locked up and branded as criminals, in some cases caught for the first time with marijuana or another drug, Jardis said. A conviction for making a poor choice then follows that person forever, he said, jeopardizing student loans and other aspects of their lives.

But Epping Police Officer Bradley Jardis has no problem locking those young people up and branding them as criminals and ensuring that they will be followed and ruined forever by their nonviolent recreational drug use, when he’s on the clock. Orders, you know.

A lot of us in the movement against the Drug War have spent the past several years giving LEAP all kinds of special prestige — for much the same reason that a lot of us in the movement against the U.S. government’s foreign wars have given all kinds of special prestige to retired generals, and to groups like Iraq Veterans Against the War, and to just about anyone who, regardless of their own personal qualities as an activist or analyst, can flash some sort of notable personal or family connection to the military. The idea is that these people enjoy some kind of automatic credibility precisely because of their position within the system of state power. We are supposed to be especially thankful for these sorts of allies. But whatever personal convictions Bradley Jardis and his fellow LEAPers may hold, the fact remains that they have deliberately decided to subordinate those convictions to the admittedly stupid and destructive requirements of The Law while they are on the clock; while I’m glad that Bradley Jardis and his fellow LEAPers are intellectually opposed to the Drug War — it’s not like I’d rather they were for it — the fact is that I’d rather have some good honest corruption. Ideally, of course, what you would hope for is cops who might intellectually oppose the drug laws and also refuse to enforce them; but if I have to pick one, I much prefer cops who don’t vocally oppose drug laws but do fail to enforce them, rather than cops who talk up their opposition to drug laws while meticulously enforcing them anyway. The latter sort of cop may talk a good talk and give a good press conference; but then the former sort of cop isn’t locking innocent people in cages for years at a time.

I’m just sayin’.

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9 replies to Enforcing the drug laws they oppose Use a feed to Follow replies to this article

  1. Zargon

    The problem is that those officers in LEAP view the drug war as a tactical failure, rather than a moral failure. If they believed it was a moral failure, they would necessarily have to notice that they’re the gun toting thugs carrying out the evil of the drug war.

    But instead they believe it’s merely a tactical failure, and that allows them to believe themselves merely employees following a flawed business plan, nothing more, and nothing less.

    That subtle distinction makes all the difference. The drug war has no chance of ending unless people realize the drug war is wrong for moral reasons, because people will endure consistent and brutal tactical failures if they believe the goal to be right and just. For that reason, LEAP is, at best, worthless, and at worst, highly damaging to the goal of ending the drug war.

  2. LEAP Guy

    Seriously,

    You guys rant and rave, purely sporting your snarky comments as righteous.

    Really???

    Look, law enforcement deals with much more than just stoners and tweakers.

    The officer quoted has put himself out there to state the utter failure of the WoD, but really, do you expect him to publicly state that he fails to enforce the drug laws that he is paid to ALSO enforce…

    The contract between him and the comonwealth does not include any verbage to forego enforcement of laws he thinks are stupid…

    I am willing to venture a guess that HIS drug busts number almost nil compared to the typical straight laced G-man wannabe local cop racks up. Of course, if some moron is sparking a bowl in front of city hall, I guess he had it comming…

    Trust me, I’m in law enforcement. Many of the guys try to rack up numbers… some of us focus on the serious threats to society like the heavy duty crimes…

    Give me a break with the righteousness…

  3. Rad Geek

    LEAP Guy,

    If you do your best only to use force against violent criminals or other people who are genuinely threatening the person or property of innocent people, then I’m glad. Good for you. I’m also glad that Bradley Jardis has come out publicly against drug prohibition. Good for him. Certainly I’d rather that he made statements for decriminalization than that he remained silent, or that he made statements against it.

    But when words conflict with deeds, the question is which of the two is more important. This is, after all, not just an abstract policy debate; the lives and livelihoods of my friends are on the line here. While I appreciate gestures, even purely verbal gestures, against the government’s attempts to investigate, arrest, and imprison my friends, I don’t see that you’ve given me any reason to consider that more important than actually refusing to attack my friends at the behest of the government. The reason that the verbal gestures are valuable in the first place, if they are valuable at all, is only because they might one day contribute to ending the attacks. If one has to choose between the two, the latter is the real goal and is always more important.

    If there’s no way for Bradley Jardis to keep his job except to roust harmless people up, chain them and throw them into cages, all for the sake of an admittedly irrational war against a victimless crime, so-called, which Bradley Jardis thinks ought not even to be treated as a crime — if, I say, that’s the only way for Bradley Jardis to keep his job, then Bradley Jardis ought to quit his job. If a police had no choice but to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act in order to keep his job, he ought to have quit before he enforced that abomination. If a police had no choice but to enforce the Jim Crow segregation laws in Alabama in order to keep his job, he ought to have quit before he enforced those travesties of justice. There is no justice in enforcing an unjust law, and a contract that would require you to hurt or imprison an innocent victim is a contract that no man can ever be bound to honor. There is no command which is higher than the individual conscience.

  4. tp

    @RadGeek, your philosophical purity is admirable, but this is definitely a case where you’re making the perfect the enemy of the good. Would a stateless society in which all individuals were free to act and interact peacefully be better than the current status quo? Of course? Would it be better than a minarchist state where some elements of collectivized coercion existed? Yes, but you’re not likely to get from the current state of affairs to your ideal in one fell swoop. And alienating allies like LEAP because they aren’t pure enough or don’t have the same philosophical understanding/conviction as you will only serve to divide folks who share some of your interests and are working towards some of the same goals. You say that you and your friends lives and livelihoods are at stake. So what? They always will be until your ideal society is realized. I’d much rather face an agent of the state who opposed some of the same senseless laws that I do than one who gets his jollies off busting heads. I’d like to see every law enforcement officer in North America become a member. Imagine how many fewer senseless arrests we’d see and the greater ability of a majority-LEAP force to refuse to arrest people for victimless crimes. To me, that is a tremendous step in the right direction and to complain about someone who is helping, even if it’s not as much as you like, is a step backwards for the cause of freedom.

    Perhaps the officer spoke the way he did because he knew his superiors were reading? I know you’d probably call him a coward for that, but I’d say it was a necessary and noble lie to continue to do the good work he’s doing with the patina of respect (regardless of how unjustified it may be) that even you admit most people in society view law enforcement through. The differences that characterize individuals evidence themselves in our conceptions of reality as well as how we agitate for progress. You seem to condemn anyone who is not as radical as you as a traitor to liberty. In the end, though, they may be the only allies you have and the only way towards a more free world.

  5. Rad Geek

    tp,

    I’d much rather face an agent of the state who opposed some of the same senseless laws that I do than one who gets his jollies off busting heads.

    That’s fine, but what has it got to do with my argument? I didn’t say that LEAPers are worse than ordinary sado-statist cops. What I said is that so-called corrupt cops who choose not to arrest drug users or drug dealers are better allies than cops who verbally oppose drug laws off the clock but diligently enforce them while on the clock, because choosing not to lock innocent drug users in cages when you have the chance to do so is more important than purely intellectual opposition to the drug war. (As a side note, I find it interesting that when I insist on the importance of deeds with concrete effect over a purely philosophical opposition to the drug war, and when I say that I prefer, as allies, people who may not have any ideological position on the Drug War at all, but may be motivated entirely by concerns of personal loyalty or monetary gain, to people who agree with me on an intellectual level but happen to be actively engaged in imprisoning innocent people — that I am then accused, of all things, of chasing after an unrealistic standard of philosophical purity. Ha, ha.)

    Secondly, after I said that I think that corrupt cops are more valuable allies than intellectually anti-Prohibition cops, I also said that LEAP doesn’t deserve the special prestige that it has been granted by people in the anti-Drug War movement. The reason they don’t deserve it is because many of them are actively involved in fighting the Drug War. I’m certainly not about to gainsay their case against the War on Drugs — they’re generally right about that, although what they have to say on the matter is neither particularly new, nor especially insightful or well-informed, nor said with any greater eloquence than any number of other people in the drug law reform and drug law repeal movements. But I certainly am not going to waste my time praising or congratulating LEAP or acting as if they contributed anything of special importance to the movement to repeal drug laws, when they spend as much or more time actively working against our goals by personally involving themselves in arresting and imprisoning drug users as they do promoting them.

    For reference, this has something to do with the fact that I don’t believe in investing a lot in ideological alliances where your allies plan to turn around and jail or shoot you at the end. Let alone alliances where your allies are ready to turn around and jail or shoot you right now, if the requirements of the service demand it. You might call that dogmatic purism; I call it pragmatism.

    To me, that is a tremendous step in the right direction and to complain about someone who is helping, even if it’s not as much as you like

    The problem isn’t that he’s not helping as much as I’d like. The problem is that, if he’s telling the truth about what he does for a living, then he’s actively doing harm.

    Perhaps the officer spoke the way he did because he knew his superiors were reading?

    Perhaps he did. If so, good for him. Of course I considered that; but also, of course, I only have his public record to go on. I have no access to what he did in private. And if he is protecting nonviolent drug users from arrest and dissembling about it, then good for him, but the point under discussion remains, both because of the way he presents himself, and also because of the fact that there are surely at least some members of LEAP who are not doing the same.

    I know you’d probably call him a coward for that,

    No, I wouldn’t. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with lying to the police in order to protect the innocent.

    You seem to condemn anyone who is not as radical as you as a traitor to liberty.

    I don’t consider LEAPers who actively enforce drug laws to be traitors to liberty. I consider them to be open enemies. You can’t be a traitor to something you never adhered to in the first place, and it’s not like they’re pretending that they would do anything to protect individual rights in defiance of unjust laws.

    And alienating allies like LEAP because they aren’t pure enough or don’t have the same philosophical understanding/conviction as you will only serve to divide folks who share some of your interests and are working towards some of the same goals.

    Oh, please.

    I think you’re overestimating my influence, if you think LEAP cares one bit what I think of them. In any case, they are all big boys, and if hurt feelings would really prevent them from advocating for what they think is right then I would doubt their practical usefulness as political allies in the first place.

    I also think that, even if I did have enough influence that there might be some risk of alienating allies like LEAP by my statements, then you need to provide some justification for the notion that the only way to form a productive working relationship with people who share a few of your political interests is to never move the conversation past those few points on which you agree with them. You seem to be relying on this in order to make your argument, but I think its not at all obvious. In fact, I think it’s profoundly mistaken. I think that operating on the presumption that dividing a movement is always bad is a sure way to get unwieldy, muddle-headed, and ultimately ineffectual movements. And that operating on the presumption that people can never learn through, or be motivated by, earnest criticism or by being held to a higher standard than they’re accustomed to, is a sure way to replace serious politics with flattery, appeasement, and blind partisanship.

  6. Jeremy

    I think Rad Geek is right on here. But it goes without saying that law enforcement professionals disagree with us on fundamental points, does it not?

    Rad Geek’s argument really applies to all people who make their livelihood off of the established order. These people are not radicals. They cannot be. They should not be expected to be radical allies.

    LEAP consists of reformists – people who want to preserve the efficacy of government through changing its policy. They should be treated as such: tactical allies, ideological foes. Nothing wrong with working with diverse groups to get your agenda realized – but cooperation does not imply approval, either on LEAP’s end or on ours.

    All that said, I find it silly to denounce law enforcement professionals on moral grounds. I really do. But Rad Geek and I disagree on moralism as a workable concept, so I’d rather not belabor it.

  7. Rad Geek

    Jeremy,

    But it goes without saying that law enforcement professionals disagree with us on fundamental points, does it not?

    Sure. But while that may go without saying, I do think that there’s something worthy of note in the fact that, in spite of those fundamental disagreements, a lot of people in the anti-prohibition movement have done their absolute best to promote LEAP as an especially credible voice on the drug war, and to flatter its members as especially important activists. I think neither of these is true, and I think it’s sad to see people falling all over themselves to praise such compromised allies — thus pandering to, and effectively reinforcing, the idiot notion that a cop’s ideas about crime are somehow (just as such) more credible and more worth taking seriously than a civilian’s. I think that’s sad, for the same reasons that I think it’s sad how so many of us in the movement against the Iraq War were falling all over ourselves back around 2003 to reprint and publicize the complaints of a bunch of retired Army generals, whose main complaint was not that the war on Iraq would kill tens or hundreds of thousands of innocent people, but rather that Bush wasn’t sending enough tanks), or to reprint and publicize the complaints of disaffected security creeps like Richard Clarke.

    They should be treated as such: tactical allies, ideological foes

    Well, that depends on the situation, doesn’t it? Part of my point is that when Bradley Jardis is on the clock, he’s not a tactical ally at all; he’s an avowed enemy. Corrupt cops who actively aid and abet nonviolent drug criminals are our actual tactical allies, even if they don’t agree with us ideologically (or don’t care) about the drug war.

    All that said, I find it silly to denounce law enforcement professionals on moral grounds.

    Well, whatevs. But you may notice that my point in bringing up the moral issue simply is mainly to point out that practically speaking, LEAPers may not be the most effective or reliable allies. Not because anyone who is not acting morally is therefore unreliable, but rather because of the particular form of immorality (subordinating individual conscience to the arbitrary requirements of The Law) involved here. A corrupt cop often does far more for the cause of freedom, even if her motives have nothing whatever to do with universal moral concerns, but are driven entirely by personal loyalty or material self-interest.

  8. GA attorney

    An interesting debate…seems that the LEAP folks cannot get a break from anyone. Those who want to strictly enforce the laws dislike LEAP, and those who want to actively engage in breaking drug laws don’t like LEAP.

    Personally, there is nothing wrong from my point of view with how Officer Jardis conducts himself. He may enjoy 95% of police work, and not like enforcing drug laws. I think any person would accept that there are parts of his or her job that are disagreeable (or even odious), but it does not mean he or she should throw the baby out with the bath water.

    I recommend viewing the issue this way: there are those who advocate changing the laws through the slow, but legal, way – lobbying for policy and law changes, speaking publicly and freely on the issue, etc. Then there are those who want to engage in civil disobedience (i.e. – using illegal drugs and taking the chance of getting caught). From this paradigm, it is obvious that LEAP members seek the former path rather than the latter.

    While civil disobedience is nice and can be effective, it comes at a steep (potential) price – you can go to prison. Look at Jack Kevorkian. He was a very visible voice for assisted suicide. Only when he crossed the line (physically putting his hand on the plunger) did he end up in prison. Under some of the voices I have read posted in the comments section, he should have been helping push the plunger from the start. However, he would have been imprisoned that much sooner, and not been the advocate for legal change he sought nearly as effectively.

    Thus, just accept LEAP members and Officer Jardis as fellow travelers who go about the change sought from a different perspective.

  9. Rad Geek

    GA attorney,

    On the contrary, while LEAP gets a lot of flak from pro-prohibition cops, I think they get hardly any serious criticism at all from other people in the movement against the drug war. My complaints on this blog here to one side, I can’t say that I’ve ever seen even a single article critical of LEAP come from within the movement; the kind of material that gets put out about LEAP by other anti-Drug War groups could, generally, be best described as glowing. I think that’s too bad, because, whatever LEAP’s merits, it also has some serious limitations that I think ought at least to be noticed.

    I think any person would accept that there are parts of his or her job that are disagreeable (or even odious), but it does not mean he or she should throw the baby out with the bath water.

    Well, hey, look, when I teach I hate going to faculty meetings and having to deal with classroom management, and when I worked closing at a pizza joint I liked the better tips and I enjoyed the work of cooking, but I hated waiting around for the driver to finish mopping the floor. But there’s an important difference between jobs that are unpleasant and jobs that require you to hurt, arrest, or imprison innocent people in the name of a policy that you yourself believe to be profoundly stupid and destructive. If the only way for you to keep a job you enjoy is to suffer through things that are stupid, boring, or otherwise unpleasant, it may still make sense to take the bad with the good and to do that job. On the other hand, if the only way for you to keep a job you enjoy is to commit daily injustices against innocent people who never did one damned thing to harm you, then that’s a very different sort of bathwater and a very different sort of baby.

    I recommend viewing the issue this way: there are those who advocate changing the laws through the slow, but legal, way – lobbying for policy and law changes, speaking publicly and freely on the issue, etc. Then there are those who want to engage in civil disobedience

    The issue here has nothing really to do with the fact that LEAPers who are active police aren’t engaging in civil disobedience or other forms of deliberate political law-breaking. It’s not that they’re failing to break unjust laws that’s the issue; it’s that they are actively, personally involved in enforcing unjust laws that is. It’s not that they (like many other policy reform groups) don’t advocate breaking the law — which would just make them neutral bystanders in this government War. It’s that they are actively fighting for the other side, even while they talk up their opposition to it, and they are hurting innocent people by doing so.

Anticopyright. This was written in 2009 by Rad Geek. Feel free to reprint if you like it. This machine kills intellectual monopolists.