[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Another innocent victim of the war on drugs

Esequiel Hernandez is dead, another victim not of drugs but of the war on drugs.

An innocent 18 year-old high school student from the small Texas border town of Redford, 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. Esequiel'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 Esequiel, 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 drugs.
  • 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 illegal 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 wine?

So we are engaged in a monstrous effort 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 isn't 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 Fourth Amendment"). The formal separation of powers is being 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 Esequiel, a victim of the passing of yet another tradition, the prohibition on the use of the armed forces as a police force on domestic soil.

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 Esequiels and many more weeping friends and families.

Jerry Epstein
vice president, Drug Policy Forum of Texas

This article copyright 1997 the Dallas Morning News and is reproduced for non-profit educational purposes only.

return to Hernandez focus page  return to DPF-T home page

[an error occurred while processing this directive]