Drug City only way to get free and drug-free society

October 26, 1997|By GREGORY KANE

The letter came from a woman who understandably refused to identify herself. But it shows the necessity of considering something like a Drug City, and very soon.

"Cockeysville, Md.," is all the woman would write for a return address. She used for her name only her initials, S. B. She wrote about the late September incident in which Peter Jackson -- a Jamaican national -- was stopped at Baltimore-Washington International Airport and strip-searched in America's continuing obsession to stop illegal drugs in our country but not at the source.

"I was dismayed to see a center, front-page article in The Sun Oct. 1 devoted to the story of a musician who had the bad luck to be detained by customs agents on suspicion of drugs. I was dismayed for two reasons. First, I felt sympathetic toward Jackson and was upset because I found myself in similar circumstances 20 years ago and it relived the memory for me. But second, and more important because The Sun's editors felt the story was important enough to give it front page attention. It seems any reporter who can dig up a story involving an African-American who complains that he or she was treated in a certain manner because of his race can guarantee themselves a good position in The Sun. It is, after all, Baltimore's favorite topic -- racial discrimination.

"More than 20 years ago, I was an 18-year-old white woman traveling with two other women my age. We had just finished a two-month modeling contract in Tokyo, Japan, and were stopping over in Honolulu for several days for a little break before returning to New York, our home base. Myself and one of the other girls were pulled out of the customs line at the airport and without any explanation, were shoved into an interrogation room one at a time. My friend was taken first, and I waited for what seemed an eternity. I was scared to death and no one would let me know why I was being detained, what was happening to my friend, or what they wanted from me. When my friend finally emerged, she was in hysterics, sobbing uncontrollably. She was whisked right past me and I was not allowed to exchange any words with her. I was left to only imagine what horror she might have been through and wonder what my own fate might be. They next forced me into a room where I was questioned repeatedly about my travels and who had contacted me about carrying drugs for them. I told them that I had no idea what they were talking about. I was then placed in a room where I was strip-searched, including as your reporter so eloquently put it 'all body cavities. '

"When they could not find any evidence on, or in my person, and they realized that I was not going to offer them any information, they sent me back into the airport, dazed and confused, still without a word of explanation of why they had pulled myself and the one friend out of line, and certainly without any apology when their search revealed nothing."

S. B. then went back to the race issue, charging that her incident would not have been reported in any newspaper in America but admitting she didn't report the incident.

She should have. The issue here is civil liberties, not race. Sun editors put the Jackson story on the front page because they realize the civil liberties implications, not the racial ones. S. B. should have reported her incident to the media, her congressman, her senator and the entire western world. She should have nailed those customs agents with a lawsuit. She might even have gone to her local A-C-To-Hell-With-You office and challenged them to do something useful in the field of civil liberties for a change.

The U.S. Constitution clearly forbids unreasonable searches. Customs agents -- whether they're body probing S. B. 20 years ago or Peter Jackson a month ago -- aren't exempt from the proscriptions of the Fourth Amendment. Every police officer knows he or she can only make either a consent search or a search incident to arrest. Neither S. B. nor Jackson gave consent. Neither was under arrest. That both were searched should make every American who cherishes civil liberties ask just who the hell do customs agents think they are.

Both incidents should also make us ask if, indeed, we should build something like Drug City -- a haven where drug users can choose to go and get all the drugs they would want. Drug users chose their path in life -- the one that leads down the road of addiction, dependency and irresponsibility. Why should those Americans who have rejected that lifestyle give up their civil liberties for the ones who have chosen it?

The truth is we shouldn't. Americans want both a free society and a drug-free society. Building a Drug City may be the only way we can have both.

Pub Date: 10/26/97

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