The shooting of Derek Copp, an unarmed twenty-year-old student at Grand Valley, by an Ottawa County deputy as part of a drug investigation is absurdly tragic. Sadly, so is the War on Drugs this country has been engaged in since the 1970s.
According to an article in the Grand Rapids Press, police were raiding Copp’s apartment in search of drugs when they shot him in the chest. Police have confirmed he was unarmed. Additionally, no arrest was made. The incident begs the questions: how did it become acceptable to shoot an unarmed person in the chest while carrying out what was presumably an investigation of simple drug possession? How have we arrived at a place where someone’s personal drug use (no press reports have mentioned any allegations of dealing) in the privacy of their own home has resulted in a student’s near-death?
The answer lies in an examination of the War on Drugs, that abysmal failure to legislate morality that has resulted in countless lives scarred, ruined, and lost. Over the past seven decades, twenty million people have been arrested for marijuana-related offenses in this country; since the 1990s, the annual number of arrests (90% of which are for minor possession, not trafficking) has tripled . Though these crimes are almost entirely victimless, drug users pay an incredibly heavy toll, most notably in mass incarceration–which, in turn, has increased the use on private prisons, now a multi-billion dollar industry with significant influence on corrections legislation.
The force seen in Copp’s arrest is typical of how the drug war has been carried out. Examples abound: a 92-year-old Atlanta woman was shot dead in her home when police, looking for drugs, executed a no-knock raid. The officers had mistakenly broken down the door of the wrong house. A Denver man sleeping after completing a night shift was shot and killed by police, leaving family in the US and Mexico without support. Again, no knock. Again, wrong house. Baltimore police have been using the SWAT team to carry out drug raids–many of which have, again, turned out to be the wrong house. That the raid in Copp’s apartment was a mistake should not be ruled out–as Media Mouse has reported, he was not arrested.
In addition to its brutality, the drug war has been overtly racist. From its start under the Reagan administration, the War on Drugs has criminalized people of color, despite the fact that drug use is relatively even, proportionally, across racial lines. Marijuana is an excellent example: despite the fact that African Americans are no more likely to use drugs than whites, they are two-and-a-half times more likely to be arrested for possession. The result of this racist and unwarranted criminalization is debilitating to communities of color: mothers and fathers are taken away from their children, ex-convicts are unable to find jobs to support themselves and their families, large swaths of time that could be spent on job training or education are instead wasted behind bars.
The case of Derek Copp is a part of this long, tragic tradition. It should remind us all how senseless the War on Drugs has been from its inception–and why, in addition to continuing to demand justice for Copp, we must demand the drug war’s end now.