Why Are Cops Losing Their Jobs for Questioning the Drug War?
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With so much bloodshed, hundreds of thousands incarcerated, and millions of families torn apart, one would have to be blind not to question the failed war on drugs. Given their close proximity to the devastation it has wrought, it’s only natural that the police and Border Patrol officers tasked with executing the drug war for the last four decades would have the strongest views. Yet, around the country, some have been fired for criticizing the drug war as well as supporting drug decriminalization.
On April 13, 2009, 26-year-old Bryan Gonzalez was patrolling the U.S.–Mexican border near Deming, New Mexico, when he pulled up next to fellow agent Shawn Montoya for a break. The two began a casual discussion about the drug-related violence in Mexico, at which point Gonzalez shared his belief that drug legalization would end both the drug war and the cartel violence. When Montoya asked why Mexicans cross the border and steal jobs, Gonzalez responded that Mexicans came to the United States due to a lack of available jobs in Mexico.
Although he was born in the United States, Gonzalez informed Montoya that he had dual U.S.–Mexican citizenship until the age of 18, which gave him a unique understanding and sympathy for the migrants who cross the border. Gonzalez also mentioned Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, or LEAP, an organization of mostly retired law enforcement officials opposed to the drug war.
Little did Gonzalez know that know that voicing his beliefs would cost him his job. According to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU, he was reported to his supervisor, who sent word of the exchange to the Joint Intake Command in Washington, D.C., which launched an investigation into the matter.
In October 2009, after two years as a officer with excellent reviews from his employer, Gonzalez received a letter of termination from the Border Patrol, citing his “personal views that were contrary to the core characteristics of Border Patrol agents, which are patriotism, dedication, and esprit de corps.”
“I was terminated not because my service was inadequate, but because I hold certain opinions that are shared by millions of my fellow Americans,” Gonzalez is quoted as saying in an ACLU press release. “I am no less patriotic or dedicated to excellence in my work because I respectfully disagree with some of our current border enforcement policies. It was wrong for the U.S. Border Patrol to retaliate against me for exercising my free speech rights guaranteed by the very Constitution I swore to uphold.”
Micah McCoy , communications specialist at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico, told AlterNet, “People don’t give up the right to have a political opinion when they put on a uniform of a government agency.” McCoy specified that Gonzalez was not expressing his view as a representative of the border patrol. “It’s not like he was going on TV and saying all drugs should be legalized. He was having a casual conversation with a coworker that was reported to a supervisor by a third party who wasn’t even present during the conversation. And Bryan subsequently got fired for it.”
In January, the ACLU of New Mexico filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of Gonzalez. Meanwhile, the Justice Department is trying to have the case thrown out on behalf of the Border Patrol because Gonzalez has already lost a discrimination complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which backed the Border Patrol’s position that Gonzalez could no longer be trusted to uphold the law.