Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Problem with Drug Laws

It all seemed so cut and dried a week ago, didn't it? A shootout during a drug raid, resulting in the death on one police officer and the wounding of another. But at least they got the perps:

"Police have confirmed that a man and a woman have been arrested. CTV's Genevieve Beauchemin said a suspect -- reportedly the woman -- was shot."[emphasis mine]

The "suspects" were arrested, one of them also wounded. They have since been charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder, firing a gun with intent to wound and endangerment.

Justice has been served for Det.-Sgt. Daniel Tessier and his family, right?

Think again.

It turns out, the shooter was not a drug dealer, or a mule, or a cooker. He was family man, a father and it now appears he was protecting his family from what he perceived was a home invasion robbery.

Basile Parasiris, his wife and two children awoke in a panic as police used a battering ram to break into their Brossard home and then started firing their guns inside during Friday's pre-dawn raid, his lawyer said yesterday.

Lawyer Frank Pappas said his client was trying to defend himself and his family when he grabbed a loaded gun and shot Laval Constable Daniel Tessier - whom Parasiris mistook for a crazed thief.

"If he would've believed it was the police, do you think he would have taken them on?" Pappas said in an interview. "They have more firepower than him."[emphasis mine]

M. Parasiris did this with a legally registered firearm, which the police, presumably, should have known about. He admits to illegally keeping it loaded, but that is all.

Parasiris' wife was also wounded in the raid which, incidentally, netted nothing - no drugs, no guns - save two pills of of viagra he didn't have a prescription for. Neither he nor his wife have a criminal record.

So now we have tragedy pilled upon tragedy. A police officer dead and a father's life ruined by what appears to be a mistake or negligence. Of course, this is not the first time these kinds of problems have occurred, especially in connection with so-called "no knock" drug raids. It is nothing new to Canada either. During the 80's, the OPP TRU team shot and killed a farmer near Windsor Ontario who saw armed men on his property and came out to defend his family. It was later discovered that the team was supposed to be at the farm next door, to deal with a suicidal man and had shot an innocent man.

The problem of course is not simply or merely bad police intelligence or drug dealers living in residential areas using innocent neighbours as "human shields" (the 'Hezzbollah Gambit'). The problem is with our drug laws. The problem is that we have drug laws. The prohibition on drugs has created the violence - gangs and organized crime move in to take over and feed the demand and can resort to violence because other, non-violent avenues of conflict resolution have been closed off. This was the great lesson of Prohibition. Why would we expect a prohibition on drugs - any drugs - to work any better?

Det-Sgt. Tessier and the rest of the squad could have been working on solving murders, sexual assaults, frauds or recovering stolen property (something the police rarely do these days). He would not have been in such a dangerous situation. M. Parasiris would be getting up to go to work today. And there would be as much violence in the drug trade as there is in the alcohol trade today - none.

All of this Kafkaesque tragedy could have been, and can be in the future, avoided.

It not like many police officers themselves don't think the same thing. For a very good and biting commentary, check out this here, here and finally here. LEAP has a video to make you think as well.

How many more tragedies on all sides do we need to suffer through before we realize that the prohibition of drugs creates more problems and violence thant the drugs themselves?

In the meanwhile, lets hope M. Parasiris is exonerated in this horrible mistake and returned to his family. And lets hope Det-Sgt. Tessier family get some answers as to what went wrong.

(h/t to Jay Jardine)


Jay give us more context. Its looking more and more like an innocent man defending his family in after the police made a terrible mistake.

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At 9:48 AM, Blogger Andrew said...

"The problem of course is not bad police intelligence or drug dealers living in residential areas using innocent neighbours as "human shields" (the 'Hezzbollah Gambit'). The problem is with our drug laws. The problem is that we have drug laws. "

Uhm - no. While you can make valid arguments against drug laws, a case of mistaken identity/bad intelligence like this one IS NOT a symptom of the problem you then go on to describe.

If this situation had occoured during a raid on a suspected serial murderer's home, would you be arguing that we need to abolish our rules outlawing killing? Of course not.

If you want to argue for legalization there are plenty of viable ways to do so; this is not one of them, unfortunately.

At 10:01 AM, Blogger Mike said...

Point taken Andrew. Perhaps I should add the word "merely" in front.

The main point of that is, of course, that there would be no intelligence gathering to go wrong and no no-knock drug raid policy.

The entire situation was created because of the existence of the drug laws and poor intelligence is merely an annoying and all too common (if you follow the link to Balko).

Anyways, I'll fix the sentence to be more clear.

At 10:06 AM, Blogger Andrew said...

Granted that this specific case would not have happened had their not been drug laws.

Still, I contend that a specific police botch-up does not speak to the necessity or validity of any given law.

You need to refute the actual substance of the law, not an unintended mishap, if you're going to convince most people.

At 10:13 AM, Blogger Mike said...

"Still, I contend that a specific police botch-up does not speak to the necessity or validity of any given law."

Only insofar as that without prohibition, there would be no drug-related violence and without drug related violence, there would be no cops breaking down doors in the dead of night, guns blazing. In other words, the conditions that lead ultimately to this tragedy would not have existed and the tragedy would not have happened.

And as I point out with the OPP example and the link to Radley Balko's work, this is not an isolated incident, nor uncommon. Why I believe there was a 79 year old grandmother charged with murder in the US a few weeks ago for killing a cop under nearly identical circumstances.

I guess my point is that without the law, Tessier would not have been there.

Check out the LEAF video I linked to, its quite informative.

At 1:53 PM, Blogger Jay Jardine said...

Mike, while you and I are in agreement on the folly of drug laws (and could effectively argue that case on its own), I think that a lot of prohibitionists who would otherwise sympathize with the predicament Mr. Parasiris found himself in that night are going to be put off swallowing a package deal of abolishing the drug war along with the tactics used in the drug war.

Better to get them in a position of trying to defend the latter. Once they realize they can't fight the drug war effectively without them, they have work through the ugly utilitarian metrics of weighing the deaths caused by the drug war versus the deaths caused by legal drug use.

At 2:20 PM, Blogger Jay Jardine said...

Btw, the grandmother you referred to was Kathryn Johnston, 88. She was actually killed by the cops after opening fire in a similarly botched raid.

At 2:25 PM, Blogger Mike said...

Thanks for the clarifications Jay. Much appreciated.

At 4:58 PM, Blogger Chimera said...

There really needs to be a better system of accountability in this country. Tessier was killed by stupidity as much as by a bullet. He and the rest of the cops who misread the warrant should be held fully responsible.

Even if Parasiris had not had a gun, the cops would still have broken into the wrong illegal act in itself. They are not, however, required to even offer an apology in such cases. Shoulders get shrugged and excuses get mumbled. And citizens who have their lives turned inside out get screwed. Again.

I have friends on three police forces, so I'm not anti-cop. I'm just anti-stupid.

At 6:46 PM, Blogger Alison said...

Chimera : I'm not sure we know that this tragedy stemmed from misreading a warrant yet, do we?
Did I miss something? It might also be a matter of bad intelligence higher up the chain.

What an awful tragedy.
If I lived in a neighbourhood with a history of middle-of-the-night home invasions and 13 guys with no uniforms and no warning stormed into my house at 5am , I would do anything I could to defend my family without having any time for second thought.
This is going to get much messier yet, if you and Jay are right in your interpretation of what happened here.
You see this as a case against drug laws, Mike. I see it as a case against guns.

At 10:07 PM, Blogger Mike said...


All I know is if drugs were legal, like alcohol is now, there would have been no drug related violence, like there is no alcohol related violence (from selling and trafficking, not from consuming). Hence, there would have been no cops bursting in the door. And then it wouldn't have mattered about the guns at all.

That being said, though, I grew up on a farm and we used to keep loaded guns in the house all the time. No one ever got hurt or shot and my brother fired the shotgun in the air once to scare off a burglar - it worked.

At 3:14 AM, Blogger Alison said...

Yeah, well, no argument from me on decriminalizing drugs. Most people I know can handle guns - doesn't make me any happier about guns being owned by a whole lot of people who can't.
Just dropped by to report that CBCNews on the tube tonight is still referring to the Parasiris family as "drug dealers".


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