Radley Balko has two posts up demonstrating some of the true costs of our War on Drugs. First, the story of Nicholas Peart.
One evening in August of 2006, I was celebrating my 18th birthday with my cousin and a friend. We were staying at my sister’s house on 96th Street and Amsterdam Avenue in Manhattan and decided to walk to a nearby place and get some burgers. It was closed so we sat on benches in the median strip that runs down the middle of Broadway. We were talking, watching the night go by, enjoying the evening when suddenly, and out of nowhere, squad cars surrounded us. A policeman yelled from the window, “Get on the ground!”
I was stunned. And I was scared. Then I was on the ground — with a gun pointed at me. I couldn’t see what was happening but I could feel a policeman’s hand reach into my pocket and remove my wallet. Apparently he looked through and found the ID I kept there. “Happy Birthday,” he said sarcastically. The officers questioned my cousin and friend, asked what they were doing in town, and then said goodnight and left us on the sidewalk.
Less than two years later, in the spring of 2008, N.Y.P.D. officers stopped and frisked me, again. And for no apparent reason. This time I was leaving my grandmother’s home in Flatbush, Brooklyn; a squad car passed me as I walked down East 49th Street to the bus stop. The car backed up. Three officers jumped out. Not again. The officers ordered me to stand, hands against a garage door, fished my wallet out of my pocket and looked at my ID. Then they let me go.
I was stopped again in September of 2010. This time I was just walking home from the gym. It was the same routine: I was stopped, frisked, searched, ID’d and let go . . .
Peart documents five instances of being stopped and searched, all without cause. Luckily for him, he had been warned by his mother (and he followed that warning) to always obey the police, to not panic or run. Or, get pissed off because you were minding your own business and the police put you against a fence and searched you, without any reasonable cause.
The appellant is Terrance Crossland, who is asking the court to overturn his conviction on two counts of assaulting a police officer. Last April, Crossland and his cousin were approached by two D.C. Metro officers on patrol “to gather information about a rash of recent shootings and drug sales in the area.” Crossland was mowing his grass while smoking a cigarette. The police acknowledge that neither Crossland nor is cousin were doing anything unlawful. The two men were told to turn around, put their hands against a fence, and submit to a search. By both accounts, Crossland initially complied, then said, “Fuck this shit. I’m tired of this.”
Police say Crossland then elbowed one officer in the head, at which point he was punched, taken to the ground, kicked several times, and pepper sprayed. Both the trial court, the appeals court, and even the prosecution acknowledge that because Crossland was doing nothing wrong before the incident, it was illegal for the police to stop, detain, and search him.
It is disputed, of course, whether or not Crossland really attacked the police. Witnesses say he did not. The two police say he did. The credibility of the police was deemed better, though it is acknowledged that they broke the law with their illegal search. We will never know for sure. What we do know is summed up in a statement by one of the judges from the appeals court.
What is most disturbing about this case is the result: a young man in the community . . . who was engaged in peaceful activities (mowing the lawn, smoking a cigarette) and who the police knew at the time they stopped him was not doing anything unlawful, is approached by aggressive officers engaged in aggressive unconstitutional patrols, and this young man ends up being punched in the face with such force that he receives a black eye, kicked numerous times in the back, thrown on the ground, sprayed in the eyes with pepper spray, and finally, he receives two convictions on his record for assault on a police officer. . . . But for this unconstitutional police policy, appellant Crossland would not have suffered a physical attack on his person and would not have had these convictions on his record. Instead, he would have had a rather ordinary day in his community mowing the lawn and smoking a cigarette, a day he probably wouldn’t even have cause to remember, and it is very disturbing that the police in this case are essentially being rewarded for their unconstitutional behavior and aggressive unconstitutional police policy which was the direct cause of a highly volatile situation which led to this young man’s eventual convictions for assaulting them.
The War On Drugs is an eternal war. It is a war that has not seen any progress. It is a war that harms the innocent and keeps entire neighborhoods in poverty. It needs to end.