The Richland County Sheriff's Department website, which features a very nice picture of Sheriff Lott, thoughtfully provides links to these cases:
57 unsolved homicides
14 "most wanted" sex offenders
Otherwise, he'd be concentrating on getting this guy or this one, instead of this one.
With close to sixty unsolved homicides, fourteen at-large sex offenders, and three missing persons in the Richland County open files, it would behoove the sheriff to focus on what truly matters - and something tells me it isn't Michael Phelps and some pals getting goofy over beer pong and a bong. When an officer of the law selectively, and for no apparent purpose other than to generate headlines or exact revenge for some infantile insult to his masculinity and rectitude, enforces misdemeanor statutes as if they were the Ten Commandments, he is not doing his office, his constituents, or his own family any favors. Locating and apprehending a few actually dangerous murderers or child molesters, on the other hand, might.
The numbers don't lie: a study conducted by the New York Civil Liberties Union points out that arrests for marijuana possession and use (does anyone ever say "marijuana abuse"?) are spiraling in the five boroughs, mostly among men. Black and Latino men. These disturbing figures mirror the national FBI data. A glaring disparity also exists between arrest rates for men and women/ blacks and whites/ low level offenders and white collar users. The study categorically condemns New York City's disastrous drug policies as "an expensive waste of time." From the report, summarized in a New York Times article: Between 1998 and 2007, the police arrested 374,900 people whose most serious crime was the lowest-level misdemeanor marijuana offense, more than eight times the number of arrests on those same charges between 1988 and 1997, when 45,300 people were picked up for having a small amount of pot. Nearly everyone involved in this wave of arrests is male: 90 percent were men, although national studies show that men and women use pot in roughly equal rates. And 83 percent of those charged in these cases were black or Latino, according to the study. Blacks accounted for 52 percent of the arrests, twice their share of the city’s population. Whites, who are about 35 percent of the population, were only 15 percent of those charged - even though federal surveys show that whites are more likely than blacks or Latinos to use pot.
These ratios represent something far more insidious than the violation for which the offenders were arrested. Marijuana is one of the largest cash crops in this country, and to doggedly pursue its eradication or punish the industry supporting its horticulture and commerce is mindless, hallucinatory behavior. Decriminalization, taxation, and education, strategies largely untested in our incoherent efforts to “win" the war on drugs (whatever that means) are infinitely more effective tools for decreasing its use than prosecution and stigmatization, but our justice system is so attached to the mantra that all drugs are intrinsically evil (except the FDA-approved ones you get at the pharmacy that really will kill you) that a tectonic upheaval in attitude, policy, and enforcement will be necessary before anything changes.
The United States is now the proud proprietor of the most massive and Orwellian incarceration industry in the world. It is one of our many national disgraces: throwing men and women in prison for relatively minor infractions like parole violations and leaving them there for decades until the prisons bulge beyond capacity and dangerous felons are expelled to make room for the newcomers. We build and maintain facilities for skyrocketing numbers of low-risk offenders, a shocking demographic that includes senior citizens, parents, teenagers, and otherwise productive, law-abiding people who should be reintegrated into the work force and society without any phony, mandatory, useless, cost-eating rehabilitation. Instead, they languish without hope in a legal catacomb of false ideology, bad social science, and endlessly replicated failure.
I have a good friend in Florida named Richard Paey, creator of the 'toons reprinted in this post, who was victimized by an egregiously overburdened justice system and an overzealous prosecutor seeking to make a name for himself, for taking prescription painkillers authorized by his doctor. Richard suffers from multiple sclerosis, partial paralysis, and relentless, unremitting pain stemming from a car accident and maltreatment afterwards by a bad doctor who did surgery on his back that rendered him disabled and in constant agony. He has been in a wheelchair for more than ten years now, and was in one when he was arrested, tried, and imprisoned. When he moved to Florida from New Jersey he began getting his prescriptions filled at a pharmacy that was already under surveillance by the DEA, so he was swept up in a sting that resulted in his being tried for drug distribution; because of the quantity of pills he was getting
You can google “Richard Paey” to view his portfolio of brilliant, stinging 'toons and get a much more comprehensive overview of his case than I’ve given you here. He is a living testament to how screwed up, counter-productive, and downright evil our “war on drugs” is, has been, and will continue to be until we open our eyes and fix mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines, the Rockefeller laws, three strikes, and all the other instruments of depradation and depravity our justice system employs to target mostly men who don’t deserve to be cast in prison alongside the violent reprobates. Richard is one of the lucky ones, but there are hundreds of thousands more, perhaps millions, in basically the same boat who aren't nearly so fortunate. If Sheriff Leon Lott has his way, Michael Phelps will soon be among them.
We need to make a noise that can't be drowned out about the failures and needlessly tragic consequences of our resource-sapping, self-defeating war on drugs, and we must not allow the media or public servants like Leon Lott to marginalize brave, intelligent leaders in the field of drug policy reform by labeling them "lefties," "potheads," "wackos," "druggies," "followers of satan," etc. It's too bad that rather than being honest and courageous enough to stand up for his right to play the bong-o once he was exposed as a burner, Michael Phelps took the easy way out and told everyone how sorry he was for his transgression. Unfortunately, his mealy-mouthed apologies and insincere assurances ("It won't happen again"? Who is he kidding???) indicate that his legitimate fear of losing a lucrative livelihood has already superseded his opportunity to upgrade the national discourse about marijuana. His opportunity, but not ours.
The war on drugs in this country has been hijacked by moral hypocrisy and faulty analysis for far too long. It's time for the paradigm to change. Ordinary citizens must take the lead in shining a light on the scourge our failed war on drugs has become so actual solutions to the vast and complex problem of addiction can emerge. Until the discussion is injected with some note of reality and perspicacity, that will never happen.
'Toons by Richard Paey