Drug War Deaths

After writing my last post against libertarianism, I’m going to join many libertarians in criticizing the drug war. However, my criticism is not rooted in the standard libertarian argument that people should do whatever they feel like doing, such as using drugs. Instead, my argument rests on the moral and political theory of individual rights.

In brief, people survive by reason, and the sole legitimate function of government is to protect people’s rights to control their own property and lives, as consistent with the rights of others, so that people can apply their minds to the tasks of living. It is true that drug abuse can impede a person’s ability to reason, but this is not for the government to decide. After all, many drugs also have legitimate medical and personal uses, and all sorts of other objects and activities can also impede reason (television abuse comes to mind). The government cannot force people to reason, it can only stop people from using force against others. A government that acts beyond the protection of individual rights is not in principle bound by any constraints.

Moreover, most of the problems associated with illegal drugs are caused by the drug war, not by the drugs themselves. Problems ranging from black-market violence to poisonous drugs are caused by prohibition.

Radly Balko describes another problem with the drug war: it results in police corruption and the abuse of police powers. Balko writes:

It was one year ago this week that narcotics officers in Atlanta, Georgia broke into the home of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston.

They had earlier arrested a man with a long rap sheet on drug charges. That man told the police officers that they’d find a large stash of cocaine in Johnston’s home. When police forced their way into Johnston’s home, she met them holding a rusty old revolver, fearing she was about to be robbed. The police opened fire, and killed her.

Shortly after the shooting, the police alleged that they had paid an informant to buy drugs from Ms. Johnston’s home. They said she fired at them first, and wounded two officers. And they alleged they found marijuana in her home.

We now know that these were all lies. In fact, everything about the Kathryn Johnston murder was corrupt. The initial arrest of the ex-con came via trumped-up charges. The police then invented an informant for the search warrant, and lied about overseeing a drug buy from Johnston’s home.

Ms. Johnston didn’t actually wound any of the officers. They were wounded by fragments of ricochet from their own storm of bullets. And there was no marijuana. Once they realized their mistake, the officers handcuffed Ms. Johnston and left her to bleed and die on the floor of her own home while they planted marijuana in her basement.

We now know that it was routine for Atlanta’s narcotics officers to lie on drug warrants. We know that judges in the city rather systematically approved those warrants with no scrutiny at all…

Will the murder of a 92-year-old woman at the hands of police cause the drug warriors to rethink their tactics or goals?

4 thoughts on “Drug War Deaths

  1. Neil Parille

    “However, my criticism is not rooted in the standard libertarian argument that people should do whatever they feel like doing, such as using drugs.”

    I’ve read a fair amount of libertarian writings and I find it hard to believe that this is the “standard” libertarian argument. In fact, I don’t know of a single libertarian who takes this position.

  2. Walter

    “In brief, people survive by reason, and the sole legitimate function of government is to protect people’s rights to control their own property and lives, as consistent with the rights of others, so that people can apply their minds to the tasks of living.”

    You’re view of government’s proper role is similar to mine. However, your criticism of libertarianism irks me. Libertarianism is a loose collection of limited-government philosophies; there is no single libertarian orthodoxy, even though some will claim one. I think I’m mostly familiar with your politics, Ari, and I would still call you a libertarian except for your renunciation of the term.

    It seems the problem is one of definition. I think of myself as a libertarian, and as I read your criticism I don’t see it applying to me.

  3. Neil Parille

    Libertarians agree on a common philosophical principle (non initiation of force) but disagree on the ultimate justification for that principle and certain applications.

    But of course the same could be said of most other political movements. Even with respect to Objectivism there is a fair amount of disagreement. What do Objectivists think about compulsory subpeonas, the rights of children, same sex marriages or some other things? I’ve heard some Objectivists say that marriage should be a contractual agreement and not given special recognition by the state. I’ve heard others support same sex marriage. (I doubt Rand would have supported either of these things.) Rand said that she wouldn’t vote for a woman president, but Peikoff says Objectivists should vote for Hillary Clinton if she gets the Democratic nomination.

    Unfortunately, with the exception of referrendums, there is always some sort of compromise in politics. Would an Objectivist living in 1776 refused to support the US revolution on the ground that it was an ecelctic group of people that included slave holders, conservative Calvinists and Enlightenment liberals?

    I do agree with Ari that some libertarians go off the deep end with anti-state rhetoric (and conspiracy theories and the like).

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