He cites both anecdotes which support his position, as well as general trends. Sadly, the general trends he cites are misleading at best. Balko makes four claims: The drug war militarizes our police, enriches our enemies, undermines our laws, and condemns the sick to suffering.
For his first point, Balko cites a 2006 WSJ editorial, which says in part:
Police in large cities formerly carried revolvers holding six .38-caliber rounds. Nowadays, police carry semi-automatic pistols with 16 high-caliber rounds, shotguns and military assault rifles, weapons once relegated to SWAT teams facing extraordinary circumstances. Concern about such firepower in densely populated areas hitting innocent citizens has given way to an attitude that the police are fighting a war against drugs and crime and must be heavily armed.
If only we had police shooting and fatality statistics from some large police force.
Did I say Fox News? I meant the New York Times. Sorry. I get them confused a lot.
So, we have fewer shootings, fewer cops killed on the street, and fewer accidental shootings. One might suspect that this would lead an observer to conclude that police forces are getting better, if one looked at the actual data, rather than making it up.
Balko also cites the climbing murder rates:
If you look at a graph of the U.S. murder rate going back to about 1915, you’ll notice a few interesting patterns. There’s a spike at around 1919, just at the onset of alcohol prohibition. The graph then takes a dramatic dip in 1933, just after the repeal of prohibition. There’s then another spike in the late 1960s, just as Richard Nixon took office and fired the first shots of his war on drugs. That spike falls in the 1970s as President Carter took a less militant approach to drug prohibition, but then with Reagan’s reinvigorated war in the 1980s, it begins another upward ascent.
Balko cites this chart for his claim as to the murder chart going up. The chart stops in 1997.
Fortunately, I was able to locate this really neat thing on the internets called Google. You can use it to find data, like the fact that the murder rate in 1997 of 6.8 per 100,000 people was a dropoff from prior years, that Balko’s claim that Reagan’s anti-drug efforts led to more murders (the answer, by the way, is fewer) and even that they kept data past 1997 – when the murder rate continued to drop, stabilizing at 5.6 per 100,000 over the last few years. That’s the lowest rate since 1965.
Balko claims that the current Mexico drug issues are caused by America’s unwillingness to import delicious drugs and its funding of drug interdiction efforts. I can’t help but notice that in those countries where hard drugs are either de facto or de jure legal, crime seems to be worse. Mexico’s lack of enforcement of the drug laws (primarily due to widespread corruption) hasn’t led to peaceful drug lords. It’s led to drug lords killing each other and everyone else.
Look, folks, I consider myself fairly moderate on drug laws; I’m not putting simple users who aren’t committing other crimes in prison or even jail. I even understand both the moralistic argument (you shouldn’t tell adults what to do) or the utilitarian argument (it would be better if drugs were legalized.)
I’m a utilitarian, and I disagree with the latter argument. When people like Balko use dishonest arguments to further this position, it doesn’t do much to make me think there’s merit somewhere there.