Source: Dallas Morning News
Pubdate: Sun, 22 Jun 1997
Author: Jerry Epstein, Vice President-Drug Policy Forum of Texas


Ezequiel Hernandez is dead, another victim, not of drugs, but of the War On

An innocent 18 year old boy, who everyone says was a good kid, who was just
tending his family's goats, has been shot by Marines given the job of
stopping the drug flow.

Most Americans have a good sense of the fact that the War On Drugs has
failed in its basic intent to curb the availability or the abuse of drugs.
Ezequiel's death is a tragic example of a less understood facet: the damage
done by the unintended consequences of our policy.

If the War On Drugs had to be justified like most endeavors, by a balance
sheet, it would have been terminated long ago. Its minuscule
accomplishments, if any, are dwarfed by a roll call of innocent victims.

The victims aren't just Ezequiel, or the thousands like him in a dozen
foreign countries. They also include:

* The courageous law enforcement officers who have been killed in the line
of duty.

* The thousands of inmates who rot in prisons for having merely possessed

* The women who contract HIV/AIDS from contact with someone they may not
even know is a drug user.

* The millions of victims of crimes committed to get the money needed to
purchase drugs whose price has been inflated a hundredfold.

* The victims of gangs whose activities are financed by those profits.

The list goes on and on and on.

And for what?

Of all addiction to drugs and alcohol, alcohol accounts for 80% of it.
Addiction rates for many drugs have been constant for at least 18 years. If
all heroin and cocaine disappeared, are we so naive as to think the users
then would become teetotalers or genteel sippers of the occasional glass of

So we are engaged in a monstrous effort [totally fruitless] to switch 20% of
our addicts to an alcohol addiction that holds far more health hazards and
inflicts far more anti-social behavior on society.

But it is not just the absurdity of our policy or the myriad individual
tragedies that we must suffer. The very ethos of America -- traditions and
values that we have nurtured since our inception -- is being eroded.

In the name of the war on drugs, we have seen a warping of the traditional
balance sought by our Founding Fathers. Federal power, especially coercive
power, is on the rise.

The constitutional protections of individual liberty are being diminished
(the judicial system notes the "drug exception to the 4th Amendment"). The
formal separation of powers distorted by mandatory minimum sentences and
informally by law enforcement's encroachment on the doctor/patient
relationship. And then there is the racist impact of unequal application of
the law.

Ironically, the use of the criminal justice system, for what is
fundamentally a public health problem, has so overloaded our courts that
they no longer function effectively. And this pales beside the havoc we have
created in foreign countries.

Now dies Ezequiel, a victim of the passing of yet another tradition, the
prohibition on the use of the armed forces as a police force on domestic

I have proudly served as an officer in the Marines and assert that they are
as fine a group of fighting men this country can produce, but their use in
this manner is inappropriate. They have been trained to kill a foreign enemy
in time of war. Their misuse has resulted in the killing of a treasured
fellow citizen.

We have forfeited what should be priceless for empty promises of increased
security. Every individual has the capacity to resist the use of drugs. If
we persist in enlisting the police power of the state to save us from
ourselves, we will gain nothing; twice zero is still zero. But the costs
will be dear. There will be many more Ezequiels, many more weeping friends
and families.

Jerry Epstein is vice president of the Drug Policy Forum of Texas