widening scandal involving the Los Angeles Police Department, in which nine more convictions were overturned this past Thursday alone, has focused national attention on the impact of the drug war on policing. Recent reports from New Jersey, Maryland and Florida indicate that the problems are national in scope.
In federal court in New Jersey last month, Wendell Huggins, a 10-year veteran of the Irvington, NJ police force, admitted to protecting drug shipments traveling between Essex County and Jersey City. Huggins agreed to cooperate by wearing a wire in an ongoing investigation into other police corruption, according to sources of the Newark Star Ledger. In exchange for his help, Huggins is expected to receive a favorable sentence.
Another ex-cop, Carl Kohn, Jr., was in Federal District Court on Feb. 10, this one in Florida. Kohn was in court to testify against his cousins, allegedly his cohorts in a cocaine distribution operation. Kohn, for his part, transported more than 71 pounds of cocaine and sold 28 pounds himself, at least once out of his patrol car.
In Maryland, at least 100 drug cases stand to be dismissed pending an investigation of Officer 1st Class Richard Ruby, who stands accused of planting drugs on arrestees.
And in Los Angeles, calls are intensifying for an outside investigation as sordid details and expanded estimates of damage continue to be revealed in what is fast becoming one of the worst corruption scandals in the history of American law enforcement. Recent tidbits include testimony, obtained by the Los Angeles Times, of beatings of suspects and others, and routine cover-ups of such activities. In one case, officers seeking information used a man as a human battering ram, forcing his face through a wall. Other victims have complained that they were beaten in retaliation for filing misconduct complaints against officers.
Los Angeles county supervisor Zev Yaroslovsky, calling police misconduct "an assault on democracy, an assault on our justice system and an assault on our way of life," teamed with Steve Cooley, candidate for Los Angeles Attorney General in calling for an independent investigation. Currently, the police department is handling the investigation itself. Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan has steadfastly maintained his opposition to an independent investigation.
Liability against the city in the ever-expanding number of potential lawsuits is now expected to far exceed earlier estimates of $125 million. The Los Angeles Times reports that city hall insiders claim that the costs will "virtually preclude any new initiatives in the next city budget."
But while this growing tale of violence, corruption and crime within the LAPD is shocking, it ought not be surprising, says Mike Gray. Gray, a screenwriter and most recently author of Drug Crazy, an historical and analytical perspective on the American drug war, spent six years researching Prohibition and its impact on American life, culture and justice.
"During my research for the book, I spoke with many people, among them Tim Lorath, a former prosecutor in Chicago, who laid it out this way. Tim said that police, in drug prosecutions, routinely stand up in court, in drug cases and lie -- time after time -- with the tacit approval of the entire justice system. The cop says 'the suspect threw a glassine bag to the ground as I approached,' when everyone in the courtroom -- the judge, the prosecutor, everyone -- knows that what really happened is that the cop threw the guy up against a wall and pulled the stuff out of his sock. Everyone just winks. Since drug crime is consensual crime, the only way to get a decent bust is to break the rules and then to lie about it. Lorath believes, and after spending years looking at the drug war in action, I do too, that the system of deceit has an enormous effect on the police, a corrupting effect."
"Looking back in history," continues Gray "there is certainly precedent for what we are seeing, and for the outrage that accompanies it. King George, back in colonial days, found that the colonists were quite efficient smugglers. In response, George had his troops breaking down doors to find contraband. As we know, the colonists took exception. The point is that in telling our police to go out and enforce prohibition, we have handed them mission impossible. We have thereby forced them to lie, forced them to skirt the law, and the result is this massive corruption, this cancer that we are seeing come to light in Los Angeles and elsewhere."
February 27, 2000 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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