We have a Constitution with a Bill of Rights meant to protect our liberties, and a Supreme Court that is supposed to enforce these rights. Both horizontally and vertically, we have divided government; a system created on the (true) assumption that divided power is safer than concentrated power. In spite of all the care the Founders took in order to protect our rights, however, we now live in a nation that has more people behind bars than any other country, with 50% in the Federal system and 20% in the state system incarcerated for victimless acts. We don’t have a tyrant or tyrants at the top, but we have thousands of individuals with the power of petty tyrants: cops. They have the power to arrest us for victimless crimes, and even to kill or cripple us if we dare to question them or fail to obey their orders instantly.
Radley Balko’s book documents and explains the rise of these petty tyrants. The biggest single source of their power is the war on drugs, aided and abetted by the Supreme Court’s failure to limit the power of cops to search, seize, and arrest, and by the increasing militarization of the police. We will discuss the history of drug criminalization, the laws and court decisions responsible for increasing police power, modern police training, and Balko‘s proposals for reversing these trends.