Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Not Always Winners in Cops vs. Robbers

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Not Always Winners in Cops vs. Robbers

Article excerpt

No matter how dangerous some illegal drugs are, it is a rare cop who thinks that searching a suspect for drugs is a kind of rescue attempt aimed at saving his life and health.

That's not the mindset, and we rarely expect it to be.

Whatever rhetoric may be used to describe police efforts to keep society safe from dangerous drugs, it is a cops-and-robbers game. Police don't generally see drug-users as people they want to help; they see criminals to be arrested. Success is measured by busts and convictions -- so much so that some cops grumble when a bustee is sent to rehab instead of prison.

The cops-against-druggies approach is so much our norm that we forget we are supposedly having police handle drug enforcement because drugs hurt people and mess up their lives. But the whole thing becomes senseless if the police game makes things worse. Given the huge numbers of people now in prison for drug crimes, unequaled in the world, there is a big case to be made that we are doing lots of damage to people, more so than the drugs do.

And we have a huge prison industry that counts on us keeping it up.

But I'm thinking also of the small ways the cops-and-robbers approach goes bad. For instance, when Sarasota police stopped a car because a tail light was out -- usually just a lawful excuse -- they ended up tasering and beating a passenger who, not long after, died in a local hospital.

I don't think police killed John Paul Kaafi, and I'm not sure they did anything illegal. They were rough, certainly, and their oddly detailed report is a clue that they were anticipating lots of questions. But it could be they just did what they had to do with an uncooperative man who did not want to go to jail.

The thing is, police had no knowledge of any crime when they first approached him. They were just playing the usual game. The plan: Tail-light infraction leads to traffic stop. …

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