A group of armed, masked men brazenly posted a video on Facebook recently threatening to violently bust down the doors of American citizens and invade their homes.
It's okay, though. They're law enforcement! Lake County, Florida, Sheriff Peyton Grinnell has put out a video where he, surrounded by masked men, threaten drug dealers in the county that his officers are tracking them down and plan to send SWAT teams into their houses at some undefined time and "blow [their] front doors off the hinges."
Watch the video below:
Well, one only hopes those masks they're wearing don't obscure their ability to read addresses properly. We would hate for a poorly organized SWAT raid at the wrong home to run smack into the state's "Stand Your Ground" gun laws.
Grinnell claims this over-the-top video, which is being compared to threatening ISIS propaganda films, is due to calls he's getting from citizens concerned about heroin overdoses in his county. So claiming that he's just waiting for some existing warrants to get signed is really for the benefit of these callers and not actual drug dealers.
Let's not dismiss citizens' concerns entirely. Florida, like many other states, has seen a dramatic increase in deaths involving heroin, cocaine and the opioid fentanyl, according to an annual report by state medical examiners for 2015.
This doesn't mean, though, that such an absurd, militaristic approach is called for. Don't look to Florida if you're looking for examples of easing off the drug war, though they finally (after two attempts) legalized medical marijuana use. Florida still has laws on the books that allow anybody who provided somebody else with a prohibited drug to be charged with first degree murder if that drug causes their death. And Florida has the death penalty (technically—there are still some issues there). Grinnell points this out in the video that he wants to hold those evil, evil drug dealers responsible for these deaths.
But while law enforcement and prosecutors want to present the idea that this is about getting "drug dealers," that's really not what the law says and it's not how these laws get enforced. If there's anything we should have learned from our experience in how mandatory minimums have played out in federal prosecutions, they are used to throw poor people who have made mistakes into prison for absurdly long sentences disproprtionate to the circumstances of the crimes.
And Florida's considering making its drug war laws even harsher by adding fentanyl, the latest drug panic, to the list of pharmaceuticals that could trigger a murder charge.
Yet, while Lake County has seen dramatic drug death increases, there's nothing in the medical examiners' report from 2015 that showed anything that should be especially alarming enough to justify this response. The district that Lake County is part of saw only eight deaths due to heroin in 2015. It saw 30 deaths due to cocaine, and 191 deaths caused by prescription drugs, only 10 of which involved fentanyl. The prescription drug deaths were actually in decline; fewer people in this sheriff's area died of prescription drugs in 2015 than they did in 2014. So even as fentanyl is taking off as an opioid choice, overall prescription drug deaths declined.
While the state has not put out full numbers yet, Lake County has apparently reported 32 cases in 2016 where heroin caused or contributed to a person's death. That's certainly an increase, but the county has a population of more than 300,000. This response is notable in its absurdity given the actual threat presented to the population.
The sheriff's response is not likely to make his community safer; he's going to be busting down doors and threatening harm not to the slick drug dealers he sees on television shows, but to his county's poorest citizens. That's not something to be puffing up his chest about.