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.
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.