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Does anyone have the courage to say drug war is overblown?
The Orlando Sentinel July 13, 1997

By Charley Reese of The Sentinel Staff

Ezequiel Hernandez, 18, was, by accounts of his family and friends, a good boy. He was out herding his family's goats near the border in Southwest Texas when he was shot to death by U.S. Marines a few weeks ago.

A grand jury is currently investigating. Some people who knew the boy speculate the boy's death was the result of mistakes -- an honest, understandable mistake on the part of the Marines and a more serious, less forgiveable mistake by politicians. They say it is inconceivable that he would have knowingly fired at Marines.

The boy had a .22 rifle, and he did fire it. Family and friends believe that he may have been just plinking at a target, such as a stone or a tin can, not aware that beyond the target Marines in heavy camouflage were concealed on a stakeout looking for drug dealers. But, the Marines thought he was firing at them, returned fire, and killed him.

If that's the way it happened (and, at the moment, we don't know), it's a tragedy, but the Marines are not to blame. The people who are to blame are the politicians whoinsist on using the military in civilian police functions.

Lt. Gen. Carlton W. Fulford, the commander of these Marines from the lst Marine Expeditionary Force, has said publicly he wishes that they weren't involved.

There are good reasons why the military should not be used in civilian police work. The training for the military and the police is quite different because their jobs are quite different.

The military's job, to use the current slang, is to ''break things and kill people.'' The police's job is to take into custody people they have probable cause to believe committed a crime but who are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty.

The well-trained police officer's instincts are to avoid violence if at all possible. The well-trained soldier's instincts are to inflict violence and to inflict it aggressively. The military spends a lot of money training soldiers to be aggressive because in war, aggressiveness wins battles and ultimately saves lives -- on our side -- by killing the enemy soldiers first.

We should be careful that our civilian police are not militarized and that our military forces are not ''civilianized.'' And one way to do that is to keep the military out of civilian police work and to avoid military-style training and uniforms for civilian police.

Another way is to stop this political demagoguery about a drug war. It's not a war. It's plain, old-fashioned smuggling and sale of contraband. Even some of our revolutionary forefathers were involved in smuggling. Whenever a government designates some commodity as illegal, it automatically creates a black market for the commodity. It doesn't matter whether it's rum or marijuana or untaxed bolts of cloth. If a government says people can't have it and enough people want it, somebody will supply it.

So all we are doing is what governments have always done -- trying to catch the smugglers and their distributors. What's that got to do with war? Nothing. Illegal drugs may not be good for you, but they are not that much worse, if any, than the stuff that is legal.

If you look at the deaths attributed to alcohol; take note that doctor-prescribed drugs kill 60,000 to 140,000 people per year (article in Hospital Practice, November 1994); and if you believe that the government's claim that tobacco kills 400,000 people a year (I think that's a phony number, but it's the official government line), then the ban on narcotics really doesn't make any sense. The last number I could find for drug-abuse deaths was from 1991 -- it was just less than 7,000.

This article copyright 1997 the Orlando Sentinel and is reproduced for non-profit educational purposes only.

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