My name is Augustus Invictus, and I am running for United States Senate.
I would like you to consider, for a moment, the significance of a War being waged on our own soil. Think of the devastation it would cause, not only to the combatants, but to their families, as well. Think also of how much this would cost in terms of taxes, civil rights, and collateral damage. How much of our money would the Government spend on combating the enemy; how many of our rights would be suspended until the War was over; and how many lives, homes, and communities would be ruined in the end?
As it happens, we do not need to use much imagination, as the Government has been waging such a campaign for the past forty years, a campaign not-so-subtly titled The War on Drugs. Does that sound to you like a hyperbolic title? “It’s not a real war,” you say? Consider this: Somewhere on the streets of America, between now and 6:00am tomorrow morning, over twenty people will be murdered. Consider the fact that in the past few weeks, there have been people out there hunting cops. The police are carrying assault rifles in Orlando; weaponized drones have been legalized in North Dakota, and they will be here soon enough. So do not fool yourselves into thinking that this is nothing but a metaphorical war of ideas.
The question, My Fellow Americans, is not when the Civil War will come. Verily, I say unto you, the War is already here. The question is when the citizens will start fighting back with something more than picket signs and angry Facebook posts.
In the past forty years since Nixon declared a War on the Drugs, we have seen police murder American citizens with impunity; we have seen the near-eradication by the courts of our rights against search & seizure; we have seen the police become militarized in our own streets as though our cities were occupied territories; and we have paid over $1 trillion in taxes to help the Government do this to our own people.
And yet we do nothing. Listen, here is a controversial statement for you: If you see an armored personnel carrier driving down your street with a team of police wearing tactical gear and armed with assault rifles, and you think that makes you feel safe – then you are fucking sheep. It is you, not the drug dealers, who have allowed America to become a police state. It is you, not the crackheads, who have allowed our communities to be turned into militarized territories.
Here is another controversial statement for you: The drug dealers are not the enemy of the American people. The Federal Government is the enemy of the American people. It is the White House that declared War; it is Congress that has set the policies of this War; it is the Federal Government that has been supplying tanks, assault rifles, amphibious assault vehicles, and grenades to our local police departments. And all to fight this imaginary enemy.
Certainly the Government has its stated reasons, with which we might all well agree. No father wants to see his son become a cocaine addict. No mother wants to see her daughter lose body, mind, and soul to methamphetamine. Prostitution, violent crime, and drugs are so inextricably linked in the public mind that the very thought of drugs evokes an image of disgrace and decay. But the Government’s real reason in terrorizing its own populace is also the most nefarious: Money.
I want you to ask yourselves: Who has benefited from the War on Drugs?
Is it our families? Think of how many families in this country have a mother or father or son or brother or sister or daughter in prison because of drugs. Think of how many families have been bankrupted by legal fees because one of them was accused of being a drug dealer.
Who has benefited from the War on Drugs?
Is it our communities? We have 2.3 millions prisoners in the United States. That is ¼ of the prison population of the entire world, and we have only 5% of the world’s population.
Who has benefited from the War on Drugs?
Is it our schools? My daughter has to go through a metal detector to get to class. She is in middle school in an upscale neighborhood.
Who has benefited from the War on Drugs?
Is it the prisons? They can’t keep the drugs out of there, either, and the violence would have been unfathomable to the corrections officers of 1960.
So if our schools and prisons, our families & our communities are not helped – and in fact are hurt – by the War on Drugs, then who benefits?
I’m going to read you this paragraph, which was taken directly from the website of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office:
DEA Task Force and High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) agents had a productive year as well. Agents from various agencies worked on several significant cases as a group which had a direct impact on Orange County and Central Florida. The investigations ranged from local to international cases and resulted in over $8,000,000 in asset seizures.
Think about that: $8 million in houses, cars, jewelry, electronics – and all they have to do to seize that property is call you a drug dealer. The DEA has a budget of over $2 billion a year. And that’s small potatoes to the US Marshals: they’re managing that much in stolen assets every day.
But let’s keep it at a local level. Let’s talk about our home here in Orange County. The Street Drug Unit of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office seized over $250,000 last year. Let me tell you what the seizure policy is, exactly: Under the Florida Contraband Act, the police can seize any property at all that they allege is being used in the commission of a crime. So, for instance, when a client of mine has $1,000 on her from her mother’s life insurance check and the cops find drugs in a car that doesn’t even belong to her, they take that money. And to settle it out of court they insist on keeping 50% of the total amount. So you either risk losing everything, or you give the cops half of what is rightfully yours whenever they feel like taking it from you. And that is largely how the Street Drug Unit got $257,000 last year: by robbing people they labeled as drug dealers.
The War on Drugs has been the excuse the members of our Government have used to militarize our country and make themselves rich. The cops use their choppers, their assault rifles, and their guerrilla warfare tactics for everything now. Gone are the days when cops reserved heavy fire for the Mexican cartels. Just this morning the Orlando Police Department shut down Orange Avenue and responded with eight squad cars – just to arrest two junkies.
Speaking of which, gather around, everyone, and let’s do story time. I want to tell you not about what I have seen in the news, but what I have experienced. I have seen the injustices of the drug war from the street and as a lawyer. And I have seen that our tolerance of the War on Drugs has allowed the police in this country to act beyond any bounds of decency, without proportion, without any regard to justice or the rule of law.
I have seen presentations by the US Marshals in which they brag about confiscating yachts and luxury cars, like they were on the set of Wolf of Wall Street.
I have seen the FBI drive a tank onto a man’s property. A tank inside the United States, right here in Florida. And I watched the FBI agent in charge of that affair testify in open court to being afraid of cows trained to sound an alarm. He actually used the phrase “attack geese.” This is real life, folks. This is the circus that takes place in American courtrooms, right under your noses.
I have seen a cop testify on the stand about doing two “tours of duty” in Pine Hills, as though the Orange County Sheriff’s Office had sent him to Afghanistan.
I have seen amphibious assaults vehicles on parade in the Podunk town of Kissimmee, as though we were watching a military parade in Soviet Russia.
I have seen the DEA plant meth on a girl who had never done drugs a day in her life, for political purposes: they wanted her to testify against her bosses at the pharmacy she worked at.
I have seen a girl illegally searched and arrested by the DEA because her boyfriend had drugs on him. When I asked the DEA agent in depositions why he was even at their house to begin with, when he had no warrant and no reason to suspect that anything illegal was going on there, he told me: “It’s called a knock-&-talk. We have the right to knock on anybody’s door in America and talk to them, for any reason. We don’t need a warrant. We can talk to anyone we want for any reason, and it’s perfectly legal.” The prosecutor, God bless her, knew the case was bullshit, and she threw it out. But that doesn’t always happen.
There are some times when the prosecutor is just doing his job. And if the defense attorney is not doing his job, then the prosecutor has no reason to know that the cop is out of line. That is what happened in the case of 26-year-old Joshua Austin. That is his real name, and this is a true story.
Joshua Austin was approached by a member of the Kissimmee Police Department. Officer Michael Thompson – yes, that’s his real name, too – approached Joshua to buy painkillers. Joshua had been working on a construction site a couple years before, and when he fell out of a window, he smashed into the concrete, got brain damage, and suffered chronic pain from that point forward. So when Officer Thompson spoke to Joshua, it was to buy pills from him that were prescribed to him by a doctor.
Now I’m not going to lie to you: Joshua sold him the pills. He broke the law. That is not at issue. What is at issue is that Joshua was looking at 36 years in prison for selling these pills. Let me repeat that, so it sinks in: 26-year-old Joshua Austin was looking at 36 years in prison for selling his own painkillers to an undercover cop. Does that seem proportionate to you? He wasn’t smuggling heroin into the country and selling it to children; he sold his own prescription to a cop; and he was looking at a decade longer in prison than you would get for firing a gun at somebody trying to rob this bar.
But that’s not the worst of it. Sentencing is negotiable, and even the most hardened prosecutors wouldn’t actually try to put him in prison for that long. No, the really horrible part of this is that Officer Thompson threatened to arrest Joshua’s pregnant girlfriend if he did not agree to work for the police. So here is the deal: Help us set up other people to go to prison, or I will arrest your pregnant girlfriend.
Men, if that does not stir a hatred inside of you, then dare not to call yourselves men.
Women, if that does not cause you to feel sympathy for a stranger, then I don’t know what will.
He agreed to the deal, as I am sure everyone here would. And then his girlfriend had a miscarriage. But the deal lived on. He never did set anyone up – because he didn’t know anyone selling pills. As I said, he was selling his own pills. He was no nefarious drug trafficker; he had no connections with the big fish. He was a kid who made a stupid mistake trying to make a few extra dollars.
Having failed to set anyone up, Joshua lost his deal. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison. Sure, that’s a far cry from 36 years – but think about this for a minute. It was over three years ago now that he was sent to prison. His parents came to me to get him out, but after two and a half years, I failed at doing so. Three years he has been in prison, and I still have trouble sleeping at night because of it, and all for selling pills to an undercover cop. And he has fifteen years left to sit there.
Think about what you could do with fifteen years of your life. Think about Joshua Austin when you go home tonight and turn on Netflix. I ask each and every one of you here: What have you done with your lives? And what will you do with the next fifteen years? Are you going to come here to the bar every night trying to get laid? Or are you going to fight for something?
I have a message for the State and local police and the federal agents fighting this drug war: Quit your jobs. Repent & resign. I know, and you know, that you are not the enemy. But the longer you do the bidding of the Federal Government; the longer you steal and murder for the benefit of your bosses; the harder it is for the American people to see you as anything other than willing accomplices. If you want to help your families and your communities, help me to fight against the Government you have been fighting for.
You say you want justice?
Terrorizing the hood in the middle of the night is not justice. It is bullying.
Handing out speeding tickets to fund your department and buy new uniforms and vehicles is not justice. It is living as parasites, preying on the very people you are meant to protect.
Putting men and women in jail for marijuana and cocaine is not justice. It is barbarism.
History will judge us all. When future generations look back on us, will they say, “Those brave Americans did all they could to stamp out the evils of drug use!” Or will they say, “Those fools, in the last days of their Empire, bankrupted themselves fighting an imaginary enemy, while they did nothing to stop their Government from waging war all across the globe, polluting farms, devastating communities, and enslaving its own citizens”?
Until tonight, you may not have given much thought to the drug war. That is because the cops are not kicking in your door and dragging you off in the middle of the night. That is because your mother did not hang herself because she was looking at 25 years in prison. That is because your father was not murdered by the police. But I hope that after tonight you are awake to the fact that this country is at war – not with Afghanistan, not with ISIS, not with China or Russia – but with itself. Neither is this a metaphorical war: people are dying out there. This is real life, not How I Met Your Mother or The Big Bang Theory, but this.
Yeah, sure, please do buy my t-shirts and sign the petition to get me on the ballot. We can take a selfie together, and I’ll give you a free sticker. But if you really want to do something, if you want to change your life and the world you live in, then I want you to join me. I want you to help me in this campaign. I want you to fight for me and against the Federal Government.