116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Iowa police recently brought out the big guns for a large-scale, multi-department drug bust.
After police posted a photo on social media showing an armored vehicle staffed by an officer in tactical gear, some Iowans wondered if bringing that kind of equipment to residential neighborhoods over drugs was an excessive show of force.
“Given the violent nature of drug dealers, the equipment was necessary,” Des Moines police wrote on Twitter, defending the operation.
Violent nature of drug dealers? I have met a couple people who sell drugs and I have never seen them be violent. Then again, I’ve never confronted them at their homes in the dark while I was sporting a long gun and bulletproof clothes.
More than two dozen law enforcement organizations collaborated on last month’s operation in Des Moines, including local departments, federal agencies and interjurisdictional task forces. They targeted heroin and fentanyl trafficking and brought federal charges against at least 27 people. A news release from the U.S. Department of Justice makes no mention of weapons used by or recovered from those indicted.
The link between drugs and violence may be well established in the minds of police and Hollywood writers, but it’s mostly imaginary. Overwhelmingly, violence in the drug trade happens because the government outlaws drugs. There is nothing inherently violent about the people who sell them.
There’s an easy way to test the theory that drug dealers are violent. Go to your neighborhood convenience store. The clerks there basically are legal drug dealers selling beer, liquor and tobacco. Observe them for an hour and see if they commit any acts of violence.
You can run the same test if you are lucky enough to live near one of Iowa’s three authorized cannabidiol dispensaries or a legal pot shop in Illinois. You probably will not find any store employees being violent.
Sometimes people traffic cigarettes for tax reasons or sell unregulated bootleg liquor. Sometimes consumers rob businesses to get substances. But all that pales in comparison to the serious violence forced on our communities by drug prohibition. We ought to wonder what the difference is between the local liquor store employee and the neighborhood drug dealer.
Among buyers and sellers of illegal drugs, a top reason for violence is that there are few legal ways to resolve disputes. If you get bilked and report it to government agents, they’re more likely to arrest you than help you recover your money or goods.
Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions accidentally made that point while arguing to “get tough again” against drugs.
“Drug trafficking is an inherently violent business. If you want to collect a drug debt, you can’t, and don’t, file a lawsuit in court. You collect it by the barrel of a gun,” Sessions wrote in the opening of a Washington Post guest column in 2017.
His argument was self-defeating from the very first paragraph. Why do illicit opioid sellers sometimes resort to guns but Busch Light distributors are not known to do so? It’s not hard to figure out.
The difference is that the government protects one industry while waging a literal war against the other. Wars, not drugs, are inherently violent.
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