“The war on alcohol and the war on drugs were symbiotic campaigns,” says Harvard historian Lisa McGirr, author of The War on Alcohol: Prohibition and the Rise of the American State. “Those two campaigns emerged together, [and] they had the same shared…logic. Many of the same individuals were involved in both campaigns.”
Did alcohol prohibition of the 1920s ever really come to an end, or did it just metastasize into something far more destructive and difficult to abolish—what we casually refer to as “the war on drugs?” McGirr argues that our national ban on booze routed around its own repeal via the 21st Amendment. Ultimately, Prohibition transformed into a worldwide campaign against the drug trade
The ties between drug and alcohol prohibition run deep. The Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) was established in 1930, only three years prior to Prohibition’s repeal. The FBN employed many of the same officials as the Federal Bureau of Prohibition. And both shared institutional spaces as independent entities within the U.S. Treasury Department. “In some ways,” observes McGirr, “the war never ended.”
Despite what supporters of police militarization claim, being a cop doesn’t require increasingly deadly kit. It’s not even particularly dangerous.
Daniel Bier writes: Defenders of police militarization, such as that on display in Ferguson, Missouri, often claim that it’s necessary to provide military gear to cops, given how dangerous law enforcement has become.
Indeed, in the name of the War on Terror and the War on Drugs, the federal government has provided thousands of pieces of military-grade body armor, mine-resistant armored personnel carriers, assault rifles, grenade launchers, helicopters, and night-vision goggles to local police and sheriffs. Almost every county in Americahas received equipment from these programs.
But has policing really become so dangerous that we need to arm peace officers like an invading army? The answer is no. It’s never been safer to be a cop.
To start with, few police officers die in the line of duty. Since 1900, only 18,781 police officers have died from any work-related injury. That’s an average of 164 a year. In absolute terms, officer fatalities peaked in 1930 (during alcohol prohibition) at 297, spiking again in the 1970s before steadily declining since.
If you look at police fatalities adjusted for the US population, the decline is even starker. 2013 was the safest year for American policing since 1875.
David Harsanyi writes: After news of the baffling decision by the New York grand jury not to indict a police officer in the killing of Eric Garner, I sent out a (slightly) hyperbolic tweet that wondered why Americans would want to entrust their free speech and health care to an institution that will kill you over failure to pay a cigarette tax.
If they can kill you over a cigarette tax, why would you trust them to run the internet, regulate your speech and choose your health care?
— David Harsanyi (@davidharsanyi) December 4, 2014
Since then, I’ve seen numerous tweets discounting this argument as preposterous. It’s something akin to blaming jaywalking for the death of Michael Brown, we’re told. Rand Paul touched on the issue in an interview on msnbc yesterday and was, predictably, ridiculed for it by liberals – because mentioning the circumstances of a violent act is preposterous, apparently.
Though it certainly isn’t close to being the most important lesson of this inexplicable case, it’s not something that should be dismissed so flippantly.
Garner wasn’t targeted for death because he was avoiding taxes, but nonetheless, prohibitive cigarette taxes unnecessarily create situations that make events like this possible.
We frame violent acts and unintended consequences in this way all the time. When we discuss how illegal immigrant women can be the helpless victims of domestic violence, we also blame unreasonable laws for creating the situation. Read the rest of this entry »