I watched a couple of episodes of a new television reality series on A&E called “Bordertown: Laredo” since Laredo is where I grew up. The series is about the drug war and follows a special drug-enforcement team within the Laredo Police Department. In the two episodes I watched, the series tracked the team as it monitored suspected drug dealers, secured search warrants, made some drug busts, and even pursued and caught a suspect in a high-speed car chase inside town.
As I listened to the head of the team explain what they were doing and why they were doing it and as I watched them as they investigated, monitored, pursued, and busted, all I could do is shake my head.
Why was I shaking my head?
Because 35 years ago, I heard the same claptrap and witnessed the same drug-war antics from drug agents who were doing the exact same things these guys are doing. I had just graduated from law school and had returned to Laredo to practice law. My very first case to which I was assigned to represent an indigent client in federal court was a drug conspiracy case.
This drug-war rigmarole in Laredo goes back even further than that. When I was growing up, my father, who was also a lawyer, served as the U.S. Magistrate in Laredo. He was the judge that DEA agents would bring drug suspects before for a preliminary hearing. My dad was the magistrate before whom Timothy Leary was brought when he was busted for possession of LSD in Laredo in 1965.
During my law practice, I got to know some of the DEA agents in town and people in the police department and sheriff’s office. They were no different than the guys in the “Bordertown: Laredo” series — dedicated, committed, and honestly believing that they were doing the right thing in trying to rid America of drugs.
I assume that those drug-enforcement agents are now retired and living off their pensions. That’s assuming, of course, that they were killed along the line by some drug dealers.
Yet, here were are 35 years later and the only thing that has changed is the identity of the drug-enforcement agents, the cops, the drug dealers, and the judges. The same mantras. The same pronouncements. The same record drug busts. The same warrants. The same sentences.
So, what’s the point?
Unfortunately, that’s not a question that the members of that drug enforcement team featured on “Bordertown: Laredo” ever think to ask themselves. It’s not within their job description. All they can see is that the law is the law and they’re enforcing the law. While they sometimes would intimate on the two episodes I saw that they knew that they were only seizing a small percentage of the total drugs going north, it was clear that the overall “big picture” of the drug war itself of little or no concern to them. Their job is simply to investigate and bust, not determine what good it is all doing in the larger scheme of things.
One sad part of the drug war in Laredo is that most of the people that they target are poor people. That’s not surprising given that Laredo is filled with poor people. The problem is that the drug war entices poor people into the drug trade given the enormous amount of money that can be made in a drug deal. By making drugs illegal, the price is artificially driven upward, along with profits. One big marijuana or cocaine sale reaping tens of thousands of dollars is difficult for lots of poor people to pass up. It was no different when I was growing up there.
So, here’s the perversity: With the drug war, the government artificially creates the conditions for illegally making large amounts of money and then targets the poor for succumbing to the temptation to make a large amount of money. The result is lots of poor people being sent to jail, only to be replaced by new poor people who do the same thing, year after year, all the while providing jobs to drug-enforcement teams, prosecutors, clerks, and judges.
In the television series, the people being busted are oftentimes well-armed, some with assault rifles. I figure it’s just a matter of time before some drug agent in “Bordertown: Laredo” is killed in the line of duty and it’s captured by the cameraman for viewers to watch in the series later on. Some people will do desperate things, including killing law-enforcement officials, when they stand to lose a large amount of money in a drug seizure. A posthumous medal will undoubtedly be given the grieving spouse and the killer will be sent to prison for the rest of his life.
What’s the point of it all? There is no point. Like the Energizer Bunny, the drug war just keeps going and going and going, providing no redeeming social value at all, only death, destruction, and jobs for drug dealers, cops, and judges.
The best thing the American people could do for the world, including drug-enforcement agents, judges, and the poor, is to legalize drugs, thereby finally bringing an end to this long, pointless inanity.