Column: Casulties Of War

Column: Casulties Of War
Posted by FoM on February 19, 2000 at 08:52:07 PT
By Bill Lueders 
Source: Isthmus 
Anti-drug Posturing Is Causing More Damage Than Illegal Drugs Themselves. Here's what's not in dispute: Lt. Terry Rice and Mike Merkl are, as one colleague expressed, "two of the best, most respected firefighters we've had on the job." Each has logged nearly 20 years of distinguished, courageous service. But for reasons that have nothing to do with their on-the-job performance-or for that matter, basic standards of decency and common sense-Fire Chief Debra Amesqua is seeking to have both men fired. 
In the private sector, says Rice, someone with his work history convicted of misdemeanor cocaine possession would likely be welcomed back. "Too bad, I was in the Fire Department and we have a chief like Amesqua," he says. "She's taking one of her better employees and making an example of him." That's exactly what Amesqua is doing. Rice's crime-for which he has already endured public humiliation and 12 days in jail-is that, five years ago, he twice helped a roommate obtain some cocaine and sampled the drug himself. Merkl's involvement was more serious, and he drew a longer jail term. But there's no indication either man ever used cocaine on the job. Amesqua is nonetheless pursuing termination because, she says, "There is no place in the Madison Fire Department for those who break the law, neglect their duty, and disgrace their uniform." This is as false as it is fatuous, since the department has in the past hired a convicted felon and let other firefighters convicted of drunk driving keep their jobs. Amesqua's handling of this case has nothing to do with preserving the integrity of the Fire Department and everything to do with anti-drug posturing. On Monday, the Madison Police and Fire Commission, probably the area's most plodding and incompetent body public, met to set a schedule of evidentiary hearings against Merkl and Rice. But even this proved too much for the PFC to accomplish in a single meeting, and the process of schedule-setting will resume March 2. During however long it takes the PFC to do its business (in some past cases it's taken more than a year), city taxpayers will be paying Rice and Merkl not to work. This is especially sad given that Rice and Merkl have evidently performed better in their jobs than PFC-pick Amesqua has in hers. But when Amesqua's lack of qualifications and managerial ability became a public issue in 1998, the mayor and others cut her a huge break. People who have been treated with mercy should show some themselves. In fact, if Amesqua weren't such a lousy manager, the Fire Department might have negotiated a sensible disciplinary outcome. To this day, says Rice, "If they said to me I could come back to work but be demoted, I would do that." He might even agree to an unpaid suspension, which may be what the PFC ends up imposing, after wasting tens of thousands of the taxpayers' dollars. [dropcap] The notion that a firefighter who used coke five years ago is unfit to work today, however silly, is perfectly in keeping with much of the national discussion on drugs. Take the 2000 presidential election.please. That George W. Bush may have used cocaine has received considerably more attention than his shameless indulgence in corporate cronyism. Meanwhile, Al Gore has apparently decided that lying is the best policy when it comes to his own purportedly extensive history of recreational drug use. According to a book excerpt in Newsweek, Gore and former good buddy John Warnecke would "talk politics late into the night, fueled by Grateful Dead albums and high-grade marijuana." This doesn't make Gore unfit to lead, but it does expose his hypocricy. Under Clinton and Gore, the War on Pot has escalated to new heights-in 1997, there were 695,000 pot arrests nationally, 87% for simple possession. This week, the total of people in U.S. jails and prisons surpassed two million, with 60% of federal inmates being drug offenders. In Dane County, District Attorney Diane Nicks has maintained a "Dragnet"-like approach toward pot, with hundreds of people each year being charged with crimes, often felonies, for mere possession. She says her goal is to "deter drug use." Of course, she's doing no such thing; she's merely using the law to damage people's lives far more severely than smoking marijuana ever did. The first casualty of the War on Drugs, like all wars, is truth. In Milwaukee, the police union has accused Mayor John Norquist and the police chief of having "the blood of innocent victims" on their hands because they backed decriminalizing of up to 25 grams of pot. In fact, almost none of Milwaukee's drug killings involve marijuana. Closer to home, Fox 47's lead news story last Thursday was about a Baraboo DARE officer who feels a FedEx Superbowl ad undid 30 years of anti-drug education because it showed the Munchkins from the Wizard of Oz inhaling helium to regain their high-pitched voices. This, supposedly, is an invitation to kids to start sniffing inhalants. Does anyone really believe this? Or is it evidence that anti-drug crusaders are no longer expected to make sense? [dropcap] Sadly, the War on Drugs is more than just foolish. It's a threat to ordinary people's lives and liberty. Just ask Gordon Vergeront. The owner of Three G Auto in Madison, Vergeront says that on Feb. 9 more than a dozen heavily armed members of the Dane County Narcotics and Gang Task Force (including Madison police) without warning busted down the door of a house he owns near Rimrock Road. Vergeront, who rents the residence to two men in their mid-20s but keeps a room in the basement, saw the whole thing, and feared for his life. "It was like a Dirty Harry movie," he says. By Vergeront's account (MPD spokesperson Dave Gouran did not respond to a request for comment), the intruders "trashed" the entire house, causing what he estimates is $10,000 in damage. They busted doors off hinges with such force that one lodged into a wall. They threw his young renter to the floor, and held a gun to his head. They smashed electronic games and confiscated a microwave. And, finding nothing but a small amount of marijuana in a film container, they left without making an arrest. Vergeront says the cops refused to say what prompted this intrusion, for which Judge Dan Moeser signed a search warrant, but they did make one thing clear: "The burden of making repairs is on the landlord." Bill Lueders ( blueders ) is news editor of Isthmus. News Article Courtesy of MapInc. Frank S. World Drug Policy Forum of Wisconin MapInc. & DrugSense News Articles & Search:
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Comment #1 posted by kaptinemo on February 19, 2000 at 09:07:47 PT
More, FoM! More! 
Please? (Smile)As mentioned before, when the journalists start to feel safe in criticizing what they used to mutely watch and not report for fear of retaliation, then the tide is turning. This puts a very human face on the dry facts and figures, and shows just how much of a contradiction exists between DrugWarrior professions of serving the public and their real actions.
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