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Drug War Collusion: Top Cops, Lapdog Press, And the Art of Tax-Funded Campaigning

| July 15, 2012

R.J. Larizza, the state attorney for the 7th judicial district, which includes Flagler County, was offended at the suggestion that Wednesday’s drug sweep was a campaign ploy. Larizza, Flagler County Sheriff Don Fleming and Putnam County Sheriff Jeff Hardy are all running for re-election. They all appeared at the ‘news conference’ to take credit for the sweep, though not a single rank-and-file cop was allowed to share the limelight. (© FlaglerLive)

If prostitution is the oldest profession, drug-dealing—which must, by definition, include selling beer, wine and coffee—is a close second, because the hunt for pleasure predates both. Then we got Richard Nixon. He had the not-quite bright idea, exactly 43 years ago Saturday (July 14), to declare a war on drugs.

pierre tristam column flaglerlive He proposed a 10-point program that included giving cops permission to enter a home without a warning, which is now routine, and asking Congress for the kind of money usually devoted to plans for invading other countries. The war on drugs has been a very successful war on Americans, and an equally successful war on civil liberties and the Bill of Rights. Drugs have fared much better, thriving from epidemic to epidemic with no appreciable progress against the habits but superb results for the prison-industrial complex.

At the time of Nixon’s war declaration, 200,000 people were in prison. Today, 2.3 million people are behind bars, a more than 1,000 percent increase driven largely by the war on drugs and politicians’ addiction to harsher and longer sentences.  In Florida since 1990, the average time served in prison rose by 166 percent. In 2010, more than 1.6 million people were arrested for drug violations, 80 percent of them for mere possession, and half for possession of a marijuana joint or less. Talk about reefer madness. Next time you meet a politician or a judge or even a cop, ask: Can Americans really have gotten more criminally minded by a factor of a thousand in the last 43 years? Are Americans really so lawless that they must account for a quarter of the entire world’s prison population (which they do)?

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For all this, we’ve spent well over $1 trillion—assuming that the federal government alone has spent on average $25 to $30 billion a year on the war, not counting state and local jail costs. The money is still flowing. So are the drugs. So is the complicity between cops and the press that continues to make it possible. So is the corruption that greases it all, and the racism that underlies it: blacks, of course, are the disproportionate target of the scam.

On July 11, and not for the first time, I was myself an accomplice in Flagler County Sheriff Don Fleming’s latest bit of theater for the cause: a tri-county sweep of 78 fools who either possessed or sold a few prescription pills and were put in the slammer for it. The entire sweep across Flagler, St. Johns and Putnam counties by heaven knows how may police agencies netted no more than 1,500 pills, which is fewer than amounts you find in some of your grandmothers’ cabinets. And to think that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and its acolytes proudly spoke of their eight months (and untold tax dollars) devoted to the effort, as if local cops weren’t doing the very same thing every day, without the publicity, without the accolades, without the bogus choreography.

But it wasn’t about the pills. It was about the show of force, or what passes for force these day: targeting two-bit neighborhood pill-poppers. It was about Fleming, R.J. Larizza, the state attorney for the 7th Judicial Circuit, and Putnam County Sheriff Jeff Hardy running for election in a few weeks and using the ploy of a made-up news event for free air time: the perfect campaign commercial, starring reporters’ softball practice, little druggies, and our top cops bloviating about keeping our communities safe from boogeymen peddling painkillers.

Larizza, in as good an impersonation of Captain Renault as I’ve seen recently, was naturally “offended” at the suggestion. He then reflexively turbo-charged campaign mode to say he was doing what he was elected to do. Actually, he wasn’t doing anything at all aside from playing to the cameras and taking credit, though it’s the cops—the rank and file—that had done it all. As always, rank and file cops weren’t featured at the news conference. They never are. They’re too busy doing their job.

Ironically, Fleming mentioned Nixon’s drug war in his speech to the cameras and even noted how long these sweeps have been going on and how long they’ll keep going on. You didn’t have to be an Einstein to be reminded of Albert’s definition of insanity—doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Fleming conceded as much to me after the news conference, when he described the effort in no uncertain terms as “shoveling shit into the tide”–the most honest words I’d heard all afternoon.

What Fleming didn’t mention publicly is his son, who was the subject of a previous stunt two years ago, when he was arrested for illegally possessing prescription drugs. William Fleming is fine now. But jail didn’t fix him. Treatment did. And that’s the point. Whether you’re on crack, meth, Oxycodone or whiskey, if you’re an addict, you’re not a criminal. You’re sick. You need help. Not jail.

But treatment isn’t sexy for politicians. Fleming and Larizza can’t stand at a treatment clinic and give us their warmed-over propaganda about keeping communities safe. Prisons and jails would empty out. Police budgets would be revealed for the obscenity they are. And we couldn’t have that now, could we. We need a war to keep our cops busy and our prisons full, our sheriffs and state attorneys looking like the tough guys they are.

Until they hit the bottle at happy hour and congratulate themselves for a job well done to the clinks of their own drug of choice.

Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here.

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32 Responses for “Drug War Collusion: Top Cops, Lapdog Press, And the Art of Tax-Funded Campaigning”

  1. Time to vote says:

    When it is time to vote remember how corrupt these people who are supposed to protect and serve are. Vote them out!!! Most of the sherriff’s department is corrupt. How about deputies who allow Western Flagler County be over run with pill addicts and dealers, as long as, they can use them as informants…. Sad really that they are allowed to promote this kind of behavior to benefit themselves.


  2. Clint says:

    Congradulation Pierre, this is the first article of TRUTH I have ever agreed with. You see America has become the “Land of the Watched, and the Home of the Braveless”. Nobody has the courage or are just to scared to try and change the sorry mess that has become our once GREAT nation. Political BS and total control of the population is leading to the New World Order……I have to stop now, there’s a drone flying over my house taking pictures and recording my keystrokes !


  3. w.ryan says:

    Great article. On point! Such a large multitude unable to vote!


  4. Peter says:

    To the person who calls himself “question”:

    You seem to be a member of FCSO or perhaps the kingpin himself. While I don’t feel compelled to respond to you, I must say this: either you are choosing to ignore or are oblivious/naive of the existence of lawsuits (settled and pending) against FCSO for just what I mentioned. Do your research. And as far as roadside harassment goes, there again, you are either exempt because of your connections or your job, OR you lock yourself in your house after dark, but if you look into the matter you will will see, many people, mostly our youth, are detained during “routine stops”, often by 5 or 6 squad cars. I am not suggesting the involved deputies are bad people. I merely think their behavior is indicative of a culture perpetuated by the brass of an over-staffed, over-zealous department. And these incidents are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg, the ones we know of. Think about what we don’t know.


  5. palmcoaster says:

    My feeling is that we have a ring of maffia style running this district now and has to change. Stasia Warren got my vote!


  6. happeningnow says:

    Thank you, Editor, Flagler/Live. You are theonly TRUE voice we have in Flagler County. Everyday I wonder if TODAY will be the day I get THE phone call because my family member is no longer alive. I know they can’t be helped if they don’t want it, however, jail time would be the perfect place to help with drug addition. Not just one AA meeting either. Vince Carter at $800.00 per day, (who has that) has the right idea, they have mentors that stay with them after treatment to guide them so the DRUG dealers can’t get at them. And they do. They are parasites.Once they learn they can make it on their own, they are more than likely to help another. Drug addicts have a hole in their soul and use anything to fill it up. If they only coul learn you fill yourself up with you, it is manageable, Takes alot of love from others.


  7. palmcoaster says:

    When Jim Manfre was sheriff in 2004 he was rabidly witch hunted by the BOCC and the police benevolent chief Pat McGuire serving time later, for child sexual abuse, over a few hundred $$ calendar as was done on the election year…
    July 2004: The Flagler County Commission sued Sheriff Jim Manfre for access to Public Records that detail the costs of calendars and holiday greeting cards sent to residents of Bunnell. Manfre allegedly failed to provide access to the records, but disputes that the calendar is an election year political issue, not a violation of the Sunshine Law.

    These 2 spend hundreds of thousands in tax payers monies if not millions on the bogus show of enforcement and also while displaying his political signs in our city public right of way! Something is very shady around here.`Where is city code enforcement taking those down and away to the garbage container as they do with everyone else’s signs? Just kind of organized crime style.


  8. jj says:

    Great reporting P you report the truth. Hey flagler county voters. Its time to vote. Time to clean house


  9. Peter says:

    Rick, I think not Pierre, but you “severely missed the purpose of the drug sweep.” I think the article makes it completely clear that a lengthy tri-county investigation by who knows how many law enforcement professionals that netted 1500 prescription pills is a WASTE OF TAXPAYER MONEY no matter how you parse it! And it is totally motivated by election year politics! If, as you say, the war on drugs is a losing battle, why not consider a different approach? Did prohibition work? Pierre has not said anything disparaging about the professionals who conducted the investigation and raid, he merely questioned the wisdom of current anti-drug policies and our county’s top law enforcement officials’ timing and motivation for this expensive and ineffective drug sweep.


  10. Ray Thorne says:

    I think this story missed the mark. Its the pusher that was targeted not the addict. Yes addicts have a problem and treatment can help but there is no treatment other than incarceration for those addicted to the enormous amounts of money made by selling drugs.


  11. Peter says:

    Ray Thorne, were you reading the same article everyone else was reading? I believe the general gist of the article is that the war on drugs is costing the taxpayer a tremendous amount of money and is completely ineffective. And the recent costly tri-county “sweep” was a complete waste of resources because it netted only 1500 pills AND the whole operation was politically motivated. I happen to agree with the piece. If you don’t, fine, state your viewpoint, but to say it missed the mark only shows that you didn’t understand it. Sorry for my bluntness, no offense intended.


  12. palmcoaster says:

    The “local pseudo organize crime” political signs on the public right of way and on our public land right hand side of Palm Coast Parkway East, between Florida Park Drive and Colbert Lane, are finally gone today Tuesday. How convenient for the candidate, that took our City of Palm Coast code enforcement 2 days to have them removed….? Not only they used our taxes for political purposes they also used two plus days of public right of way and land for their personal benefit display.


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