By Danny Fenster
It is a fundamentally American right to criticize one’s government, to speak out against wrongful policies–a patriotic act, some would say. But how much dissent is possible if one’s job is to enforce existing laws, whether one agrees with them or not? Legislative change is reserved for political channels, after all–not law enforcement.
A Border Patrol agent found out just how far that dissent can–or, rather, can’t–go, reports the New York Times.
Bryan Gonzalez, a retired police officer and ex-Marine, pulled his vehicle alongside another agent during a lull at their Deming, N.M. border station, and began venting about some of the job’s frustrations, the Times reported.
Gonzalez acknowledged remarking to the other agent that if marijuana were legal drug violence in Mexico would cease, then referenced the organization Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), which advocates for an end to the war on drugs.
That and remarks sympathetic to illegal immigrants were passed on along the chain all the way to Border Patrol headquarters in Washington, according to the Times, where the decision was made to let Gonzalez go. Mr. Gonzalez held “personal views that were contrary to core characteristics of Border Patrol Agents, which are patriotism, dedication and espirit de corps,” his termination letter read.
“More and more members of the law enforcement community are speaking out against failed drug policies, and they don’t give up their right to share their insight and engage in this important debate simply because they receive government paychecks,” Daniel Pochoda, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, told the Times. Pochoda is handling the case of Joe Miller, an Arizona probation officer who was fired after adding his name to a letter from LEAP.
Miller was one of a handful of federally employed signers of the letters; the rest were mostly retired law enforcement officials who were free from the boss’s reactions. LEAP began with “five disillusioned officers” in 2002, reports the Times, and has grown to include “145 judges, prosecutors, police officers, prison guards and other law enforcement officials, most of them retired,” who can speak free of reprimands, according to the Times.
“I don’t want to work at a place that says I can’t think,” said Mr. Gonzalez. He has since worked as a bouncer, a construction worker and a yard worker, and has considered going back to school and studying law. He filed suit in a Texas federal court in January. Defending the Border Patrol, the Justice Department has sought to have the case thrown out.
“We all know the drug war is a bad joke,” an anonymous veteran Texas police told the Times over the phone. “But we also know that you’ll never get promoted if you’re seen as soft on drugs.”
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