07/28/13 Radley Balko

Cultural Baggage Radio Show

Radley Balko, author of "Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces" + Raymond Swanson re death of his son in prison from pepper spray + Conn city unanimous vote for Med MJ & Jerry Epstein of DPFT speaks to enthralled Young Republicans in Texas

Audio file


Cultural Baggage / July 28, 2013



DEAN BECKER: Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.

“It’s not only inhumane, it is really fundamentally Un-American.”

“No more! Drug War!” “No more! Drug War!”
“No more! Drug War!” “No more! Drug War!”

DEAN BECKER: My Name is Dean Becker. I don’t condone or encourage the use of any drugs, legal or illegal. I report the unvarnished truth about the pharmaceutical, banking, prison and judicial nightmare that feeds on Eternal Drug War.


DEAN BECKER: Hi, this is Dean Becker and you’re listening to Cultural Baggage on the Drug Truth Network and Pacifica radio. You know for a couple of years it got to be kind of a drag. We’re coming up on 12 years of the Drug Truth Network. There just wasn’t too much action and not too much happening that you could be proud of or see as progress.

But in the last couple years and especially this year it’s a lot of fun. Ending the drug war is a lot of fun. You ought to give it a try.

Let’s get the show started.


DEAN BECKER: It’s been too long since I spoke to our next guest. He’s worked at various organizations trying to better this nation. He’s written several great articles and has now published what I think is the best book dealing with the subject of drug reform. It’s called, “Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces.”

With that I want to welcome, once again, Radley Balko. How are you, sir?

RADLEY BALKO: I’m well. Thanks for having me on again.

DEAN BECKER: Radley, I just finished the book this morning. I try to read these books right in front of the interview. I’m just stoked. This thing rips the gut out of the logic of the drug war. Thank you, sir.

RADLEY BALKO: My pleasure. Thanks for the compliments. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

DEAN BECKER: This talks about …I want to preface this with back in the late 60s I was a cop. I pinned on that badge, strapped on that gun and swore to uphold the Constitution. It was a whole different world than what we have created now through this methodology of eternal drug war.

RADLEY BALKO: Yeah, I think the world of policing has changed dramatically through a number of evolutions over the years but I think what we have today are police officers who are armed like soldiers, uniformed like soldiers, trained like soldiers and told that they are fighting a war. It is having a very real effect on the way cops approach their job and having a real effect on the relationship between cops and the communities that they serve.

DEAN BECKER: This is a substantial book. I was thrilled with all the information. I love how you closed out each chapter with the statistics that kind of supported what was in that chapter.

RADLEY BALKO: I’ve been writing on this issue for a long time and one of the criticisms I sometimes get is that these are just anecdotes when we talk about these raids or people get killed or police officers get killed. You know that there is no data behind this and this is just arguing with anecdotes so I wanted to be sure a lot of hard data in the book to support the points that I was making.

DEAN BECKER: And you have indeed, sir. I think this is perhaps a Rosetta Stone that politicians can read and underscore what we as reformers have been advocating for well over a decade now that it just doesn’t make sense to chase down the very few people with assault weapons, the very few people that actually present a danger…it’s enormous overkill, right?

RADLEY BALKO: Absolutely. There is an appropriate use for these SWAT teams and that’s when you’re using violence to defuse an already violent situation – where somebody presents an immediate threat to the safety to other people. You think bank robbers, terrorists or active shooters.

The problem is the vast, vast majority of these raids are to serve search warrants. When you are serving a search warrant on someone at that point they’re merely a suspect of a crime and you’re visiting violence upon them before they are even charged. On top of that you’re creating this violence. You are not using violence to defuse violence. You are creating violence where there was none before. I think that’s really the rub of the problem.

DEAN BECKER: The book also talks about the militarization and how it’s for officer safety and how it’s such a good thing for the department but the number of police deaths has been going down, the level of violence conflicted against them has been going down.

RADLEY BALKO: Last year was the second safest year for police officers since the early 1960s. The number of officers actually murdered on the job was tiny. You are actually more likely to be murdered just by living in a city like Chicago or Philadelphia or Miami than you are to murdered on the job as a police officer.

This isn’t to say that some police officers don’t have more dangerous jobs than others. I’m sure every officer’s job is more dangerous than a journalist who writes about police issues.

The problem is cops are constantly told how dangerous their job is and that every day could be their last and that every interaction could be their last and if you are told that over and over again you are going to start to view those…if you are told over and over again that every interaction with a citizen could be your last you are going to start looking at citizens (the people you are serving) as potential threats. That’s going to affect the way you interact with them. It’s going to affect the way you approach your job and the relationship you have with the community that you patrol.

DEAN BECKER: To quote the old Field of Dreams, “If you build it they will come.” If you acquire these tanks and high powered weapons and other flash bang grenades and such they will be used.

RADLEY BALKO: It’s the classic, “When you have a hammer every problem looks like a nail” situation and this is what we are seeing. Even beyond the drug war we’re seeing SWAT tactics used to serve warrants on people suspected of gambling and poker games and even on regulatory law. SWAT teams are sent to bars where the police thought there was underage drinking going on.

It’s gotten to the point where this is not force that is reserved for threats that are comparable to the force. It is force that basically being used as a first option.

Yesterday I actually debated a police officer on cable news who said he knew of police departments that serve every single warrant with a SWAT team. There was a time when you reserved the SWAT teams for these once a year, once every 5 years, once every 10 year situations. Now this is the first option for serving search warrants.

There hasn’t really been a good public discussion or public debate about this.

DEAN BECKER: I spoke earlier that you’ve woven all these great details to make a substantial case against this drug war. I think it important to note that through our actions we have empowered the drug war even further.

RADLEY BALKO: I think this is an important point that I try to emphasize in the book which this is not about hating cops. This is not about directing all of your anger at cops. These are policies that created the situation that we’re in today, bad policies.

A lot of them had effects that the lawmakers passed and never intended. Congress never voted to militarize the country’s police forces. There was never a debate about that. This is a result of a lot of laws taken together that have got us here.

If we want to roll this back, if we want to make sure that the police are using the force that is proportional going forward it’s really the politicians that we are going to have to move to act and to start taking this issue seriously.

DEAN BECKER: Once again, we are speaking with Mr. Radley Balko. He’s author of “Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces.”

Another component of the book is you reach back all the way to Old English history and follow the Castle Doctrine. It kind of touches on what you were just saying – how it has evolved or devolved over the decades.

RADLEY BALKO: The Castle Doctrine is this age old notion that the home should be a place of peace and sanctuary. It should be a place you can go and expect not to be attacked or confronted.

Even going back to Old English law, common law in England there was this idea of Castle Doctrine and the policies that went with it like “knock and announce” which said that if the king was going to send someone to your home he had to knock and announce his name, his presence and purpose and give you the chance to come to the door and let him in peacefully and avoid the violence and destruction of property of forced entry. Only then could they force their way inside if you refuse them entry and even then it should only be for the most severe crimes or most severe reasons.

That carried over into the founding of the United States. The founders all cherished the idea that the home is a place of peace and sanctuary. It’s really just been in the last 40 years or so with the drug war that we’ve seen the Castle Doctrine slowly evaporate.

One of the Supreme Court cases I cite in the book ( I think it was U.S. v Banks) in the early 2000s it was an unanimous decision. Basically what the court said is the police had knocked and announced themselves and then waited 15 to 20 seconds before forcing themselves inside. The suspect argued that wasn’t enough time because he was taking a shower and it wasn’t enough time to get to the door.

Whether or not you agree that that’s enough time is beside the point. The problem was the Supreme Court came to its decision and it calculated what it thought was an acceptable time for police to wait not by how long it would take the average person to get to the door to let them in - which is the whole point of the Castle Doctrine – instead the Court said that the police should not have to wait so long that somebody inside would have the opportunity to destroy evidence – basically flush drugs down the toilet.

At that point the Castle Doctrine turned from this policy that was supposed to give homeowners a chance to protect their home from violence and destruction to a policy that assumes people are guilty and the police should be able to enter before you can destroy any evidence.

That case didn’t really make a lot of headlines when that decision came down but I think it was really a kind of a turning point.

DEAN BECKER: In your book you talk about in 1968 the Court ruled that police officers can stop, detain, and frisk someone based on no more than “reasonable suspicion.”

That’s holy hell set lose as far as I’m concerned.

RADLEY BALKO: That was the Warren Court – the allegedly liberal, pro-defense rights court. We’ve seen in New York over the last decade or so what that particular decision has had on particularly communities of color.

I suppose some people might argue that NYPD is taking that decision way too far but the courts so far have upheld it.

DEAN BECKER: They’ve upheld a lot of stuff that I think makes no sense.

Contained in your book you have chapters and paragraphs that talk about the little guy – the guy who someone observes and claims that they’re growing weed and that they are a major player and how the police forces can set in play a scenario that destroys that person’s if not their life their future in their community despite the fact that there’s no drugs or very little drugs in the abode or nearby barn.

RADLEY BALKO: Before you can fight a war against an enemy you have to dehumanize the enemy. I think for a generation now politicians have succeeded in dehumanizing drug offenders – making them into these existential threats to our children and society and everything we hold dear. It’s only once you do that we become sort of complacent and OK with the idea that, again, sending 10 heavily-armed police officers, dressed and trained as soldiers to force their way into somebody’s house in the middle of the night over basically a few plants.

You can’t just start doing that overnight. You have to condition the public to become OK with it.

DEAN BECKER: Contained within your book you also have quotes from a few of my friends. I noted the chapter where Russ Jones had infiltrated the Hell’s Angels. He stopped cutting his hair, grew his beard and got involved and how he approached the resolution of his investigation. He told them to take off those black clothes and just go knock on the door and see who answered.

RADLEY BALKO: I think a lot of people today don’t realize that there was a time when drug warrants were served by police – uniformed cops coming up, knocking on the door and waiting for somebody to answer. It hasn’t always been the case that you have these battering rams, flash grenades, heavily-armed police officers dressed like Robocop.

It hasn’t always been this way. I interviewed a lot of older cops who talked about even with the Hell’s Angels you knocked on the door. They made it clear that they were police and they let them in.

The justification for these raids is that these people want to kill cops. I just don’t think that’s true. Most people, even drug dealers and criminals know that if you kill a cop you are going to be lucky to last the next 5 seconds. If you last those seconds you’re going to be in prison for the rest of your life. If you’re in a death penalty state you’re probably going to be executed.

I think that most of the time even when drug dealers are shooting at cops during these raids it’s because they think they are rival drug dealers breaking in in the middle of the night and not announcing themselves.

DEAN BECKER: I’ve read about 120 books dealing with the subject of drug war in one fashion or another. This one is at the top of the list. This is “Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces.” It’s written by Mr. Radley Balko.

I know we gotta go. Closing thoughts? Maybe a website?

RADLEY BALKO: You can get the book on Amazon or your local book store. I write for the Huffington Post now so you can find my work there.

Thank you for the compliment. It’s very flattering and what you hope people are going to say when you’re writing and researching a book like this.


(Game show music)

DEAN BECKER: It’s time to play: Name That Drug by Its Side Effects.

Unexpected swelling, joint pain, headaches, dizziness, weakness, unusual bruising, coughing up blood that looks like coffee grinds, red stools that look like tar, severe, uncontrollable bleeding and death…


Time’s up!

The answer: Padraxa for irregular heartbeat.


RAYMOND SWANSON: My name is Raymond Edward Swanson, I. My son was Raymond Edward Swanson, II. He was in Travis State County jail in Austin, Texas doing time.

He had 24 months to do and he had served about a year and one-half and was getting ready for parole. He had 167 days of good time and he was doing very well. I would say more or less a model prisoner because he had never had any consultations.

What happened on March 15 about 5 o’clock in the morning was one of female guards came into the dormitory area. He was waiting to go to work which he asleep at 5 o’clock in the morning so she snatched his shirt, work him up and startled him so he got up and asked her what was going on.

She went off on him and said, “They should have told you that Officer Smith was on duty today. You should have had your shirt in another position.”

He made a smart comment, “Misery sure love company.” She told him to go outside. He followed her instructions and went outside. At that point she started taking all of his belongings, kicking them around the room, kicking them outdoors.

He said, “Give me rank and file.”

I guess that’s the regular procedure to ask for someone over her to come try to defuse the situation. When he asks for “rank and file” that’s when she sprayed him with some kind of pepper spray and he hit the ground.

They took him to the infirmary and put him in solitary confinement, confined him for 15 days, took all his good time away from him, gave him no-contact for 45 days, no commissary for 45 days.

At that time I got the news and I called the warden and asked him about the situation. Come to find out there was a witness that saw the whole thing go down. I talked to the warden and asked him, “Don’t you think that’s a little bit stiff punishment?”

He said, “No, not when you assault a guard.”

I said he had a witness that said he didn’t assault the guard. He said, “Who you talking about? The other prisoner?”

I said, “Yeah, that’s a witness.”

He said, “No, they all gonna stick together anyway.”

Well, my son was in the hole at that time. Turned out the witness wrote the same, identical statement as to what happened. My son never touched the female officer.

Doing my own research they never put him through detox. They let him out of the hole on April 1st - 22 days later my son was dead.

We’ve been trying to find justice in this cause because the criminal justice system is wrong on the streets as well as once you do your time in the prison. If you’re doing your time all you want to do is do your time and come home.

I end up with a body bag and a box of his belongings.

DEAN BECKER: Raymond, I think it important that once he was pepper sprayed he was not allowed to detox. He was not even allowed to rinse his eyes or clear his nasal passages. He was put in a tank with no running water.

RAYMOND SWANSON: In the letter that he finally got a chance to write home he told me that, “Pop, all I got is water. The water in the faucet is not coming out. The only water that’s running is in the toilet and that’s what I have to wash my face with.”

At that point he was coughing up blood and mucus so he never got the stuff out of his system. When we finally got the autopsy report back some kind of yellow fungus had grew all his body and shut his vital signs down.

Now they are trying to say my boy was obese. He weighed 245 pounds, built like an athlete, was an athlete in high school. For a black man that is not obese. He’s just healthy.

Never been sick a day in his life so I don’t know where obese come from but, then, it’s just another form of cover up to say, “Nah, he had a heart attack.”

If he had got medical treatment, if he had been detoxed the stuff never would have got to his vital system anyway.

DEAN BECKER: What most folks out there don’t realize is you can buy that pepper spray at the hardware store these days and it is powerful but the stuff they use in the prisons is a magnitude much stronger than that.

RAYMOND SWANSON: Oh yeah, the stuff that they use come to find out it supposed to stop a lion. If a lion is charging at you you can spray him with that pepper spray and he’s going to hit the ground.

DEAN BECKER: And after receiving that dose of this high powered stuff he got no medical treatment. He wasn’t even allowed to clean out his nose or his eyes.

RAYMOND SWANSON: Never got a chance to rinse his face out no more than just in the toilet. Not only that his mom visited him the Sunday before he died and he was complaining of a headache. He told her, “Mom, it cost me $100 to go see a doctor in here.”

The other prisons that don’t have money they don’t pay nothing to go see a doctor. That’s another form of injustice. If I got money on my books and that money is to buy personal items or whatever I need to keep myself happy while I’m in confinement – not to pay medical bills that the state is paying the prison industry anyway on the average of $371 per day per prisoner housed. Anybody can do the math. If you got 2,000 prisoners how much money that prison system is making per day per man and then multiply that by how many days you got in a year. It’s a multi-billion, trillion dollar industry. That’s why the government keeps building more prisons instead of finding a way to help people stay out of prison. They give you more time – the more time you got the more money you’re worth to them.

DEAN BECKER: I think it important to realize that this example with your son is one more time uncivilized. The Trayvon Martin thing showed how far from rational our civilization has gone. Your son’s story is another example of how uncivilized we have become.

RAYMOND SWANSON: That’s true. Come to find out less than one month later a Hispanic died from the same almost like symptoms that my son had. I don’t know the story behind that. I know he had …in the beginning they said my son was laying out on the floor like he was having a seizure. The report on the Hispanic guy said he was in the same situation.

What comes to mind is how many people, not just my son, but how many other sons have died in prison and we just sat back and say he had a heart attack or whatever the medical examiner says and we just go along with it.

It’s a business wherein we have no rights. On the streets your rights stop the minute a police officer stops you. Your whole life, your family’s life can change in the twinkling of an eye.

DEAN BECKER: Your son’s story is just another example of the millions of stories that happen across America and are never really investigated because the system is designed to protect those in power.

RAYMOND SWANSON: Not only that when I found out my son was in the hole and for what reason I didn’t just called the warden I wrote the warden. I wrote elected officials right here in Houston, Texas. I know they got the mail. I wrote the parole board in Austin and the parole board in Huntsville. Less than 45 days later, after this letter writing, my son is dead.

I end up with a body bag and box for memories.

DEAN BECKER: I know you and Mr. Kevin Simms and the National African American Forum have set up a foundation in regards to your son. Tell us about that, please.

RAYMOND SWANSON: That foundation is set up, the Raymond Edward Swanson, II Foundation. You can make a charitable donation at any Bank of America. We need your prayers. We need your support. Most of all we need to come together as a corporate group of people – it’s just not a black thing, not just a white thing, it’s universal culture – and stop the madness for our kids. Your kid could be next.

This is what we’re looking for. We need people to come out and support the issues. Just because it’s election time and the officials are out saying they are going to make a stand. You go back to Rodney King and all the other tragedies that have happened out here in America – they have not changed much of anything. And it still goes on today.


DEAN BECKER: The following report from Connecticut.


FEMALE REPORTER: It looks like West Haven may soon be home to a medical marijuana sight.

MALE REPORTER: A vote has given a green light to that facility. Kent Pierce is live near the proposed sight in West Haven to tell us what that means and what happens next.

Good morning, Kent.

KENT PIERCE: Good morning. A unanimous vote by the Planning and Zoning commission last night said yes to the potential of a pot plant coming to this empty warehouse on Frontage Road.

Basically this has been abandoned for quite some time so it’s not doing anybody any good. A medical marijuana facility could do some people some good. That was the thinking, at least, when the state approved medical marijuana a few months ago. They only did so if it was very regulated system of growing and dispensing.

The state still has to issue a license. The fact that the city of West Haven has now approved the idea of growing marijuana in West Haven certainly gives the folks who want to grow it here a leg up on their competition.

There is still the little tricky part of the fact that the federal government views marijuana as an illegal drug. Other states have done this and so far the black helicopters have not swarmed.

If everything goes according to plan they could be growing pot here by the beginning of next year.


DEAN BECKER: Recently the Young Republicans of Houston held a very ruckus meeting to talk about the legalization of drugs. One of those invited to speak was the President of the Drug Policy Forum of Texas, Mr. Jerry Epstein.

JERRY EPSTEIN: In the ‘73 report that the drug war has never done anything useful since 1914 because it is based on false premises. If you continue this course based on false premises you are never going to have a success.


DEAN BECKER: It was a great gathering – even Fox reported positively on this event.

Please do your part to end this madness.

As always I remind you that because of prohibition you don’t know what’s in that bag. Please, be careful.


DEAN BECKER: To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the Unvarnished Truth.

Drug Truth Network archives are stored at the James A. Baker, III Institute for Policy Studies.

Tap dancing… on the edge… of an abyss.

Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org