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Monday, July 4, 2011

DA Plays The Role of A Redcoat

DA plays the role of a Redcoat
The Morning Call by Paul Carpenter - July 2, 2011

The 1994 movie "The Professional" was controversial for only one thing, its sexy portrayal of a pubescent girl. Twelve-year-old Mathilda, played by Natalie Portman, has the hots for Leon, a grizzled hitman nearly four times her age, played by Jean Reno. Leon has given her refuge in his seedy apartment to save her from a squad of government drug agents. The agents, from the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, had murdered her drug-dealing father and the rest of her family, not because her father was a crook but because he was holding out on them. Now they're after the one they missed, Mathilda. There was a fuss over Portman's revealing outfits and sexpot behavior, but not over the portrayal of the DEA as corrupt, perhaps because many felt that was accurate.

The movie was set in New York City, where Frank Serpico claimed it was impossible for any honest cop to function in the police force's drug unit, an allegation distressingly confirmed in 1972 by the Knapp Commission. Another report, issued by the Mollen Commission in 1994, found that things had only become worse. "Today's [police] corruption is characterized by brutality, theft, abuse of authority and active police criminality," said the report. Unfortunately, the problem is not unique to New York. It is in this climate that, as reported on Thursday, District Attorney John Morganelli boasted that he is using $283,406 in the "ill-gotten gains" of drug dealers, grabbed over the past year in the local portion of the so-called war on drugs, to "support" Northampton County's law enforcement people. Part of the money will go to Bethlehem and Easton police, the story said, while another part goes toward paying the salary of one of Morganelli's assistants, a drug case specialist, and for undercover drug purchases and other police goodies.

The idea that government officials can use official power to confiscate valuables, and then use those valuables for their own benefit, should make every American's hair stand on end. As I have argued before, this nation was created because of a gallant struggle against the abuse of power, not the least of which was called "customs racketeering." Public schools have stopped teaching that, because since the war on drugs began, it reflects poorly on fellow government authorities. Many teachers depict the Boston Massacre as a petty conflict involving citizens throwing snowballs at Redcoats. In reality, it was a pivotal event that helped pave the way to the American Revolution, representing the anger of colonists subjected to corrupt law enforcement. The disputes involved successive measures imposed from London — the Townshend Act, the Stamp Act, the Tea Act and other attempts to subjugate the colonies. One such attempt was the Crown's appointment of customs agents to enforce trade restrictions. Their salaries were based on how much contraband they could grab, giving them a motive to enforce laws with personal gain, not the public good, in mind.

In 1770, hundreds of people gathered to protest that process at Boston's Custom House. The Redcoats fired into the crowd, killing five and wounding eight others. It was no small skirmish over a snowball barrage. It was a meaningful conflict over the issue of whether government authorities should profit from what they confiscate by using their power. It involves a principle as precious as any that helped create this nation. The war on drugs is every bit as misguided as Prohibition, and too many drug agents — local, state or federal — are every bit as corrupt as the revenuers who operated from 1919 to 1933. Now, at a time some law enforcement people display the ultimate in dedication to serving and protecting the public — as in the case of Berks County Deputy Sheriff Kyle Pagerly, slain in the line of duty on Wednesday — it seems that others are more interested in grabbing loot for themselves. The only way to keep law enforcement people honest in that regard is to require that their salaries and other compensation be firmly set by elected bodies and that any valuables confiscated from anyone, in any government operation, be turned over to officials independent of law enforcement. Any other approach guarantees corruption and the abuse of power identical to that inflicted by the customs racketeers in Boston 241 years ago. "This is for Mathilda," says the hitman hero of "The Professional," as he sacrifices his own life to blow up the evil head of New York's DEA office with an arsenal of hand grenades. Somehow, that made some of us think of colonial Boston. 610-820-6176

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