After a Facebook post about a $40,000 marijuana bust by the Columbia (South Carolina) Police Department, several commenters criticized the department’s priorities, as well as cannabis prohibition in general. “How many unsolved murders and rapes do you have in your jurisdication?” commented one poster. “Maybe you should focus your attention on those instead?” “Pot should be legal,” another poster simply commented.
Well, it turns out that Interim Police Chief Ruben Santiago, on the job just 10 months, isn’t particularly receptive to community input regarding “his” police department. Chief Santiago didn’t attempt to defend his department’s priorities; he didn’t attempt to explain why this marijuana arrest was a good thing, worth bragging about on Facebook. Instead, he decided to threaten one of the commenters with arrest, reports Ian Millhiser at ThinkProgress.
The Chief, posting from the Columbia Police Department’s official Facebook page, told Brandon Whitmer, an apparent marijuana legalization advocate who had suggested that police resources would be better used elsewhere, that his political views provided “reasonable suspicion to believe” that he may be a criminal, and that he would be targeted by the department.“Thank you for sharing your views and giving us reasonable suspicion to believe you might be a criminal, we will work on finding you,” the Chief wrote, posting as The Columbia Police Department, SC.
Another officer, apparently with a little more going on between the ears than the Chief, deleted the comment shortly after it appeared. But Chief Santiago wasn’t done. Shortly after, he followed up with a longer comment, comparing cannabis legalization advocates to people with gang tattoos.“Santiago posting, I was just notified that one of my staff members deleted my post,” the Chief began, huffily. “I put everyone on notice that if you advocate for the use of illegal substances in the City of Columbia then it’s reasonable to believe you MIGHT also be involved in that particular activity, threat? Why would someone feel threaten [sic] if you are not doing anything wrong?”
Of course, the Chief is running afoul of the First Amendment when he promises that his department will “work on finding” those who express a political viewpoint with which he disagrees. But he’s also wrong to claim that a person who disagrees with his views about cannabis automatically becomes a suspected user.
As for Chief Santiago’s veracity, it should be noted that this is the same guy who filed a defamation suit against a former Columbia police captain who claimed Santiago was planning to plant drugs in the car of a top city official, reports Ken White at Popehat.
Nice “police work,” there, Chief Santiago.
“Mayor and Commissioners of Columbia: You have grounds for reasonable suspicion that he will abuse his position and infringe on rights other than the free speech he already attempts to suppress without shame,” commented Greg Gimbert posted on the Columbia PD Facebook post bragging about the bust.
As pointed out by ThinkProgress, with the latest Gallup poll finding 58 percent of Americans in favor of marijuana legalization — but another poll showing just 12 percent of Americans actually used cannabis in the past year — that means nearly four out of five people who support legalization are not marijuana users.
In the meantime, if you live in Columbia, South Carolina, and you oppose the War on Marijuana, you’ve been put on notice by Chief Santiago: The police department will “work on finding you.”