We hear a lot about the top 1%. We don’t hear a lot about the bottom 1%. There are about 313 million people in America today. 1% of 313 million is 3,130,000. In our prisons today are 2,200,000 people. So the people in prison are 2/3 of one percent. And their wages are typically about 23 cents an hour. They are, essentially, the bottom 1%.
Many of them are there for violent crimes, theft, fraud, and other such things. But hundreds of thousands of them are there for buying, selling, or producing illegal drugs. The drug war has put them there. And we taxpayers are paying $30,000 a year and more to keep them there.
So let me get this straight: high-income people are paying lots of taxes so that the government can put poor people in prison and keep them poor or put non-poor people in prison and make them poor.
We hear the occupy people advocate taxing the top 1% more. I’ve got a better idea: let’s tax the top 1% less–they’re already paying a disproportionately high share of taxes–and let a few hundred thousand of the bottom one percent out of prison and out of their grinding poverty in prison.
Today Tony’s Kansas City highlights a statement by former City Council candidate and liberty activist Tracy Ward on the deployment of “Scattershot” technology to pick up gunfire activity through Kansas City:
Tracy Ward: “Why is this shot spotter program teaming with the ATA? What project for the ATA was the money originally earmarked for that they’re now using for the shot spotter? There just seems to be a lot of back room dealing in this situation. Where were the public meetings and the opportunity for testimony before this was put into place? The news just reports the hope that these surveillance mechanisms might be used to stop crimes with little statistical data to back up that idea. In reality, the public should know that those microphones in these shot spotters can pick up and listen to more than just gunfire.”
Right now the rate of local violence and homicide is so bad that the locals seem more worried about security than guarding against any threat to civil liberties. Nevertheless, Tracy’s questions about new Kansas City surveillance tech are consistent with her local efforts to raise awareness about challenges to freedom in the digital age.
The elephant in this room is the cause of this wave of violence and homicide. Tracy is right in her claim that these surveillance mechanisms are worryingly intrusive, and Tony is right that Kansas City right now is focused on ways to secure life and property from violent criminals. Yet there is at least one policy option that urgently needs to be discussed as part of the solution, and for this I turn to the words of Neill Franklin, a retired police officer with 33 years of drug law enforcement:
Primarily, violence in this country. The cartels are now in over 200 cities in our country–with that comes violence. We have our neighborhood gangs–with that comes violence. And it is all attributed to prohibition of drugs in this country. And in order to eliminate that violence and harm we have to end our war on drugs.
You should also watch this video of Neill Franklin speaking to the National NAACP last year. His speech is a powerful indictment of the War on Drugs from a law enforcement perspective:
I submit that until we can deal with Kansas City’s gang problem, citizens will continue to be threatened by increasingly intrusive government surveillance, which Tracy fears, and Kansas City residents will continue to be insecure in their persons and property, which Tony fears. Yet we don’t need to live like this. Kansas City needs to come to a realization that the time is long past for this discussion to happen at all levels of our government.
Indeed, Kansas City may look to the example set by Columbia, Missouri. Popular discontent with the use of SWAT teams to enforce marijuana and drug search warrants forced the City Council and Police Department to change policy. Indeed, Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton has even endorsed marijuana legalization, indicating that this would do much to undermine criminal activity:
“All of these petitions are geared towards supporting Chief Burton and demonstrating there is a lot of public support for his tenure as police chief,” Sivasailam said.
The KCF petition points out Burton’s reforms within the department that have been applauded such as his limited use of SWAT teams when serving warrants and his endorsement of the legalization of marijuana.”I think he is a progressive and critical thinker about the laws we have instead of just blindly enforcing laws,” Sivasailam said, “The petitions are also meant to balance out opposition from CPOA’s request of removing the chief. We want to make sure the city manager hears everyones voice on this not just CPOA’s narrow one.”
Burton said he does not believe a majority of his department agrees with Cuttle and that the officers union is “running rampant.” He also said he believes the officers who are most vocal are having a hard time adjusting to accountability.
“Nobody likes being held accountable,” Burton said. “Rules had to be put into place to get things under control. It started with SWAT. Changes are not always comfortable.”
Matthes said the union told him its goal is to get Burton fired and that it plans to engage media outlets to foster a groundswell of public support for Burton’s ouster. “The exact opposite is what’s happening,” Matthes said. “What I’m hearing from the community, they don’t like the approach the fraternal order is using.”
Matthes said he also was contacted by officers who expressed embarrassment about the union’s tactics. Although he said he respects the views of officers who back the union’s statements, it is “painful” to see the union speak for others who do not agree.