The Philadelphia officers’ excuse for their raid on Jose Duran’s bodega was the same as their excuse for other bodega raids: he was selling grocery zip-lock bags, and Pennsylvania law makes it unlawful to sell containers that a seller reasonably knew or should have known will be used to store drugs. The cops methodically snipped the wires to seven or eight security cameras around the store, and Duran said nearly $10,000 in cash, cigarettes, batteries and other goods then mysteriously vanished from the store.
The story shocked others, too, especially given corroborative accounts from other bodega owners who reported that police had begun the raids by taking care to disable cameras, in one case allegedly by smashing them with metal rods or hammers, in another case destroying a computer that had retained images of the raid. Money, cigarettes, and other property typically vanished during the raid without account, and some owners were brutalized as well. The Philadelphia Daily News investigated extensively and found that because one surveillance camera had a concealed backup hard drive, it retained video of an invading officer actually reaching up to cut its wires.
Like others, I suspect, I assumed that with evidence like this on hand and numerous bodega owners willing to talk with the press, it was safe to stop following the story, since the justice system surely could be trusted to run its course. The last thing I imagined was that every single officer would walk. How wrong I was:
Last week, news broke that federal prosecutors had decided not to file criminal charges against the officers. And the five-year statute of limitations has run out, not just in Collado’s case but for nearly two dozen other merchants with similar allegations.
“They played the clock game. They let time run out,” said Danilo Burgos, the former head of the 300-member Dominican Grocers Association who is running for a state House seat in North Philadelphia. “Now no charges will be filed and people have no confidence whatsoever in the process.” …
Several merchants told reporters this week that they were angry - and puzzled: How could U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger close the case without conducting, in their minds, a thorough investigation? …
The Daily News could not find a single merchant who said they had been called to testify before a grand jury, which mystified several former federal prosecutors.
One Jordanian-American family that owns a tobacco shop said FBI investigators did come to interview them, but they never heard a followup.
A few questions:
* If you were an immigrant shopkeeper, what lessons would you draw from this about America’s promise of equality under the law?
* Does it still seem like minor harmless nannyism to pass laws banning things like mini-zip-lock bags as potential drug paraphernalia, laws that are widely ignored and may even be unknown to the regulated parties, given that it allows police like this a perfect basis to go to a judge and obtain formally valid search warrants?
* Note that the former head of the Dominican grocers association is running for the Pennsylvania legislature, perhaps an indication that with the law having failed to protect them from oppression, some groups feel they have little choice but to turn to politics. What do we tell groups that lack the collective means or will to assert themselves in politics? That we will offer them no way to protect themselves from predation?
Each year, the homeland security appropriations bill provides for funding that supports REAL ID, the national ID law that Congress passed in haste in 2005.
States across the country originally refused to implement the national ID law, but as we showed in the recently released report, “REAL ID: A State-by-State Update,” some states are reversing course and beginning to implement, and in other states bureaucrats are moving forward with REAL ID contrary to state policy.
Part of the reason this continues is because the federal government continues to funnel money into REAL ID compliance. Year over year, federal grant money keeps state bureaucrats and state bureaucrat interest groups like the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators sniffing around for grant dollars and contracts.
Interestingly, four members of the Senate appropriations subcommittee that funds REAL ID through the Department of Homeland Security are from states that have rejected REAL ID. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Jon Tester (D-MT), Mark Begich (D-AK), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) could move to cut off funding for REAL ID if they chose, but, to my knowledge, have not done so in the past.
Senators Tester and Begich are cosponsors of a bill by Senator John Walsh (D-MT) to repeal REAL ID, and Senator Tester came to Cato in 2008 to call out REAL ID’s demerits (his presentation starts at 21:00 in the mp3).
If the senators from anti-REAL-ID states could tap one more member of the homeland security appropriations subcommittee, they would have a majority to amend the bill to withdraw funds from the national ID project. Will they stand by and let REAL ID funding go through again this year?
On her radio show earlier today, Laura Ingraham discussed drug legalization with John Walters, the White House “Drug Czar” under George W. Bush.
Walters had nothing good to say about Cato, George Soros, legalizers in general, or me in particular. Walters’ view comes down to three claims:
1. Legalization will cause drug use to soar;
2. Increased drug use is bad;
3. The negatives of prohibition are more acceptable than negatives of greater use.
On point 1: No existing evidence suggests major increases in use from legalization. Some increase may occur, since drug prices will likely decline. But most drugs are already cheap enough that price is not a major deterrent.
On point 2: Drugs can indeed cause harm, but so can alcohol, tobacco, double-black diamond ski slopes, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and driving on the highway. Many current harms (e.g., accidental overdoses), result from prohibition, which makes it harder for users to determine quality. Walters view that all drug use leads to irresponsible intoxication is utterly inconsistent with the evidence.
And, many people derive a benefit from drugs. Walters thinks people take drugs only because they are addicted; an alternate view is that people choose to use drugs, whether to alleviate pain, aid relaxation, or become intoxicated. Under the second view, increased use is a benefit of legalization, not a cost. And in a free society, individuals, not government, get to make that determination.
On point 3: Drug prohibition generates violence and corruption; reduces quality control and spreads HIV; diminishes civil liberties; restricts medicinal uses of drugs; foments insurrection in source countries; foregoes tens of billions each year in tax revenue; and requires tens of billions more on police, prosecutors, and prisons.
John Walters may believe that all this is preferable to a modest increase in drug use (some of which benefits users); he is entitled to his view.
But I disagree.
The kidnapping of over 200 Nigerian school girls has captured international attention. Yet few outside of Nigeria paid attention as the terrorist group responsible, Boko Haram, killed thousands of people in previous attacks.
Americans understandably want to help, but as I point out in my new Forbes column, “Washington must avoid getting entangled in another interminable conflict, this one featuring relentless Islamic extremists battling brutal security forces.”
The Islamic extremist group Boko Haram began more than a decade ago. The government’s response often has been ineffective, even counterproductive. Unlawful killings, mass arrests, and other abuses help sustain support for the guerrillas.
So far this year 1500 have been murdered. The kidnapping highlighted the failure of President Goodluck Jonathan’s government.
After a month there is little hope of rescuing the girls, who probably have been dispersed throughout the remote region where Boko Haram operates. However, the burst of publicity caused the Obama administration to dispatch a multi-agency delegation.
The mission may meet an emotional need, but offers few benefits and many snares. After all, America can do little to save the girls or stop Boko Haram. State Department spokesman Jen Psaki explained that the U.S. group contained “law enforcement officials with expertise in investigations and hostage negotiations.”
But this is not a complicated “Who done it?” mystery. Moreover, dealing with Boko Haram is not like negotiating with a crew of bank robbers. Boko Haram cheerfully, even gleefully, kills en masse.
The U.S. might have some useful satellite intelligence and specialized equipment, which Abuja previously requested. But those could be transferred without a large and very public delegation.
No doubt the Nigerian army would benefit from professional training—which Washington is already providing. Alas, Nigeria’s military cannot be fixed by America. Worst is the lawless behavior of the security agencies, including police and intelligence agents.
So far Boko Haram has restricted its murderous activities to Nigeria. Active U.S. involvement, however, risks turning the conflict into one of international jihad, when Boko Haram may broaden its attacks to Americans.
Finally, what is the end point for American involvement? What if the girls aren’t located?
With failure almost inevitable, there will be pressure on the U.S. to do more, even enter the conflict directly. Secretary of State John Kerry already has talked of doing “everything possible to counter the menace of Boko Haram.”
Much the same process has occurred with the administration’s expanding mission to eradicate the so-called Lord’s Resistance Army [LRA], formed in 1987 in Uganda. The U.S. long provided money, intelligence, and logistical assistance for Kampala’s military operations against the organization. Three years ago President Obama deployed about 100 special forces to aid the Ugandan government in defeating the LRA and capturing its leader, Joseph Kony.
The group was much reduced by then. The LRA in no way threatened America, but the administration promised that the mission would be “short term.”
However, Col. Kevin Leahy, commander of the American troops, admitted last year that “This isn’t searching for a needle in a haystack. It’s like searching for a needle in 20 haystacks.”
Although the LRA is said to have dwindled to just 250 guerrillas, in March the administration announced that it was nearly trebling the number of personnel and deploying at least four CV-22 Ospreys. Will U.S. forces stay on for the rest of Kony’s life—and his successor’s?
The U.S. has been increasingly active across the continent. The Pentagon set up the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) and has been steadily augmenting America’s military presence.
Washington’s default policy should be to stay out. The fact that there is conflict somewhere on earth does not require Washington to join it.
One can hardly imagine the pain felt by the families of young girls kidnapped by Boko Haram. But the U.S. can do little to help and Washington’s intervention risks are creating blowback Americans cannot afford. Only the Nigerian people can bring peace to Nigeria.