If at first you don’t succeed, fail and fail again?
In some ways, this mantra is an apt summation of the Drug Enforcement Agency. Created under the pen of President Richard Nixon in 1973, the DEA has spent over 50 years disproportionately targeting, terrorizing, and penalizing minority communities. They’ve had no shortages of resources either, with official records showing the DEA’s cumulative budget as $50.6 billion from 1972 to 2014.
This colossal use of money, resources, and manpower has resulted in mass incarceration, the shattering of countless families, and oppressed poor communities left unable to thrive under the prejudiced eye of the law. These gross inequities were also the reason many cities opted to enact equity programs.
While hardly a full balancing of the scales, these programs were built to ensure those most directly affected by the past actions of the DEA and local law enforcement were given first crack at opening legal cannabis businesses. As various cities and counties enact equity policies, it’s fair to interpret the need for equity as a damning indictment of the DEA’s failure to accomplish anything of merit in its nebulous, unending war on drugs.
With such a clear rebuke on the books in the form of equity programs, it may boggle the mind to learn that the DEA now has a new gig: spying on protestors.
According to a two-page memorandum first obtained by Buzzfeed, the agency has reportedly been granted “sweeping new authority to ‘conduct covert surveillance’ and collect intelligence on people participating in protests over the police killing of George Floyd.”
The memo was issued by Timothy Shea, who is less than a month into his tenure as acting administrator for the DEA.
Shea also has ties to Attorney General William Barr, who issued a statement of his own on May 30 in which he threatened to deploy the DEA (as well as the FBI, ATF, and the US Marshals) to quell what he termed “anarchistic and far left extremists, using Antifa-like tactics.”
There are, of course, no hordes of Antifa extremists coming for America’s suburbs. Regardless, the suggestion that the DEA should be employed in a facet akin to domestic espionage of citizens was not well received by everyone in Washington, D.C.
On June 5, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) sent a letter to Shea and Barr in which they blasted the decision to expand the DEA’s powers as “antithetical to the American people’s right to peacefully assemble and to exercise their Constitutional rights without undue intrusion.” Buzzfeed also surfaced a separate email in which the DEA recently sought to send 25 agents to Washington, D.C. under the guise of security and surveillance.
Nadler and Bass are not alone in their concern.
Reps. Andy Levin, Jamie Raskin and Ilhan Omar have also sent a letter to Barr demanding that “DEA activities do not exceed the scope of authority granted to the agency by Congress.” Their Democratic peers in the Senate appear to be upset by this development as well.
In yet another letter, minority leader Chuck Schumer joined fellow senators Gary Peters, Dianne Feinstein, Mark Warner, and Jack Reed in asking Barr for immediate details and clarification on the use of federal law enforcement personnel in relation to public protests. The cruelest irony of tasking the DEA to snitch on humans exercising their First Amendment rights to free speech is that it reinforces the very system of profiling, surveillance, distrust, and prosecution at the heart of calls for justice today.
That’s because the shouts now echoing out for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor aren’t meant for the DEA.
As an agency that’s made its reputation on ruining lives, there’s simply no place for them in whatever world a growing chorus of the populace is now demanding be built. The DEA is not welcome to spectate, to spy, or to continue to ruin lives like the one of Michael Thompson. He is 69, and for the past 25 years, he’s been serving a 40-60 year prison sentence for nonviolent cannabis charges.
Thompson is currently the longest-serving nonviolent offender in the history of the state of Michigan. This is how the DEA “successfully” did the job they were created to do. Given the results, all efforts to deny them a chance to spread their malicious wings any further are ones well worth our support.