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Destroying Families for the Glory of the Drug War, Part 2

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In Clyo, Georgia, 11-year-old Tony Johnson met police Sergeant Sam O’Dwyer during Tony’s DARE training. After completing his training, Tony met with O’Dwyer three times and eventually informed the cop of a few marijuana plants on a corner of his parents’ land near their trailer home. O’Dwyer busted Tony’s mother on April 9, 1992. Tony was arriving home from the school bus as the bust occurred, but O’Dwyer had coached the boy to pretend that he did not recognize the policeman. Katherine Johnson, Tony’s mother, later observed, “I don’t think it was a lesson well learned from the education system to teach our son to conspire in a bust against his family.”

In 1992, the 11-year old daughter of Darla Brummel, a 28-year old registered nurse in Chickasha, Oklahoma, turned her mother in for possession of marijuana. The mother was arrested and jailed. An article in the Chickasha Daily Express noted: “The daughter, apparently having had DARE instruction in school, knew what avenues to take when confronted with a situation like this.” The Chickasha police stated that other children also reported family members for drug use.

Nine-year-old Darrin Davis of Douglasville, Georgia, called 911 after he found a small amount of speed hidden in his parents’ bedroom, because, as he told a reporter,

“At school, they told us that if we ever see drugs, call 911 because people who use drugs need help. . . . I thought the police would come get the drugs and tell them that drugs are wrong. They never said they would arrest them. It didn’t say that in the video. The police officer held me by the shoulder and made me watch them put handcuffs on my mom and dad and put them in the police car. I always thought police were honest and told the truth. But in court, I heard them tell the judge that I wanted my mom and dad arrested. That is a lie. I did not tell them that.”

The arrest wrecked his parents’ lives. They both lost their jobs, a bank threatened to foreclose on their homes, and the father was kept in jail for three months. Darrin became so agitated that he burnt down part of a neighbor’s house because, he said, he wanted to be with his father in jail. Darrin’s parents later filed for divorce, alleging that the strain caused by the DARE bust was a major part in destroying their marriage, according to the Davises’ attorney, Jay Bouldin.

One of the DARE lessons that police give students in kindergarten through fourth grade stresses DARE’s “Three R’s”: “Recognize, Resist, and Report.” The official DARE Officer’s Guide for Grades K-4 contains a worksheet that instructs children to “circle the names of the people you could tell if . . . a friend finds some pills”; the “police” are listed along with “mother or father,” “teacher,” and “friend.” The next exercise instructs children to check boxes for whom they should inform if they “are asked to keep a secret” — “police” are again listed as an option. Apparently, the idea that anyone should keep a secret from the proper authorities is inconceivable — as if people have a duty to report to the government everything they hear. A Justice Department study noted that DARE “students have an opportunity to become acquainted with the [police] officer as a trusted friend who is interested in their happiness and welfare. Students occasionally tell the officer about problems such as abuse, neglect, alcoholic parents, or relatives who use drugs.”

DARE also dabbles in political philosophy. The DARE Officer’s Guide for Grades 7-9, containing a 10-lesson plan, includes some definitions and assertions that, coming from a policeman engaged in an antidrug program, rise almost to the level of absurdity. For instance, in Lesson One, one of the policeman’s goals in this session is to

“define LAW as a set of rules that have been established to protect human health and safety, to preserve individual freedoms, and to maintain the established system of government. Instruct students to write the definition on their DARE word list. . . . Point out that the intent of most state and federal laws and local laws is protective, not punitive. Most laws are based on traditional ideas of fairness and of right or wrong (use cheating, stealing, robbery, vandalism, assault as examples of wrong behavior).”

Interestingly, the criminalization of simple possession of illicit substances is not suggested as an example for this discussion of how laws are “based on traditional ideas of fairness.” And with the current federal mandatory-minimum jail sentences for drug possession, an American faces a mandatory five-year prison sentence if police raid his house and find 50 little marijuana sprouts in his closet or basement. Later on in Lesson One, police are encouraged to give another concept of law: “Laws and rules help protect the rights of people and enable them to get fair treatment. Laws and school behavior codes must be obeyed by youth as well as adults.” If a policeman were lecturing to Southern students in the 1950s and were telling black students that they had no right to refuse to sit at the back of the bus, then people would see the policeman as a tool of the establishment urging black people to mindlessly accept their inferior status. Yet, the DARE-approved definition of law is one that simply demands blind obedience to law regardless of the rationality or morality of the law.

Also, some local DARE programs go further into prying into drug use by parents, siblings, and others than DARE headquarters recommends or sanctions. The Research Triangle Institute report (see Part I of this essay, February 1997 Freedom Daily ) noted that some local programs add elements to the DARE teaching apart from the official curriculum: “Coordinators with DARE provided some hints as to the types of topics introduced [outside the strict DARE curricula], which included discussion of . . . drug abuse at home. . . .” Steve Wallace, a concerned North Carolina parent and critic of DARE, notes, “DARE officers have held up packets of Zig-Zag paper [often used to roll marijuana cigarettes] in the classroom and asked the kids, ‘Have any of you seen these in your home?’”

It is difficult to know how many parents have been arrested for drug use as a result of DARE. DARE claims that the cases are few and far between. But according to Gary Peterson, director of Parents Against DARE, a Colorado organization,

“For every one example that gets publicized, there are probably a thousand cases that don’t make the newspapers. Parents who get busted because of DARE rarely go running to a reporter to make their complaint public.”

DARE-caused drug arrests devastate families. Peterson observed:

“I’ve talked to seven or eight families in which the children informed against their parents. In every single case, the child is now in professional therapy. The intention was to help the child. The net result was that they destroyed the family — and in particular the child is the one who feels all the guilt.”

Naturally, police and DARE officials keep no statistics on how many drug busts the program produces, since such data would undermine community support for placing police in the schools. DARE spokeswoman Roberta Silverman observed, “I think to focus on these few incidents is to do a disservice to people who are at the forefront of prevention efforts in this country. It is amazing to me.” Yet, the fact that any families would be endangered — or that the ties between any child and his or her parents would be destroyed — as a result of a program that sends police into classrooms and results in police raiding parents’ homes naturally greatly concerns many Americans.

Some Americans, numbed by politicians’ harsh rhetoric regarding drug use, may feel that policemen should be able to use any means available to detect drug users. But how would people react if, instead of marijuana, police went into the schools and urged children to confide whether their parents illegally kept a handgun hidden in their bedrooms? (Several of the nation’s largest cities, including New York, Washington, and Chicago, have effectively banned private handgun ownership.) How would people react if IRS agents went into classrooms to appeal to children to report whether their parents ever spoke of dodging taxes or failing to report income? Neal Sonnett, chairman of the ABA’s Criminal Justice Committee, observed: “It is terribly disturbing when police knowingly abuse that respect to intimidate young children to turn state’s witness against their parents.”

Do we really want government agents with guns on their hips going into classrooms to teach political philosophy to our children? America does not need a drug-education program that may be more successful at destroying families and glorifying cops and politicians than at discouraging drug abuse.

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    James Bovard serves as policy advisor to The Future of Freedom Foundation. He has written for the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, New Republic, Reader's Digest, Playboy, American Spectator, Investors Business Daily, and many other publications. He is the author of a new e-book memoir, Public Policy Hooligan. His other books include: Attention Deficit Democracy (2006); The Bush Betrayal (2004); Terrorism and Tyranny (2003); Feeling Your Pain (2000); Freedom in Chains (1999); Shakedown (1995); Lost Rights (1994); The Fair Trade Fraud (1991); and The Farm Fiasco (1989). He was the 1995 co-recipient of the Thomas Szasz Award for Civil Liberties work, awarded by the Center for Independent Thought, and the recipient of the 1996 Freedom Fund Award from the Firearms Civil Rights Defense Fund of the National Rifle Association. His book Lost Rights received the Mencken Award as Book of the Year from the Free Press Association. His Terrorism and Tyranny won Laissez Faire Book's Lysander Spooner award for the Best Book on Liberty in 2003. Read his blog. Send him email.