Dan Feidt on the DRE report: 'It's unacceptable for something this unethical to happen' [Q & A]
Feidt: "All of it should be suspended. Everything in the war on drugs, not just the DRE."
When the DRE scandal first made headlines last spring, City Pages talked with Dan Feidt to get his perspective on how the story fit into the broader narrative of America's war on drugs.
CITY PAGES' DRE SCANDAL SERIES:
-- DRE officer: "I don't know what the big deal is I just gave them marijuana" [PART ONE]
-- DRE 'victims' to file civil lawsuit against alleged pot-distributing officers [PART TWO]
-- DRE officer on finding drug-using subjects: We went to "shitty areas" like Franklin Ave. [PART THREE]
-- DRE officers blackmailed subjects: 'When you come up to DRE school your morals are gone' [PART FOUR]
-- DRE officer on Peavey Plaza: "We gotta get outta here... something's not right" [PART FIVE]
With the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension's 500-plus page investigation into the scandal now publicly available, we thought we'd again touch base with Feidt -- the 29-year-old journalist-turned-web developer who shot much of the video first detailing allegations that officers were giving Peavey Plaza protesters drugs -- to ask about what he takes to be the report's most important themes and implications.
City Pages: You've obviously followed the scandal very closely and have given the BCA report a close read. What aspects of the report do you find particularly important?
Dan Feidt: I think whenever you look at controversies with law enforcement it's always pretty frustrating to see how they have specific privileges and a special mode of doing things and they are allowed to stonewall without any consequences or without any real oversight outside of this internal police investigation system. And so one thing that really jumped out at me was one of the officers talking about how someone -- I think it's called the Legal Resources Center maybe -- someone, a lawyer who works with law enforcement was going around and trying to get everyone to be quiet about what was going on.
And so, essentially, some of the same lawyers that were involved in Metro Gang Strike Force misconduct are also involved in trying to get everyone to stonewall around this misconduct. And I think that's very frustrating because Minneapolis has been trying to shut down its Civilian Review [Authority] over its police force. Even though this document shows a number of links to the Minneapolis Police Department, Council Member Don Samuels told me there was no Minneapolis-level investigation even happening. So it's very frustrating because it seems like what powerful people want to do is to keep removing one avenue of oversight after another and at the legislature law enforcement is always trying to reduce the amount of information they have to release under the Minnesota Data Practices Act. And so they propose bills to keep all the kinds of investigative data that they collect secret permanently -- that's what they've been trying to do for years.
And situations like this one prove that it's essential that the police operate transparently. They have to be able to be questioned, they have to be able to be held accountable and when their policies are really misguided and unethical -- like the way this whole [DRE] program has been designed -- there has to be external democratic participation and accountability in everything that they do. And I think that's lacking, and I think there's always pressure to make that oversight worse and more restricted.
City Pages: But the ACLU's Chuck Samuelson has gone on the record defending officers' right not to talk, not to grant interviews incriminating themselves in a criminal investigation. Do you think law enforcement should be held to a different standard?
Feidt: It's true that under the law, the law Samuelson is referencing, that's their right not to say anything. But we as taxpayers living in a democratic republic, we have to get a higher level of accountability. If the stance is going to be that law enforcement never has to answer questions about the war on drugs if they don't feel like it, then that whole area of the war on drugs should probably be suspended if they don't have to answer any questions about what they're doing. So wherever they are unwilling to answer questions, that's a sign that the entire area should be shut down.
The war on drugs is an unethical system, and the way the DRE was set up is very unethical. And there's a reason, for example, with University of Minnesota studies that involve controlled substances -- involve things that are dangerous to peoples' health -- there's a reason that institutional review boards exist, to make sure that people in an official capacity with public funding are not creating unethical decisions, and unethical situations. And with the DRE, the report makes totally clear that the police themselves could sense that something unethical was going on and they were reluctant to talk about it, they were reluctant to question it, and that's what needs to be examined. Whether or not the narrative of the test subjects of the DRE -- whether or not you believe the people that went through the program, the reality is that it's just so unacceptable for a thing this unethical to be happening. It's unethical.
One thing that popped up in the document for example was people talking about the ways they were induced to participate in the [DRE] program. Not just with cash or cigarettes -- which I would argue is also unethical because you are inducing someone to take drugs and you're rewarding them -- [but] if the whole war on drugs is supposed to exist, then that is against the entire point of the war on drugs itself. That's the essential irony of it. But there are all these other side issues where an institutional review board would never approve of giving anybody cash or cigarettes or cheeseburgers to smoke crack cocaine. They wouldn't do it or at least there would be an independent oversight structure over anything like that. And so it also reflects that law enforcement believes it has privileges where they can threaten to use Minneapolis ordinances to compel people to participate in the program.
City Pages: The DRE program remains suspended. Do you think there's any way it could be reformed in an ethically satisfactory way, or is the only way forward to shut it down permanently?
Feidt: I think that as with many aspects of policy making in the war on drugs, the DRE is not on a scientifically sound basis. The way that drug scheduling works in the country is not on a scientific basis. The analog drug policy that was passed at the last legislature -- by the way, the analog drug bill was pushed by Rep. Gauthier, [who] turned out to be basically a borderline pedophile, and so a lot of times, people that push repressive policies have personal psychological issues that cause them to advocate for more repression.
The DRE is another example of unscientific policy making posing as scientific policy making, and so I don't think the state should spend any money on trying to control chemicals and having lawyers and police and judges being paid to control chemicals unless there's a humane basis that helps people get out of chemical dependency, which the DRE is clearly not designed to train people to do. And I think that having a policy that purports to have the scientific basis of blood-alcohol testing is a huge waste of money when we can't afford it. So there's all these ethical problems and a lack of any kind of institutional review. But there's also a complete lack of any real hard science -- there's only pseudoscience. Until that's addressed across the entire panoply of war on drugs policies, I think they should all be suspended.
I think that when law enforcement isn't willing to answer questions about something as simple as the DRE it also indicates they they are not willing to address any of the consequences of this failed system of policies that has damaged millions of American lives. And I think the results of the last election showed that Americans are tired of the war on drugs. More people voted to legalize marijuana in Colorado than voted for president Obama, and that's because people understand that the war on drugs is intrinsically unethical, it's very bad for criminal justice and law enforcement in general. And until we basically have the right to cross examine all the prosecutors and police that are involved in all of these policies, we should really just cut off the public funding going to all of this. Until the Minnesota law enforcement community can explain for example how much drug money flows into Wall Street we should not spend more public money on this agenda. Until there is perfect transparency and an ability for everyone in our community, including people in prison today, to get direct answers and documentation of everything, all of it should be suspended. Everything in the war on drugs, not just the DRE.
-- To read the entire BCA report, check out Feidt's blog --
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