Futile Drug War Includes Fatal Errors!

Futile Drug War Includes Fatal Errors!
Posted by FoM on February 19, 1999 at 06:32:32 PT

A cop shot and killed Willie Heard in his own bedroom early last Saturday morning. Given the ground rules that police are allowed to operate under these days, it could just as easily have been you or me. 
Think of it: Your child screams as someone breaks into your home in the middle of the night, and so you jump out of bed and grab a weapon, as Heard did, to protect yourself from unknown intruders. Yet before you're able to assess what's really happening at such an unholy hour, a figure bursts in. And in that next instant, bang, you're dead. Your killer: a law officer who may or may not have made his identity clear in all the commotion. "These sort of horror stories come up on a not-so-infrequent basis," says Dick Kurtenbach with the American Civil Liberties Union in Kansas City. Heard's death was a tragedy for his family and his community, Osawatomie, Kan. It also should shame the nation. Heard was a casualty of this drug war that's eroding the constitutional rights that are supposed to protect us from unreasonable search and seizure. Americans used to brag they lived in a country where police didn't smash doors down in the middle of the night. But now all it takes is the suspicion of drugs to get a warrant that American cops can use to break into your house, terrorize your family and maybe kill someone for groggily making a wrong move in the pre-dawn hours. We don't know all the facts about the raid on Heard's house. We don't know why Paola and Osawatomie police and Miami County sheriff's deputies felt it was so all-fired necessary to break in at 1:25 a.m. Officers were supposedly looking for crack cocaine, but Heard's family says his was no drug house. What police found was a small amount of marijuana that anyone might have left there. What we do know for sure is this: Heard would not have been killed had this country cared as much for protecting our Fourth Amendment rights as it does for winning a seemingly unwinnable war on drugs. Look at how we've changed. Police drug dogs now sniff school lockers routinely. Most employers now require urine tests before a worker can run a cash register. And since the late 1980s, legislatures and courts have expanded police powers in the interest of stopping trade in illegal drugs. For a joint in the ashtray, people lose their cars. Worse, some courts have given police blanket permission to enter homes unannounced when armed with any search warrant specifically aimed at uncovering drugs. The U.S. Supreme Court narrowed that rule in 1997, but still allows unannounced forced entries in the interest of safety or preserving evidence. Safety you can argue, but only if police can prove there is no other way -- none -- to execute a warrant safely. But is the simple risk of losing evidence in a drug raid worth putting people's lives in jeopardy whenever illegal activity is suspected? These forced entries are dangerous not only for the occupants of the house being searched, but for the police themselves. In 1995, a Topeka cop was shot to death as he helped batter down the door of a suspected drug dealer at 3 in the morning. The shooter was acquitted of murder because the jury believed he had a right to defend his home from unknown intruders. Heard had rights, too. Judges and lawmakers need to recognize that and put a stop to such insanity.  tag1:Mike Hendricks' column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. To reach him, call 234-7708 or send e-mail to mhendricks 
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