How Can Anyone Not Be Outraged?

An eighteen-year-old Floridian is pulled over for riding a bike without a night light. A small amount of marijuana is found on him. He is thus in violation of probation for a crime he committed years before as a juvenile. He is arrested and tossed in a jail cell. He suffers a medical emergency and spends hours vomiting and desperately screaming for help. More than six hours pass before he sees a nurse, by which time it is too late. He died a torturous death.

This is the result of one injustice piled atop another: the police searching someone for something to which police in a civilized society would likely respond with a friendly warning, marijuana possession triggering a probation violation that sends someone previously allowed to roam free into a jail cell, and a criminal justice system that is so cruel, overcrowded, and incompetent, that it allows its victims to suffer an unambiguous personal health crisis for hours before attending to them.

This one incident alone should damn the entire drug war and resulting swelling of the criminal justice system. When a basketball star killed himself with cocaine in 1986 it resulted in a national hysteria culminating in stricter penalties and an expansion of the ridiculous, invasive, and since-discredited DARE program. When a kid is killed by the system, all over the possession of a small bit of a mostly harmless substance, the outrage is deafening in its silence.

At atrocity like this summer’s negligent homicide (to put it charitably) of Eric Perez at the hands of the West Palm Beach lockup authorities should shock America out of its longstanding, complacent coma regarding all these issues. Had something like this happened years ago, before it became a completely accepted cost of the drug war and a routine occurrence of modern life, it would have been scandalous and humiliating for the whole official community, one would hope. The entire criminal justice system and American approach to drug policy needs to be radically rethought before this country eats itself alive.

Anthony Gregory is a former Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and author of the Independent books American Surveillance and The Power of Habeas Corpus in America.
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