Governments can employ drug wars for superficial purposes. Sometimes it’s to provide plausible denials for committing human rights crimes against minorities, or even political opponents. Several events in Florida and Russia illustrate the continuing problem of drug war human rights abuses:
In October 2017, Derek Benefield was driving in the Florida Panhandle’s Jackson County when he was pulled over for allegedly swerving into the opposite lane. Once at the car, sheriff’s deputy Zachary Wester claimed to smell marijuana and conducted a search of the vehicle, which, he reported, turned up methamphetamine and marijuana. Despite insisting the drugs weren’t his, Benefield, who was already on probation, was arrested, charged $1,100 in fines and court fees, and sentenced to one year in county jail.
Benefield was seven months into his sentence when, in September 2018, the state attorney’s office dropped his case and those of 118 others. Largely thanks to the diligence of one assistant state attorney, Wester was suspected of routinely planting drugs during traffic stops over his two years in the department. […]
In Russia, human rights leader Oyub Titiyev of Chechnya was recently released from a Russian jail after serving 18 months for 207 grams of marijuana. His supporters say the charges were fabricated after his car was stopped for a documents check. In another case, Russian investigative reporter Ivan Golunov was arrested and charged with drug trafficking, leading to rebukes by Russian journalists and human rights activists that the authorities planted the drugs. Russia’s Interior Ministry was forced to drop the charges against Golunov due in part to Golunov’s status as a public figure, and because the Ministry couldn’t prove he owned the drugs. The incident inspired an ongoing public debate causing many Russians to reconsider their support for Russia’s drug war.
Whether it involves the planting of drugs on 1950s black motorists in Pasadena, California, to discourage them from moving into white neighborhoods, or the more recent performance of President Rodrigo Duterte’s Philippine drug war, a conflict the UN Human Rights Council sees as a homicidal attack on the poor—drugs notwithstanding; drug wars demonstrate how categorical thinkers in governments use law enforcement to harass or even eliminate an immense range of people deemed undesirable. It’s no surprise public perceptions of drug wars emerge that make the friendly local police officer on the beat look rare, even extinct, replaced by sanctioned predators, destroyers of lives and careers.