With everyone from the NAACP to Second Amendment groups – and the vast majority of his own police officers – having risen up in protest, R. Gil Kerlikowske, Barack Obama's drug czar designee has engendered more than his share of controversy. And with good cause. If Mr. Kerlikowske's past is prologue, the new “Office of Drug Control Policy” may soon be dangerously drug out of control.
Gil Kerlikowske has been involved in law enforcement for over three decades. Starting in Florida, he oversaw two tiny police departments where he seemed able to escape offending his small constituency. Then he shuffled off to Buffalo, and the controversies began.
In Buffalo, his highest praise seemed to come from his own captain of administrative planning who excitedly told the Buffalo News that his boss “almost singlehandedly took this department from using typewriters and carbon paper into the latest and greatest computer technology.”
Others not in Mr. Kerlikowske's direct employ were far less enthusiastic. In particular, they criticized his frequent absences from the job, as well as his decided tendency to spend his time consulting with college professors and social workers when he did deign to stop by the office.
Following a stint at the Justice Department—where he worked with Obama's Attorney General Eric Holder and issued grants to community policing projects—Mr. Kerlikowske was hired as Seattle police chief, the position he has held since 2001. And it was there that controversy exploded.
That same year, the infamous drug-infested Seattle Mardi Gras riots broke out, in which marauders brutally attacked revelers. They sexually assaulted a number of women, injuring 72 people in all. And they ultimately killed 20-year-old Kris Kime who was attempting to defend one of the assaulted women. During the height of the riots, Kerlikowske instructed police to not intervene, but rather to simply enclose the rioters and establish a perimeter for three whole hours.
Instead of taking action to interdict the riots, he opted only to contain them, ordering his troops to ignore pleas for help and allowing the mayhem to continue unabated. His excuse: He said he didn't want to add to the violence, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
Sgt. Daniel Beste later sent a letter of apology to Kris Kimes' mother, saying "we also were aware of the rising tide of violence long before your son was killed and continually asked, 'Why don't we stop this?' Unfortunately, my question was never answered." Sgt. Beste also enclosed the $200 he had received for the "amount of overtime I was paid by the taxpayers of this city to stand by while they were beaten and your son killed." The $200 was later used to help pay for Kris Kimes' last hours, spent on a life-support system.
Following the Mardi Gras tragedy, the city government announced that the actions (or, lack of the same) taken by police were unwise and had put the city at risk. Eventually, as a direct result of Kerlikowske's order to his troops to stand down, the city of Seattle was forced to settle with the family of the murdered youth, giving them $2 million as restitution.
As a result of this—and other incidents, including the public reprimand of an officer who was accused of being “rude”—Chief Kerlikowske received a “no-confidence” vote by the local police union. A full 90 percent of the beat officers voted against their chief. Said one of the officers: "We hope the mayor and the City Council understand that it's not a few whining officers. It's a significant frustration of the vast majority of the department." That did not sway the mayor, however, who kept Kerlikowske on the job, despite his disagreement over how the riots were handled (and undoubtedly his pleasure over the department's disposal of typewriters and carbon paper).
Only a few short years later, the chief was again in the news for what many felt was malfeasance on the job. This time, it was over his personal weapon—a Glock 9mm handgun—which was stolen from his unlocked unmarked police car while he was shopping with his wife. Second Amendment groups immediately criticized him for the incident, labeling it as ironic because of his strict anti-gun stance. Said Alan Gottleib, chairman of Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms (CCRKBA):
"During his eight-year tenure as Seattle's police chief, Gil Kerlikowske has established himself as a devoted lobbyist for every restrictive gun law proposal. That's pretty hypocritical of a guy whose own gun was stolen out of his department car on a downtown Seattle street. He may pass an FBI background check for an appointment, but he flunked the responsible gun owner's test."
Gun groups aren't the only ones whose ire has been drawn by the Seattle police chief. In 2006, the local NAACP called for his resignation, after word broke that Kerlikowske interfered in an investigation of two officers who were accused of 'roughing up' a black man. As a result, the officers got off with only a slap on the wrist.
Added to all these incidents is the disturbing pattern of his dealings with marijuana. In drug-laden Seattle, the police chief was lenient on pot users, causing some marijuana advocates to express joy at his presumed appointment. Comments range from calling the appointment “brilliant” to “what a blessing – the karma gods are smiling on the whole country, man.” The latter comment inspired no doubt by Mr. Kerlikowske's enthusiasm for speaking at Seattle's “Hempfest.”
In fact, the police chief stated that pursuing marijuana arrests was a “low priority” for his department, and drug-related arrests dropped during the drug czar nominee's tenure. With little wonder.
When the people of Seattle pushed forward a ballot measure calling for stricter enforcement of laws against marijuana, Chief Kerlikowske not only opposed the ballot measure, he drug up a red herring by arguing that citizens should not be able to pick what laws are enforced. The fact of the matter, of course, was that the citizens were not trying to “pick what laws are enforced,” they were simply asking that the man charged with enforcing the laws act in accordance with the law itself. Kerlikowske, instead, maintained the prerogative of deciding for himself which laws were “low priority.”
This disturbing flaw—that the rights he denies the people can only accrue to himself—is the same logic by which he can carelessly lose his own weapon and then work to limit gun ownership by law-abiding citizens who are far more careful than he. And it makes one wonder exactly which laws Mr. Kerlikowske will choose to enforce – or deny – should he don the mantle of drug czar.
In a short two months in office, Barack Obama has established an unenviable reputation for appointing associates to top positions who show little, or no regard for the laws they are expected to enforce. Surely, it is not too much for the American people to ask that the new Office of National Drug Control Policy not be allowed to go to pot from day one. They can do it in memory of Kris Kimes.
Author Isaac MacMillen is a contributing editor to ALG News Bureau.
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