Regarding the Harding Street drug raid violence and related matters

During the evening of Monday, 2019 January 28, the execution of a drug-related search warrant by Houston Police Department officers ended with five officers going to the hospital, four for gunfire-related injuries and a fifth with a knee injury ( report). In the aftermath of this, the president of the Houston Police Officers Union, Joe Gamaldi, minced no words in calling those who fired back upon the HPD officers “dirtbags” in addition to stating the following (quote from a later story):

If you’re the ones that are out there spreading the rhetoric that police officers are the enemy, just know we’ve all got your number now, we’re going to be keeping track of all of y’all, and we’re going to make sure that we hold you accountable every time you stir the pot on our police officers. We’ve had enough, folks. We’re out there doing our jobs every day, putting our lives on the line for our families.

I feel the need to address these latter comments as a long-time outspoken critic of some activities of law enforcement and the legal system.

First, I have never advocated violence against law enforcement officers or others who work in the legal system (such as attorneys, judges, etc). I condemn the violence that occurred this Monday with the same vigor that I condemned the murder of Deputy Darren Goforth in 2015. The actions of the suspects are an outrageous affront to decent society and it is my hope that the officers injured in the shootout make the best and speediest recovery possible given current medical technology.

I get that as the president of a police officers union in a large city, a lot of the job is PR and, by extension, playing up the cops as the good guys. I wish I could say for sure exactly what was intended by the words “stir the pot” in this context. I would like to think that First Amendment-protected nonviolent free speech, in the form of criticism of law enforcement officers who betray the trust of those they are supposed to be serving and protecting, is not being targeted as “stir[ring] the pot”.

It is unavoidable that sooner or later, some cops will prove it was a mistake to trust them with the power of the badge. There are bad apples in every field: medicine (doctors, nurses, EMTs), fast food/restaurants, messengers/couriers, information technology (including internet help desks and sysadmins), marketing and PR, entertainment (including youth-focused classes of entertainment such as face painting and balloon twisting), just to name a few. It stands to reason that some who enter law enforcement and the practice of the people’s/state’s side of criminal law will wind up showing their lack of fitness to serve their respective professions.

The difference is that a bad cop or a bad DA can really screw up a life or even multiple lives with a mistake, more so than most other professions. When they do, we, the people, have the right to be heard and speak out about it. We, the people, have just as much of a right to hold law enforcement and DAs accountable as we do to hold anyone else accountable. Sometimes the last-ditch appeal to the press is the only thing that really works.

I get that law enforcement is a risky business. But don’t forget the US Constitution is part of those laws as well.

The Satanic Temple versus a Texas abortion rule

Sometimes our last hope (or one of our last hopes) for getting rid of unjust laws and regulations comes from the most unlikely of places. Such as it does in this case, where the Satanic Temple stands ready to sue to oppose a blatantly stupid regulation.

As recently reported, the aforementioned Satanic Temple has claimed the new anti-abortion regulations (not laws) that Texas has passed violate their religious freedom. The rule says that post-abortion fetal remains must be buried or cremated. This applies to abortions at hospitals and abortion clinics (and other healthcare facilities). The rule stops short of requiring death certificates for fetal tissue thankfully, but should still be considered offensive to anyone who values the availability of safe and legal abortion.

Before I get flamed to a crisp, I’d like to clear the air. The Satanic Temple, despite what its name may appear to imply, is probably not what you think it is. It would be better to think of them as “extreme atheists” per this description from Wikipedia (trimmed down to the relevant portion):

The Satanic Temple is an American political activist organization […]. The group utilizes satanic imagery to promote egalitarianism, social justice and the separation of church and state. Their stated mission is “to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people”.

Even as a rather hardcore atheist, I find my comfort zone really tested by groups such as the Satanic Temple. The shock value of using Satanic imagery is part of how they get the point across regarding separation of church and state, probably because it’s the only way they can get the point across to the most devout Bible-thumping Christians. I get that.

I do believe in egalitarianism, the separation of church and state, and social justice. The fact that the Satanic Temple and similar groups happen to believe in the same causes won’t change that. The reasons why I had to explain that the Satanic Temple is not what it first appears, however, is one of the reasons why I remain hesitant to openly support them.

I picked atheism, or more accurately, secular humanism, for a reason. I won’t go into the details here, but I will basically say that I’m best at doing me, and going to church and blindly believing in a god felt like I’m being an actor in a play more than just being myself. When I had religion, I just didn’t feel like I was doing me.

My pro-choice stance on abortion doesn’t come about because I don’t believe life is sacred–it is. It is a logical continuation of my stance on legalizing or at least decriminalizing most recreational drugs. Remember that here in the US, we once had a period where abortion was outright illegal in at least some jurisdictions. Like the laws prohibiting use and possession of recreational drugs, however, these laws which criminalized abortion didn’t stop abortion–they just moved it to the back alleys to be done by guys with coat hangers and other similarly crude instruments, and no medical training.

No, my stance on keeping abortion legal and accessible is that I would rather have legal abortions in a proper medical setting, done by properly trained doctors, where if something goes wrong, it can be cared for properly instead of a back-alley abortionist having to call for an ambulance which may or may not get there in time–and remember that back-alley abortionist won’t be there when it arrives unless he/she wants to risk criminal prosecution.

So yeah, it’s a shame that we need the Satanic Temple to get some people to see just how screwed up these anti-abortion laws and regulations are. We really shouldn’t. That silly rule is un-Texan and needs to be stricken down. If the Satanic Temple happens to be the ones to get it done, more power to them.

Today we celebrate the Twenty-First Amendment to the US Constitution

I haven’t posted about this in years past, though to be fair I haven’t really partaken of alcoholic beverages as much in more recent years. But today is the day that the Twenty-First Amendment of the US Constitution was passed, repealing the Eighteenth Amendment which established Prohibition. Or, as some call it, simply “Repeal Day.”

Thankfully we have learned in more recent years that the Constitution is just not the place for this kind of fleeting, knee-jerk reactions to the social mores of the time. It is a huge pain in the ass to pass a Constitutional amendment, and just as big to pass another one to repeal it if it turns out to be a mistake.

I’m going to try to find an appropriate time today to drink from my rather small stock of alcoholic beverages (an unopened bottle of wine from a couple of years ago, and two stronger-than-average “Double IPA” cans of beer). If you don’t drink alcohol–and I know there are a few of you out there–you can celebrate freedom of choice instead, however you choose. In a broader sense that’s really what the Twenty-First Amendment was about, though it was also about ending a policy that was in effect “dead on arrival.”

The Wikipedia article “Prohibition in the United States” describes how Prohibition came to be to begin with. And, unfortunately, not much has changed today: faith-based organizations and movements haven’t tried to ban alcohol in most locales, but have turned instead to other things like abortion and school curricula.

This quote from the above article is of particular note, as there is a direct parallel to what is happening with drug prohibition today:

In October 1930, just two weeks before the congressional midterm elections, bootlegger George Cassiday—”the man in the green hat”—came forward and told how he had bootlegged for ten years for members of Congress. One of the few bootleggers ever to tell his story, Cassiday wrote five front-page articles for The Washington Post, in which he estimated that 80% of congressmen and senators drank. The Democrats in the North were mostly wets, and in the 1932 election, they made major gains. The wets argued that prohibition was not stopping crime, and was actually causing the creation of large-scale, well-funded and well-armed criminal syndicates. As Prohibition became increasingly unpopular, especially in urban areas, its repeal was eagerly anticipated.

Indeed, George Santayana was spot on: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” As it looks like we are doing just that (repeating the past) regarding drug prohibition. Outlawing alcoholic beverages didn’t work then, and outlawing drugs (a.k.a. the “War on Some Drugs”) hasn’t worked in modern times.

That thing in New Braunfels

There are things that make me proud to be a Texan. To say the least, this isn’t one of them.

PoliceOne recently published this story (linking to the original article in the San Antonio Express-News) about the New Braunfels PD’s seizure of a 2007 Chevrolet Corvette Z06, which they repainted and gave it a really lame name inspired by a certain toy and cartoon franchise recently turned movie franchise, which I will not reprint here because I believe it to be in poor taste.

My biggest objection is:

The conspicuous vehicle will be mostly used during community outreach events to excite youth about law enforcement, [New Braunfels Police Department spokesperson David] Ferguson said to [the San Antonio Express-News].

The drug problem would have been solved long ago by decriminalization. The only reason there is money in the drug trade is that it is illicit. The law is simply the wrong tool used to solve the drug problem. Not only are we losing the War on Some Drugs (as it has been called), I think it’s safe to say this war is in its endgame. In fact, if we are going to call it a war, I’d say it’s the law enforcement equivalent of Vietnam: not only is it lost, but our law enforcement agencies are still fighting it even though it’s been lost and there’s no hope of winning it this way.

Let’s look at an alternative reality where drug usage was decriminalized, and treated strictly as a social problem. The street price of most narcotics would drop back a lot closer to the cost of manufacture. The dealers would be doing good to afford something like an old station wagon or minivan to move their goods across town; a Corvette would be out of the question. The law enforcement agencies would no longer be able to rob drug dealers of their cars (and yes, were it not for the fact this was the government using means of legal process, the taking of this Corvette would qualify as robbery). Even if they somehow were still able to take the drug dealers’ vehicles, somehow painting up an old station wagon and sending it around town does not strike me as the kind of thing that will get kids saying they want to grow up to be cops.

So in essence, this is about a car thief showing off his ill-gotten ride to the world. Except, in this case, the car thief wears blue, carries a badge and gun, and worst of all gets paid for with our tax dollars.

Look, I get that kids will read about Darren Goforth and have second thoughts about a career in law enforcement, the same way they will likely read about Eric Cropp and reconsider becoming a pharmacist. (I draw the parallel here, because while Eric is a free man today, his career as a practicing pharmacist has likely ended.) But the kids have the right to know that from a certain perspective, that car is stolen property and the cops are no better than the drug dealers and drug users who will steal what they want.

Finally, I suggest a new name for this sports-car-turned-police-recruiting-tool: The New Braunfels Phallus-mobile. Because when it comes down to it, that’s really what it is: New Braunfels PD waving the equivalent of a huge dick at the world. Really, I think they should just put it back in their pants.

The Red Cross actually gets it!

Finally, there appears to be hope. An international organization has spoken out against drug prohibition, and it’s up to us to raise awareness.

I first read about this in an article on The organization is the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. The full statement is avaiable on the IFRC’s own website.

I’ll summarize the key points here:

  • Injectable drug use, when combined with prostitution to pay for drug habits (a consequence of prohibition is increased prices), increases the likelihood of spreading HIV, Hepatitis C, and other diseases;
  • Recreational drug use is a health issue, not a crime issue, and criminalizing drug use only serves to make the problem worse;
  • Drug prohibition simply does not work.

I’m glad the Red Cross “gets it.” How much longer until the world’s various governments, including law enforcement, figure it out?

[Edit 2023-10-10: Update long-dead links to copies.]