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The Dansville Online
  • The war that never ends

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  • Several decades from now, when historians look back at the beginning of the end of the expensive, wasteful and tragic American War on Drugs, Jesse Snodgrass may very well be mentioned prominently.
    It shouldn't be that way, of course. An autistic 17-year-old student at Chaparral High School in Southern California should never have been swallowed up by the American anti-drug industrial complex, but he was.
    Want some dollars and cents figures? The drug war is big business; bigger than U.S. Steel, as Hyman Roth would say. The federal government spent $15 billion in 2010 on the War on Drugs, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy. That's about $500 per second. State and local governments spent at least another $25 billion in 2010.
    Of course, when Americans spend that much money, they expect results, and those startling figures are also readily available. Halfway through 2014, nearly 900,000 U.S. citizens have been arrested for drug offenses this year. Nearly half of those arrests are for possession of marijuana.
    If one of the goals of the drug war is to fill up U.S. prisons, that goal is being met. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, since Dec. 31, 1995, the U.S. prison population has grown by an average of 43,266 inmates per year. About 25 percent are sentenced for drug law violations.
    When there's that much money at stake, playing by the rules is strictly optional. Jesse's story involving a fake friendship, entrapment and arrest in a Riverside County undercover drug sting operation, is told in a recent issue of Rolling Stone magazine.
    This is how reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely describes Jesse:
    "Forging friendships was normally so hard for Jesse, who had the cognitive skills of an 11-year-old and was nearly oblivious to the facial expressions, body language, vocal tones and other contextual cues that make up basic social interactions. He was slow to draw inferences or interpret the casual idioms other kids used, like "catch you later," a phrase Jesse had initially found startling, since it turned out to involve no catching whatsoever. As a toddler, he'd once been terrified for days after his preschool teacher told him, "I'll keep my eye on you."
    Which means Jesse was the perfect target for Deputy Daniel Zipperstein, a mid-20s cop posing as high school transfer student "Daniel Briggs." During Prohibition, we had Eliot Ness. The War on Drugs features scum like Daniel Zipperstein, who probably isn't qualified to do anything other than fool stoned-out high schoolers.
    Deputy Dan spent several months of the school year pestering the autistic boy to buy him some marijuana, finally placing $20 in his hands and making clear that their "friendship" depended on Jesse scoring some weed. Jesse's parents, white-collar professionals with two younger children, could not have been more thrilled that their son had found a companion.
    Page 2 of 2 - Jesse went to a medical marijuana dispensary, where he was able to buy a bag of pot. He turned it over to his "friend."
    Jesse was arrested for felony drug sale. Along with 21 classmates, he was handcuffed, loaded into a police van, and taken to jail.
    "This should be a wake-up call to all of you. Your children are drug dealers," a senior deputy district attorney told the families.
    Jesse was suspended from school for three months, while the negligent Temecula Valley School District pushed for his permanent expulsion. He was sentenced, according to Rolling Stone, to "informal probation," wherein if he kept out of trouble for six months and did 20 hours of community service, his record would be wiped clean.
    Enough of this narrative. It makes me sick to continue. If you want to learn about the emotional setbacks Jesse suffered as a result of this "police work," such as hiding in the back seat every time his parents drove by a cop car or the months he spent nearly mute and unmoving on his living room couch, read the magazine article.
    So this is what it has come to in this country. The war that never ends marches on, oblivious to common sense, human decency and civil liberties. It's shameful.
    Neal Simon is the city editor of The Evening Tribune.

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