Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The failed- and fatal- war on drugs

If you have anything resembling a heart, you can't help but be moved by the death of Philadelphia police officer Sgt. Timothy Simpson. Regardless of how I feel about their lobbying efforts at the state legislature and the tactics of some officers, we all recognize the tragedy that has befallen the city with five officers killed in the line of duty in the last 13 months.

And as a parent, I always well up a bit when some tragedy befalls a family. Sgt. Simpson leaves behind three kids, two in high school and one in the fifth grade.

Sgt. Simpson died last Monday, November 17, when his cruiser was hit by a fleeing suspect. This article from last week lays out the history of the suspect, William Allan Foster.

As I read this article, I couldn't help but think of what an utter failure the war on drugs is. For more than 20 years, Mr. Foster has been in and out of prison for drug and drug-related offenses.
According to court records, Foster had been prosecuted for more than two dozen crimes in Bucks County alone. Most, officials said, were property crimes - burglaries or thefts of tools or merchandise that he could fence for heroin money.

On the fateful day when he hit Sgt. Simpson's cruiser, Foster was fleeing apprehension after a drug buy. He had $30 worth of heroin in his vehicle.

I don't know if anyone ever reached out to Foster to help him or if he ever made efforts to get clean. Maybe he did and failed. What's clear, though, is that our punitive approach to drug use is nothing short of tragic. Our prisons and jails are filled beyond their breaking point, and people are dying because our political leaders fail to approach this with clarity and maturity.

Our communities can't afford the war on drugs. Our state corrections department and county prisons can't handle the results of the war on drugs. And we don't want any more dead police officers, fallen by desperate users looking for that next high.

It's time to end this failed policy.

For more information about the ACLU's drug law reform positions, visit www.aclu.org/drugpolicy.

Andy in Harrisburg

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