If you live outside of the DC area you may have missed this story:
The Washington Post reported that on July 29th the Prince George's Sheriff's Office SWAT team and county narcotics officers raided the home of Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo after he brought in a 32 pound marijuana-filled package addressed to his wife that had been left by Fed-Ex on the front porch. They tied up Calvo and his wife's mother and interrogated the mayor for hours.
Worse, without apparent provocation, they shot and killed the couples' two Labrador retrievers.
But this is not a story of unnecessary use of force against a suburban official who went bad. On Wednesday the police announced that they had arrested the package delivery man and an accomplice who had been sending Fed Ex packages loaded with marijuana to unsuspecting households and collecting them from porches as part of a smuggling scheme. The mayor's wife was apparently a random victim of the scheme. The mayor's family became a random victim of law enforcement.
I admit that I took this story very personally. I'm the owner of two wonderful golden retrievers -- brothers from the same litter -- that I love dearly. They are a big part of our family. I used to own a lab. I cannot fathom the grief and anger I would feel if the police broke down the door of my house and shot those dogs.
This week Calvo and his neighbors called on the FBI to investigate the raid and the Price George's County Police. AP covered his remarks:
"Calvo insisted the couple's two black Labradors were gentle creatures and said police apparently killed them "for sport," gunning down one of them as it was running away.
'Our dogs were our children,' said the 37-year-old Calvo. 'They were the reason we bought this house because it had a big yard for them to run in.'
Anyone who has ever owned a lab knows what he says about their disposition is true.
But this story is not just about an injustice done to one random middle class couple, or the death of two dogs. There are two critical lessons that are important to all Americans.
First, the civil liberties in our Constitution don't just protect "criminals" or "someone else". The Prince George's County Police had a warrant to search Calvo's home. They had apparently tracked the package from its origination point in Arizona. But they did not have a warrant to break down the door without knocking, tie him up or shoot his dogs. In fact the Courts have held that it is always unacceptable to kill pets in the course of searching a home.
Calvo was changing his cloths when the police burst in, handcuffed him in his boxer shorts and held him and his mother in law forcibly for two hours.
If that could happen to a completely innocent, middle class white suburban mayor and his wife, it could happen to anyone. Calvo said, "We were harmed by the very people who took an oath to protect us." That's why the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution, because our founding fathers, and mothers, had been harmed over and over by the police and armed forces of the British Crown and wanted a country where they were protected from the arbitrary power of the state.
For almost eight years George Bush has appointed judges who have undermined the Bill of Rights and make us all more vulnerable to the overwhelming police power of the executive branch. John McCain would undermine those protections even more dramatically because he would likely have the opportunity to make life time appointments for up to four members of the Supreme Court.
Like the prospect of making it easier to have your door broken down and your dogs shot -- even if you're not guilty of anything ? Vote for John McCain.
The second lesson has to do with the "War on Drugs". Drug enforcement officials had tracked this package from Arizona. A SWAT team was deployed. All of this to intercept 32 pounds of marijuana - a substance that is used recreationally by millions of Americans and has fewer harmful effects that alcohol or tobacco. This is an insane waste of money, law enforcement resources and lives.
Marijuana itself is materially less addictive than alcohol. But when it comes to the serious problem of drug addition, a recent study by the Justice Policy Institute found that drug treatment and education is 10 to 15 times more effective at cutting drug use than the same amount spent on law enforcement aimed at drugs.
We can only hope that the ordeal of Mayor Calvo and his family - and the loss of their canine companions - will serve as a warning to other Americans. Hopefully it will give us all the backbone to tenaciously defend our civil liberties -- even when people like George Bush and John McCain use fear to weaken our resolve to defend them. And it must also serve to alert us to the critical need to end the "War on Drugs" as we know it and replace it with a rational policy that treats drug addiction as a medical problem - not a reason to invade the homes and damage the lives of ordinary, law abiding Americans.
Finally, it will hopefully send a message to that small number of sadistic police officers who sully the reputation of the many dedicated, hardworking people who work in law enforcement. People who would shoot down family pets "for sport" have no business carrying a badge and a gun.
Robert Creamer is a long time political organizer and strategist and author of the recent book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com.