Saturday, December 10, 2011

The High Cost of Dissent

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Bryan Gonzalez was a Border Patrol agent in Deming, New Mexico, who lost his job over some remarks that he made in private to a co-worker.  Mr. Gonzalez expressed his opinion to the co-worker that if marijuana was legalized, drug-related violence across the border in Mexico would cease.

That is a view held by many citizens of the United States, and probably many Mexicans as well.  But it is not a view that is held in high regard by members and the leadership of the United States Border Patrol.  Why, in the weird event that Mr. Gonzalez proved to be right and drug violence began to come down, whatever would become of the Border Patrol.

What would become of job security?

Mr. Gonzalez probably drove the decisive nail in his employment coffin when he went on to tell his co-worker about an organization of current and former law enforcement officials that is fighting to decriminalize marijuana.  That group, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), has seen its membership numbers explode over the past few years.  It now has an email list of over 48,000, including members (past and present) of law enforcement, judges, prosecutors, and even prison guards - all people in positions to clearly appreciate and understand the massive impact that the flood of marijuana "criminals" has on the nation's police systems, courts, jails, and society in general.

So what became of Bryan Gonzalez?  After his "friend" passed his comments up the food chain, a letter landed on his desk telling him that he was terminated for his "personal views that were contrary to core characteristics of Border Patrol Agents, which are patriotism, dedication, and espirit de corps."

A man who loves his country enough to risk his job by stating an idea that he believed would reduce warfare along the border and undoubtedly save millions of dollars in the process is unpatriotic?  Clearly something is wrong with that characterization.  Mr. Gonzalez is currently in court fighting a flawed system.

Joe Miller, a probation officer in Mohave County, Arizona, has filed a suit in Federal District Court, after he was fired for signing a letter from the aforementioned LEAP.  His employer also attempted to keep him from drawing his unemployment, but that mean-spirited effort failed.

A third law enforcement official, Jonathan Wender, was fired as a police sergeant in a small town in Washington, due in part to his support of the decriminalization of marijuana.  He went to court and was awarded $815,000 and given his old job back.  He has since retired and now teaches a course at the University of Washington entitled "Drugs and Society."

It's not easy to fight the system, as anyone who ever protested a dismissal or had to fight to receive unemployment benefits will readily attest to,  but things are slow to change in a bureaucratic organization without someone occasionally stepping forward and putting his or her neck on the line.   What seems extreme today, will often be seen as common sense tomorrow.

Reason pulls us ever onward, though sometimes the pace is painfully slow.

(Parts of this piece were taken from an article by Marc Lacey titled "Police Officers Find that Dissent on Drug Laws May come with a Price."  It was published in the New York Times on 2 Dec 2011.)

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