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Freedom Not Fought For
Scott always went on a morning walk through the park. A cup of coffee from 7-11 and a Marlboro Light was his ‘breakfast of champions’ and his stroll reflected the sentiment. It had been a good week for DEA Special Agent Scott McCafferey, he and his team had executed a raid on a medical marijuana dispensary earlier that week that was a huge success. Money, computers, and of course, pounds of marijuana were all confiscated. The marijuana would either be destroyed or locked up, but the money and computers were the DEA’s. Scott smiled as he sipped his coffee and recalled his captain’s praise and hints of a promotion.
However his smile quickly faded when he came to the park bench where he usually sat for a short break. This particular morning, the bench was inhabited by a tall, tattoo streaked, dreadlocked vagrant sprawled out and sleeping with a half empty bottle of wine in his hand. The man was a stark contrast to Scott, who was clean cut, wearing a polo and khakis. He wore torn blue jeans and biker boots with a button up red and black plaid shirt and a studded leather jacket covered with patches. On the hand he held the wine with he had two rings: one of a pentagram, and one of a pot leaf.
At first Scott wasn’t sure how to react. This was the first time in 4 years that he had come across another person sitting in his seat, much less a passed out wino. However, soon enough he regained his champion confidence and tapped the man on the shoulder. He woke up looking confused and disoriented, looked around, yawned and had a drink from his bottle. He then looked at Scott and studied him silently for a moment. His face was unshaven and smudged with dirt but his eyes were like blazing emeralds that stood apart from his otherwise grungy appearance. They had a quality of quiet mischief in them juxtaposed with a hint of wisdom not usually seen in the eyes of men as young as him. After a few seconds of contemplation, the man smiled and asked “Can I help you?”
“DEA, sir are you aware you’re committing a criminal offense right now?” asked Scott, pointing to the bottle. The man with the dreadlocks chuckled. “You’re a bit late officer, they legalized this s*** back in ’33” he quipped, and took a long chug of wine. “It’s still illegal to have an open container of alcohol in public” replied Scott, agitated. He always hated people with no respect for authority, especially when it was his authority, like the protesters at the dispensary raid. While the DEA was carrying the confiscated materials to their vans, dozens of people showed up to picket. They had signs with slogans like “DEA Go Away” and “Compassion is not a Crime”. Some were on crutches. Some were in wheelchairs. “Potheads” he thought as he carried boxes to the vans, although even he was uneasy at the sight of an octogenarian woman in a wheelchair holding a sign with the words “Keep Your Hands Of My Medicine”.
But the protesters stayed behind the yellow tape and did not defy DEA orders, whereas this man sitting in front of Scott was blatantly refusing to obey his demands. “Sir, you are trying my patience, I’m giving you a warning, just get rid of the wine and be on your way.” Scott said in his most commanding DEA Agent voice. “Ill do ya one better” said the man with a wink, and then proceeded to chug the rest of the wine. “Yum” he chimed and broke the bottle on the concrete walkway, never taking his eyes away from Scotts. He then pulled a small white cone from his shirt pocket and put it in his mouth,
Scott was dumbfounded. “Is that a marijuana cigarette?!” he asked in disbelief. The man looked at him puzzled, “Nah man, it’s called a joint, some DEA Agent you are” he responded before lighting it up and taking a long drag. HE exhaled a cloud of smoke and sighed in relief, looking at Scott, “Breakfast of champions man” he said before taking another toke. Now Scott was angry. “Put that out, you’re breaking the law!” he asked forcefully. The man looked up at him and took another hit. “Oh?” he said “and what law is that?”
“The 1971 Controlled Substances Act, that’s what law you punk! You want a copy, I have one in my car.” Scott replied with obvious hostility. Any sense of mechanical police courtesy was gone and Scott's face was turning red. Normally he would have detained the man and called the police, however he felt a certain air of power to be in a position to give mercy; it gave him a feeling of superiority. “Well, if you want to play rulebook,” the man said calmly while searching through his jacket until he pulled out a small book, “take a look at this.” He handed Scott the U.S. Constitution and took several more puffs on his joint, now halfway done and stained green with resin.
“And why do I need to look at this?” Scott asked annoyed. “You say I’m breaking a law passed by Congress, now you tell me where in this document, which outlines the roles and responsibilities of the government, does it give Congress the authority to pass such a law” the man replied. Scott was as astonished as he was livid. “What the f*** do you mean? I’m a federal agent for Christsake!” he yelled, a large vein now pulsating from his forehead.
The man took one last hit and flicked his roach, which landed amongst the glass shards of the broken wine bottle, and turned to Scott. “Exactly, you’re a federal agent, and the Constitution lays out what you can and cannot do. Now, where in that little book does it say you have the right to regulate morality?” the man asked staring up at Scott without a hint of fear or apprehension. His eyes cut through Scott like a razor and glistened with a predatory anticipation, like a hunter watching his prey approach a trap. But Scott wasn’t about to lose a political debate to some stoner, he’d rather take a bullet.
“The DEA keeps American citizens safe so they can enjoy the freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution” Scott said with a scholarly tone. “I see” said the man with a casual grin, “so you’re defending my right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness by ordering me not to smoke marijuana? I’m not convinced. You’re not protecting my right to life because marijuana is, to quote former DEA Judge Francis Young, ‘one of the safest, therapeutically active substances known to man’. You’re not protecting my right to liberty because you’re interfering with my ability to govern myself and choose what I put into my body, and you sure as hell aren’t protecting my right to pursue happiness because you’re fucking killing my buzz.” The dreadlocked man laughed hysterically as he pulled a crumpled pack of Newports from his jacket and lit the last one in the pack.
“My job is to protect American citizens from drug cartels, gang violence and themselves” Scott asserted, “if people make bad choices the government has a responsibility to stop them, for their own good.” The man puffed casually on his cigarette with an amused look on his face. “You say your job is to protect people from cartels and gangs, but why are these people a threat?” he asked with a tinge of ersatz innocence. “They’re a threat because they are ruthless, with no regard for human life, only power and profit. I’ve seen decapitated corpses of people slaughtered by drug lords because they got in the way of business. I’ve seen people shot in the crossfire between rival gangs fighting for turf.”
The man listened quietly, smiling and nodding from time to time and nonchalantly smoking his Newport. “And why do you suppose that is? Have you ever questioned why you’ve never seen Jim Beam and Jack Daniels representatives shooting each other in the streets with semi-automatic weapons? Why hasn’t the Marlboro man taken a hit out on Joe Camel? Why is it the violence you speak of only occurs in the market for illegal drugs, and not their legal counterparts?
It was a question that Scott had never pondered before, but he was quick to respond regardless. “Because those markets are legal, therefore people can work within the them legally to settle disputes” he replied with a less than certain tone. He was slipping and he knew it. A change in the dreadlocked mans eyes suggested he knew it too. “Exactly, the only difference is that the legal markets have protection under the law, whereas the black markets the drug war creates are protected by mob violence and intimidation” the man said with a new tone of conviction. He paused for a moment to crush out his cigarette on the bottom of his boot.
“Now,” he continued “as for your argument that you protect people from themselves, if this were true why didn’t you scream at me to put out my cigarette?” Scott was struggling. The man before him made him uneasy, not because he refused to do as Scott told him, but because he had the aura of a man who knew he had the upper hand; he was a man who knew exactly what he was talking about and was debunking every argument Scott could make with ease. But Scott’s pride would not let him lose this argument, not this argument, not to a person like the man sitting in front of him.
“Cigarettes aren’t illegal, when Congress decides to outlaw them I’ll enforce the law.” Scott said reproachfully. The dreadlocked man glanced at the pack of Marlboro’s in Scotts hand and smiled. “I’m sure you will” he said and reached under the bench and grabbed a cane which Scott had not noticed before. He used it to get up and then stood in front of Scott face to face for the first time in their conversation. It was then that Scott noticed a pair of dog-tags around the mans neck, as well as a United States Marine Corps patch on his jacket.
“And I’m sure that if Congress decides to outlaw tobacco the Drug Enforcement Agency will handle it with the same sense of totalitarian righteousness that’s become it’s hallmark” the man said with a face frozen with bitterness. Scott’s face was one of utter astonishment. The man smirked at Scotts expression. “You know why I have to use this cane? Because I thought freedom was a good enough ideal to take a bullet for.” His words were like venom, every syllable stressed with a sense of anger and betrayal.
Scott managed to look the man in the eyes and asked him in a soft voice “Wasn’t it?” The man stared blankly at Scott, his eyes now tired, as though he had come to a familiar conclusion he couldn’t change. “I wouldn’t know, it turns out I wasn’t fighting for freedom.” The man turned away from Scott and walked past the broken bottle and the roach with a slight limp. Scott realized he still had the copy of the Constitution the man had handed him, and turned to him. “Hey don’t you want this back?” he asked. The man paused, and glanced over his shoulder momentarily. A single tear streaked down his face but his expression remained stern and his voice remained steady. “Why?” he asked as he turned around and continued to walk “it’s just a book of broken promises.”