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Pyle: Drug warriors continue to defend the indefensible

Published July 18, 2014 11:17 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix ..."

— Allen Ginsberg, "Howl," 1955

The people who are in charge of enforcing the law in Ogden were refreshingly candid in their review of the tragic events of Jan. 4, 2012. (Except, perhaps, for the fact that the summary had to be dragged out of them by a lawsuit, now settled, filed by the open-records crusaders at The Salt Lake Tribune.)

That was the night that one police officer was killed, several others were wounded, and one troubled pot grower — who was little threat to anyone until the police broke down his door with their assault weapons — was shot and dragged off to jail.

Where he committed suicide a year and a half later.

Clearly, the raid was a giant cluster kerfuffle from the beginning.

One of the cops had his arm in a sling. Many of them weren't wearing flak jackets, didn't have full magazines in their weapons, weren't carrying the proper radios and didn't have anything near the command structure that became necessary when the cops, who were unsure if anyone was home, or even if anyone really lived in that house, were confronted by its resident, one Matthew David Stewart.

Who, when he became aware that several heavily armed, and sloppily dressed, men had crashed into his home, reacted just as many self-respecting, Second Amendment-loving Utahns would. Even if the invaders did shout, "Police!" He shot first and asked questions never.

But the most stunning thing about the report, and its release, is that County Attorney Dee Smith and Police Chief Mike Ashment still think the raid was a good idea.

As President Lincoln did not say about Gen. Grant, find out what these people are smoking, and make sure that nobody else in law enforcement gets any of it.

Whatever mind-altering substance afflicts these otherwise devoted public servants is clearly more deadly than the 16 marijuana plants that the Weber-Morgan County Narcotics Task Force got in exchange for all that blood and suffering.

It's too late, of course. The power of the drug war to cloud men's minds is well known. Except to those whose minds are clouded. Just like the coke fiend who insists he can quit any time he wants.

Ashment insists that even though the officers were ill-prepared to go into a situation where they should not have been — under-equipped, disorganized and lacking crucial knowledge of the lay of the land — their actions still qualified as "heroic."

The same could be said for the Marines at Khe Sanh. Or the Aussies and Kiwis at Gallipoli. They fought bravely and took heavy casualties in the service of leaders whose judgment was not worthy of their sacrifice.

The chief also rejects the notion that the bloody night in Ogden was the result of the growing militarization of American police forces. He insists that, if anything, the officers involved were under-armed, in the sense that they didn't have enough in the way of bulletproof vests, shields and helmets.

Maybe. Maybe if you are sending officers into a situation where they need bulletproof vests, shields and helmets, they shouldn't be going in there at all. Especially when their quarry is not a Black Panther or Posse Comitatus band of heavily armed rebels, but one sad man who may have been engaged in nothing more than a pitiful attempt to self-medicate.

The survivors of that tragic night would not be blamed if it haunted them for years to come. And they should not be blamed if, irony of ironies, they sought relief for their post-traumatic stress by swinging by a legal marijuana dispensary in Colorado, Washington or whichever state is next in the march toward the legalization. A trend that is succeeding at the polls not because more people think marijuana is good, but because more people know that the war on drugs is bad.

George Pyle, a Tribune editorial writer, meets his self-medication needs with coffee. Lots of coffee.


Twitter: @debatestate






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