Criminal Conduct, Free Speech and the College Life (UPDATED)

Members of San Diego State University are expressing an interesting attitude in the aftermath of the drug sweep which arrested 75 students of SDSU. According to the initial reporting it is clear that members of an organized drug marketing organization were targets.

One alleged dealer, Theta Chi member Kenneth Ciaccio, sent text messages to his "faithful customers" announcing that cocaine sales would be suspended over an upcoming weekend because he and his "associates" planned to be in Las Vegas, authorities said.
The same message posted "sale" prices on cocaine if transactions were completed before the dealers left San Diego.

It is equally clear that some individuals arrested were merely customers. Drug users, not dealers. Presumably this is why elements of SDSU are now questioning the appropriateness of calling in undercover federal agents on this case.


Today's story in San Diego's UnionTribune paper quotes some campus drug-legalization and harm-reduction types:

In protest of the drug raids, members of the SDSU group Students for Sensible Drug Policy hosted a mock graduation on campus for the arrested students and two students who have died in the past year under drug-related circumstances.
"I don't think that SDSU should have invited federal drug officials to come smear our campus and make it seem like it's a big drug land," said Randy Hencken, outgoing president of the student group, which supports the legalization of drugs and access to treatment. "I think that we needed to address this issue in-house."

A similar citique of the DEA involvement was expressed by a Professor Kennedy, described as the head of the SDSU faculty union:

Kennedy said she also was disturbed that the university's president "unilaterally allowed" undercover federal agents to gather intelligence from student organizations.
It sets a bad precedent, Kennedy said.
"Now it's drugs," she said. "Maybe next time it's about political dissent. . . . What happens when you have students talking about federal income tax policy, saying they're not going to pay their taxes? Are they going to bring in IRS agents?"

Now admittedly, I am just following the coverage here. I am not a member of the SDSU community and am in any case long distanced from the undergraduate years. Going by the reports however, it seems very clear that this case goes well beyond personal possession and use. The distribution effort was well organized. There was a connection with international drug trafficking (Daily Aztec). The amounts of drug confiscated were not small and the total number of involved individuals was substantial.
This appears to be a case related primarily to organized drug dealing and not simply a bust of a bunch of drug-using undergraduates!!
So this is where egg-headed comments from a college professor do harm to the Academy, in my view. Is Professor Kennedy being serious? She really cannot distinguish between organized drug dealing on the one hand, and protected political speech protesting laws on the other?
More from the UnionTribune article:

Tod Burke, a criminal justice professor at Radford University in Virginia who has researched the use of informants on campuses, said schools often don't call in federal agents because they don't want to be associated with large-scale drug investigations or the publicity that follows. Plus, colleges are supposed to encourage an open exchange of ideas, Burke said.
"Can you really have that when people are looking around them saying, 'Is this person a narc?' " Burke said.

What? Hell yes you can have an open exchange of ideas with undercover narcs and even uniformed DEA officers present. Unless, of course, it happens that in combination with your protected advocacy of drug policy reform you also, err, happen to use illicit drugs. Which is most emphatically not a protected activity. These arguments are idiotic and leave YHN shaking his head, DearReader.
I may not be the most knowledgeable on the whole "framing" of messages thing. I am not, as readers well know, a professional policy person. Nevertheless it just seems clear and logical to me that if you want to advocate integrity of the academic exchange of ideas, drug decriminalization, harm reduction, judicial reform or other drug legalization policies you are really going to have the best success if you avoid any whiff of personal drug use. Avoid communicating a perception that you cannot distinguish between actual criminal conduct and the free and open discussion of what should and should not be criminal conduct.
Especially if you are a college professor.
__
UPDATE 5/9/08: I just can't look away from this story for some reason. In today's reporting, the SDSU president answers some questions that arose from the commentary here.

SDSU President Stephen Weber offered a scaled-back figure, saying many of the arrests stemmed from routine traffic stops and other day-to-day contacts with campus police. ...School authorities say 18 SDSU students were arrested Tuesday as part of the undercover investigation, and an additional 15 were arrested earlier.

So one might tentatively assume that the 33 arrested as "part of the undercover investigation" might be up on charges for distribution rather than mere possession. Leaving some 62 arrested for possession without intent to distribute, I guess.

13 responses so far

  • Agreed, DM. Really mystifying stances taken by the profs, esp Prof. Kennedy.
    Besides, what alternatives does the univ have in dealing with such an organized drug-dealing operation on campus? Do people really think that your average campus security is best equipped to handle such issues?

  • Julie Stahlhut says:

    There are a couple of issues entangled here. One is that there was apparently some serious organized crime going on at SDSU -- the kind that involves professional criminals and can expose even non-users in the community to some real dangers, like gang violence. The other is that our current drug laws mean that there's lots and lots of money to be made in the drug trade, so a lot of entrepreneurial types will consider gang violence to be just another cost of doing business. So there's plenty to be said for decriminalization, but given that drug dealing is a criminal activity right now, there's certainly a proximate danger in letting it continue on a college campus.
    I don't know that anyone -- whether pro- or anti-decriminalization -- has really figured out a better way yet. Bringing people up on felony charges for selling marijuana is almost certainly excessive, but most of us would get pretty squeamish about cocaine or crystal meth being readily available for purchase next to the beer and cigarettes. Then again, if we criminalized cigarettes, we'd probably have people shooting each other over tobacco turf wars. Hell, there'd be lots of money in it.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    by the by, the comments over at the UnionTrib article are pretty priceless.
    Really mystifying stances taken by the profs, esp Prof. Kennedy.
    Besides, what alternatives does the univ have in dealing with such an organized drug-dealing operation on campus?

    I think the main issue is that left leaning academics are reflexively against "the police state" and at the same time of the mind that The Academy stands apart from the rest of society. Thus, bringing undercover agents onto campus was viewed as turning their bucolic university into a police state. Given the size and party reputation of this particular public University this notion is quaint at best.
    Look, nobody likes the idea of being around undercover investigators, right? Nobody wants to think their work email or blog reading is being surveiled. People step carefully when police are around. so a little bit of OMGz! We had narcs on campus all year!!! is understandable. but to pursue this line of thought in the press or issuing public critique of the University President seems silly to me.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    most of us would get pretty squeamish about cocaine or crystal meth being readily available for purchase next to the beer and cigarettes.
    Ok Julie, not entirely sure if I have you correctly here but if you are arguing for some revision...what decisions would you favor?
    Marlboro Greens right next to Reds?
    if powder cocaine is ix-nayed (why?) how about tins of coca leaf next to the Skoal?
    don't like "crystal meth", eh? how about prescription amphetamines being available right next to the NoDoz pills?
    how about ecstasy?
    really, which distinctions would you make?
    and what is the rationale? some "harm" basis? an arbitrary standard not too different from the current one that keeps alcohol and tobacco legal and cannabis illegal?
    in some ways the "unfettered liberty" position DuWayne staked out in a prior comment is the most intellectually consistent is it not?

  • DuWayne says:

    Speak of the devil DM....
    The amounts of drug confiscated were not small and the total number of involved individuals was substantial.
    I am not disagreeing with your assessment of the statements by Dr Kennedy, but in relative terms the quantity of drugs wasn't very high. I can quarantee that most college campuses of a similar size, have the same sort of organized dealing with the relatively similar quantities. You don't have to be many steps from the bottom tier dealers, to be dealing with quantities like that - especially considering they were spread out among several dealers.
    Back when I did really stupid things with my life, not the least being a marijuana facilitator, I spent a fair amount of time with drug dealers of one sort or another (remember, I was a facilitator, not a drug dealer;). I have seen better than the list from this round-up in one room before - and it wasn't the evidence lockup.
    I think that in terms of just this bust, bringing the feds in might have been overkill. But that's not the whole picture. I would assume that the drug ring was multi-jurisdictional, multi-state. Bringing in the feds means access to a lot of information, including possibly intersecting investigations. This is a huge help to the local authorities before the DEA even sends in an undercover. It's good for the feds because it's another inroad into interstate drug dealing and may be a whole new ring that they are entirely unaware of.
    What gets me about Dr Kennedy's rhetoric, is that this is an example of the sort of cooperation that can keep what she's afraid of from happening. This sounds very much like the sort of case that the feds would love to bust in on, but can't because of jurisdictional rules. Instead of just finding a way, they were asked before they tried to get involved. Now the article doesn't get into the particulars of it, but it wouldn't surprise me if the feds were interested in getting involved and asked to be asked, as it were. Even if they knew nothing about it, it still worked the way it should. Obviously the local authorities didn't feel they could manage it, so they asked for help. This is a far cry from stifling political dissent.
    Julie -
    So there's plenty to be said for decriminalization, but given that drug dealing is a criminal activity right now, there's certainly a proximate danger in letting it continue on a college campus.
    I am actually anti-decriminalization, being pro-legalization and regulation - of the whole shebang, not just weed. I am also very anti-criminal, so illicit drug dealers don't have a whole lot of my sympathy - though I will admit that I am inconsistent about it, when it comes to non-violent, responsible drug dealers. The problem being of course, with the exception of those who grow the weed they sell or know who does, the drugs come from the bad sort and supports their criminal enterprises, if not terrorism as well.
    But given that I was less than thirty feet away from my crappy neighborhoods latest shooting, I'm in a bit bigger rage about these assholes than I usually am. A women got in the way of a drive by shooting, taking a round in the calf. I was on the way to meet my family at the light rail platform when it happened. The thug in the SUV didn't even come close to hitting his target. The assholes he was aiming for were just glad that he missed (really gleeful about it).
    Apparently, it was all about marijuana. Not even substantive dealing, the cops believe it was over nickel and dime street dealing. I doubt the son of a bitch who pulled the trigger or the guys he was actually gunning for give a damn about the women who got shot in the leg (thankfully all right, probably no permanent damage). They certainly could care less that instead of meeting my family, I got to clamp my bare hands down on the wound and subsequently hold a tourniquet above it while someone with gloves held the wound. They could care less that I had to explain to my six year old why my left pant leg was soaked with blood. All they care about are their stupid fucking games.
    I felt angry before it was that close and personal for me, I though that was about as angry as I could be. I was wrong. The problem I have with equating this entirely to dope dealing is that the dope is not the reason that they play there stupid, deadly games. It's because they have so little hope, such pathetic lives, that consequences like death, prison or maiming don't seem that bad. And when they have such little regard for their own lives, what are they supposed to feel about others?
    Bringing people up on felony charges for selling marijuana is almost certainly excessive, but most of us would get pretty squeamish about cocaine or crystal meth being readily available for purchase next to the beer and cigarettes.
    Why? I mean I am all for regulating it and treating it with even more restraints than many states put on liquor, but quite honestly, other than being even worse for people than other drugs there's no good reason for them to be illegal.
    The fact that some things are ugly and harm people who choose to use them, is not a good reason to make them illegal. Personally, I think that alcohol is far uglier in it's social implications than heroin is.

  • goofy says:

    this whole thing could have been handled differently. why did this end up going to the media? why did the college officials let all the details leak out at this stage? why not track the students who buy, track the dealers, and then force the student-dealers to identify the real source of the drugs? am i watching too many movies or something?
    also, prof. kennedy clearly likes the crack...or she probably wanted to put her group in the spotlight. your 15 min of fame begins...now!

  • ---"The fact that some things are ugly and harm people who choose to use them, is not a good reason to make them illegal"---
    DuWayne, I think this is an intellectually enlightened position. It makes too much sense to ever gain traction in 'mainstream' thought. It is predicated on the belief that education is the basis of all lasting change while regulation is temporary, begs rebellion, and is often ineffective in the long term.
    Goofy: How could the whole thing have been handled differently? I agree with DM that no one likes to have undercover investigations etc, but here's one simple consideration if you are the president of the univ: You know there is an organized drug-peddling operation on campus. Two kids have died. What happens if you don't take serious action (feds) but rather keep it internal and another kid dies? What do you tell the parents? How many charges of criminal negligence are you looking at? How many jillion dollars in lawsuits are you looking at? What kind of publicity is the university facing then? And that's all just off the top of my head.

  • PhysioProf says:

    The reason that "drug dealing" attracts "organized criminal elements" and "violence" is because the fucking shit is illegal.
    BTW, there is a radio ad that I hear all the time right now talking about how "There is a new and very dangerous way that teenagers have found to get high! ZOMFG!! PRESCRIPTION AND OVER THE COUNTER DRUGS!!1211!11!!ELEVENTY!1111!111!
    This is new? Like people haven't been stealing valium and quaaludes from their parents for decades?
    And then they say, "And what's shocking is that more people show up in emergency rooms because of illicit prescription drug use than HEROIN and MARIJUANA COMBINED!1!1!!1!!!!!!!!!11!!!TWELVETY!11!!11!
    "Heroin and marijuana combined"? How many people show up in emergency rooms due to marijuana use? Is zero too high an estimate? Using the phrase "heroin and marijuana combined" is about as rationally justifiable as "ingrown toenails and stage 3 glioblastoma combined".
    When are these dumbfuck shit-for-brains drug warriors gonna figure out that trying to lump marijuana in there with heroin, cocaine, crystal meth, and illicit use of prescription drugs simply harms their project and makes them sound like completely delusional fuckwits? Like that commercial where the two kids fire up a doobie, and then one kid blows the other kids brains out with the FATHER'S UNLOCKED, LOADED HANDGUN THAT HE LEFT SITTING IN AN UNLOCKED DRAWER!?
    People smell this bullshit, and it completely vitiates any reasonable message that might be left after the MARIJUANA ZOMFG!!! wackaloonery is cut out. Using the phrase "heroin and marijuana combined" in the context of emergency room visits as if it is anything other than the most ridiculous unadulterated cockamamie bullshit doesn't fool ANYONE.

  • goofy says:

    Anonymoustache, I never said to keep it internal.
    PP: REEFER MADNESS!!! Gah!

  • bsci says:

    I've been reading these top two posts and can't help but think that this type of arrest needs to happen much more often. What would happen if half the officers arresting low-income minorities for marijuana possession were reassigned to catch people near college campuses and put them in jail for a few months or years. Why is this major news with whiny cries of "academic freedom" at SDSU, but not about the thousands of people arrested who aren't in college? Allowing college to be a time where it's ok to break the law under "experimentation" and "academic freedom" teaches bad ethics and benefits the wealthy.
    If this happened more often, how much louder would the voices be to reform this country's insane and biased drug laws. Granted I am very very far from the libertarian position on drug use, but whatever government policies exist must be enforceable in a logical and unbiased manner.
    (Yes I know, that SDSU isn't on the upper end up the student income distribution, but that makes this even worse. Even if there was such an organized group, could you see this happening at UCSD or UCSC?)

  • Interrobang says:

    PhysioProf: The only time I've ever been involved in seeking medical attention related to marijuana was this one time when a bunch of us took a friend to Emerg to get a cut looked at after she'd gotten stoned, and then tripped. I'm not entirely sure that was what they meant, though...

  • DuWayne says:

    Interrobang -
    That reminded me of a friend who used to be quite the hippie type. We had to take him to the ER after he set his massive beard alight. It was complicated by the fact that he had also been drinking potato vodka and some of it was slopped into his beard. By the time we put it out, he was entirely devoid of facial hair and eyebrows. We took him in because his eyelids were slightly burnt and he couldn't see very well. Thankfully he wasn't seriously injured, otherwise it wouldn't be nearly as amusing a story. As it was, after we all knew he was all right, it provided us with something to raz him about for months, even after he had eyebrows again.
    He never grew a beard again, which I suspect was the beginning of his decline from hippidom to becoming a CPA.
    Goofy -
    this whole thing could have been handled differently. why did this end up going to the media? why did the college officials let all the details leak out at this stage? why not track the students who buy, track the dealers, and then force the student-dealers to identify the real source of the drugs? am i watching too many movies or something?
    But this is exactly what they did. Bringing in the feds expanded the scope of the investigation and made it easy to put undercovers into play. It also opened them up to cooperating with other jurisdictions that may be dealing with rings founded by some of the same players.
    The thing I don't think you get, is that this is what happens after they do everything you listed. These busts were most certainly the result of kids they tracked getting busted for possession. They watch the suspected dealers and look for connections to other dealers. This means they follow people that frequent drug houses. They then determine whether the person they are watching is a dealer or a user, often they don't even care. Then they bust them and question them.
    When they think they have the makings for a significant bust, they take down everyone who is on their "significant suspect" list and that's that. Although it really doesn't end there, because then they grill the significant subjects and shake them down for even bigger criminal thugs. But once they get a certain distance up the chain, the busts pretty much have to happen as close to each other as possible so they can round up everyone on their list. Because by that point they are after people who have a lot of motivation to run like hell and/or clean house (i.e. dump everything and make it spotless).

  • r says:

    bravo feds and duwayne.

Leave a Reply