On the other hand, Portugal dropped all criminal penalties for drug possession and use in 2001. Those found guilty are offered optional counseling, which is cheaper than incarceration. Drug use has fallen. Use of counseling and health services has doubled. HIV infections have dropped because addicts aren’t sharing needles. The country now has the lowest level of drug use of any western nation.
When I consider law enforcement, unintended consequences and our innate tendencies to underestimate risk and over rely on expectations, I recall the only really big story I covered in my years as an investigative reporter. I won’t reiterate a tale I’ve previously told here at length, about Buncombe County’s former sheriff who is spending 15 years with Bernie Madoff in Butner federal prison. He was convicted of extortion, running an illegal gambling operation, and mail fraud, but that wasn’t what undid him.
It was fairly common knowledge that the sheriff was crooked but no one seemed able to pin him down. But to use that heirloom aphorism: he missed a stitch and nine others unraveled. What happened was that his son tied his girlfriend to a bed and beat her for a week. When I got an anonymous tip and phoned the sheriff and identified myself, the first words out of his mouth were, “Now don’t go after my boy.” I hadn’t mentioned a boy. Had he enforced the law, charged his son with battery, kidnapping, whatever would apply, he might very well be a free man today. But he was so accustomed to getting away with crimes, so self-assured about his power, that he felt certain he could get away with a cover-up. He blamed her injuries on an auto accident, paid her to keep quiet, and threatened her life.
The murder created an international firestorm, it inflamed U
But the stitches had started popping. When my story about the cover-up appeared in the newspaper I suddenly heard from deputies who es out of it … but did I know about the pay-offs?
It was a cover-up that undid Richard Nixon in much the same way and for exactly the same reasons. A few years after Nixon resigned he told interviewer David Frost, “ When the President does it, that means it’s not illegal.” When Sheriff Medford was on the witness stand and the federal judge said “Didn’t you know that was illegal?” he turned to the judge and said, “I was the Sheriff.”
The Nixon example is particularly germane this week, following the new president’s firing of an acting attorney general which put many people in mind of Nixon’s firing of his attorney general who was similarly uncooperative.
Taking a very different tack, I am reminded of the lynching of Emmett Till, a black teenager who was brutally murdered in Mississippi in 1955. This is lately in the news because an interview has revealed that the woman who accused Till of sexual assault has finally recanted all these ily and community. She lied on the witness stand, claiming that a 14 year old boy had assaulted her, and it is hard to imagine how she lived with herself during the ensuing years. But the men who tortured and killed Emmett Till thought they were striking a blow for white supremacy.
The sale of guns from the evidence room?
Little did they know what would ensue. When Till’s body was exhibited in an open casket funeral in Chicago as many as 250,000 people attended the viewing. S./Soviet relations, and fueled the already potent Civil Rights movement. A generation of black Americans were enraged by the incident and determined to make change. They became the leaders who pushed for the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act, and spun off into the feminist and environmental movements. Emmett Till’s death struck a match that lit a fuse that resulted in an explosion of social justice work.