Friday, March 07, 2008

David Simon et al on The Drug War

I'm eagerly anticipating the final episode on Sunday. No doubt all of you are as well, since it isn't on OnDemand so everybody has to wait, DVR or no DVR.


Meanwhile, Simon and his fellows have a suggestion. They haven't exactly been brimming with the things, so it's a nice change. They have an excuse--saying that they're "storytellers, not advocates"--but you can't watch The Wire and not despair, at least a little. What to do?

"A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right," wrote Thomas Paine when he called for civil disobedience against monarchy — the flawed national policy of his day. In a similar spirit, we offer a small idea that is, perhaps, no small idea. It will not solve the drug problem, nor will it heal all civic wounds. It does not yet address questions of how the resources spent warring with our poor over drug use might be better spent on treatment or education or job training, or anything else that might begin to restore those places in America where the only economic engine remaining is the illegal drug economy. It doesn't resolve the myriad complexities that a retreat from war to sanity will require. All it does is open a range of intricate, paradoxical issues. But this is what we can do — and what we will do.

If asked to serve on a jury deliberating a violation of state or federal drug laws, we will vote to acquit, regardless of the evidence presented. Save for a prosecution in which acts of violence or intended violence are alleged, we will — to borrow Justice Harry Blackmun's manifesto against the death penalty — no longer tinker with the machinery of the drug war. No longer can we collaborate with a government that uses nonviolent drug offenses to fill prisons with its poorest, most damaged and most desperate citizens.

Jury nullification is American dissent, as old and as heralded as the 1735 trial of John Peter Zenger, who was acquitted of seditious libel against the royal governor of New York, and absent a government capable of repairing injustices, it is legitimate protest. If some few episodes of a television entertainment have caused others to reflect on the war zones we have created in our cities and the human beings stranded there, we ask that those people might also consider their conscience. And when the lawyers or the judge or your fellow jurors seek explanation, think for a moment on Bubbles or Bodie or Wallace. And remember that the lives being held in the balance aren't fictional.

This ain't going to make them friends. And, to be honest, it isn't a complete solution, not by a long shot. It carries with it its own issues.

They're right about one thing, though: if "rip 'n run" arrests of street dealers don't result in convictions, then the stats are going to reflect it, and stats-mad commanders (and politicians) will be forced to look at more comprehensive (even, gasp, progressive) ways of dealing with these issues. And considering that primaries and elections don't seem to offer up much in the way of reformers on these issues, it's not like your voting franchise is going to mean much.

So I suppose you might as well hang a few juries.

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