On Monday, the Miami Herald posted an article about rising support for legalized medical marijuana in the state of Florida. The article mentioned an pro-pot activist named Cathy Jordan, who uses the drug to mitigate the symptoms of Lou Gehrig's disease. The article mentioned Sen. Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth), who is sponsoring a bill to legalize the drug. That bill is named after Jordan.
The Bradenton Herald now reports that just hours after that article ran, a team of ski-mask-clad deputies from the Manatee County Sheriff's Department staged a raid on Robert and Cathy Jordan's home. According to Robert Jordan, the cops seized 23 marijuana plants, including the two mature plants his wife uses to treat her illness. They made no arrests.
The raid is a stark example of the troubling trend of using paramilitary police tactics to send a political message. Set aside for a moment the sheer cruelty of sending government agents to separate a suffering, terminally ill woman from the medication that gives her some relief. (And yes, that's a major thing to set aside.) Why ski masks? Did the Manatee County Sheriff's Department really think that wheelchair-bound Cathy Jordan and her 64-year-old husband were a threat?
No, of course they didn't. This was about making an example of someone. Cathy Jordan's name is on a bill to legalize medical pot in Florida. So it was up to Florida law enforcement to bring the boot down upon Cathy Jordan's neck.
The police will say they were merely enforcing the law. Nonsense. First, Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube has discretion about which laws he enforces, and to what degree. He doesn't have the resources to enforce every law, all the time. He has to prioritize. And how he prioritizes -- how he uses the resources available to him -- is certainly something the public should consider when evaluating how well he's doing his job. Cathy Jordan's pot plants weren't harming anyone. I suppose it's now up to Manatee County residents to decide if sending a team of cops to take pot plants away from a sick woman was an appropriate use of public resources.
Second, even if we were to concede that Jordan was breaking the law, and that the Manatee County Sheriff's Department has an obligation to enforce that law, how it's enforced is also a matter of policy -- and something for which Manatee County residents can hold Sheriff Steube accountable.
In the end, it's a pretty safe bet that these deputies won't be disciplined or reprimanded, and that Sheriff Steube won't suffer any political consequence for the way this action was carried out.
And that's where all of this begins to get scary. It's one thing for a few bad cops or a power-tripping sheriff to use excessive force to make an example of someone because of a disagreement over politics or public policy. There will always be bad actors. It's how we react that matters. Whether or not the public supports medical marijuana itself isn't really the point, here. You can shut down a pot shop or take plants away from a sick person without guns and ski masks.
Here is the point: If we've reached the point where we're okay with -- or at best complacent about -- the government using violence to make an example of someone because of their political activism, then we've lost our grip on the principles that make free societies free. That these excessive, militarized raids on medical marijuana grows, clinics, and activists have been going on since the 1990s is a strong -- and sad -- indication that we let go of those values a long time ago.
UPDATE: A year after the publication of this article, Jordan told Politifact that, contrary to statements reported by the Bradenton Herald, officers did not have "guns drawn" when they approached his house. This article has been updated accordingly.
(The "Raid of the Day" features accounts of police raids I've found, researched, and reported while writing my forthcoming book Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces. It's due out in July, but you can pre-order it here.)