Reason TV: Mississippi Drug War Blues

Radley Balko says: Given that you've linked to coverage of Cory [Maye]'s case in the past, I thought you might be interested in a new documentary on his case put together by Reason and Drew Carey. I guess I'm a bit biased, but I think this is a really compelling piece of work.
cory-maye.jpg At 11p.m on December 26, 2001 police in Prentiss, Mississippi raided the residence of Cory Maye, a 21-year-old father who was at home with his 18-month-old daughter Ta'Corriana.

The cops were looking for drugs and smashed through the back door. In the ensuing chaos, Maye hunkered down with his daughter in a bedroom and when the police broke down that door, he fired three bullets, one of which killed Officer Ron Jones. Maye testified in court that the police did not identify themselves until after they had entered his residence; indeed, he testified that they did not identify themselves until after he had fired his shots. Once they did, he said he put his weapon on the floor, slid it toward police, and surrendered.

The police, who refused to talk with, tell a different story. They claim that they identified themselves multiple times before entering Maye's house and bedroom, and that there was no way Maye couldn't have known who they were. A jury rejected Maye's case that he was acting in self-defense and he was sentenced to death for the murder of Office Ron Jones.

"Mississippi Drug War Blues" is a story about the intersection of race (Maye is black and Jones was white); the war on drugs; the disturbing increase in the militarization of police tactics; and systemic flaws in the criminal justice and expert-testimony systems. It is a tragedy in which one man is dead and another may spend his life in prison.



  1. Perhaps I’m biased too. Compelling story indeed.

    I wish it were possible to know with certainty which story is the truth.

  2. This is a shame, its obvious the war on drugs has never worked. the Rockafella drug laws around the country only put one race behind bars, which is why the white to black inmate ratio is so skewed. How can a country proclaim war on its citizens(?) How could you sentence a man to a longer prison term for holding drugs then a violent crime(?) How can you let big time CEOs get away with blatant crimes of fraud that ruin the lives of their employees(?)

    Its endless, thats not even getting into war crimes carried out daily under the name of the america peoples?

  3. @TENN: There is at least a way to prevent this sort of uncertainty in the future: Require the cops record these events, just as the record traffic stops and such. The question is over whether they announced, and it would be easy to know if you had the whole experience on tape.

    Seriously, technology continues to progress, so recorders are relatively inexpensive and small. I don’t know of a good reason not to do it, for the sake of public transparency, and to avoid situations like this.

    Cops without recorders are like Court-rooms without stenographers.

  4. Although enraging, this is not surprising. It’s the logical extension of school zero tolerance policies that sanction the victim who defends him/herself against an attacker.

  5. Boingboing is a site with millions or readers every month. Is there a single one who favors the so called drug war? I’d love to hear from one.

    God I wish the world could move toward a certain amount of enlightenment.

  6. Well Pyros, I regularly read here on BB things posted by creationists, apologists for the security theater, and people who actually believe “if you haven’t done anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about”.

    So yeah, I’m sure there are many who believe the so-called-war-on-drugs is just fine and making all our lives better.

    Yes, let’s hear from some.

  7. By war on drugs do you mean criminal enforcement policies for dealers, criminal enforcement policies for users or the belief that some drugs should be illegal?

    I believe in both keeping some highly addictive drugs or drugs that affect judgment so strongly that users commonly put the public in danger illegal as well as harsh enforcement policies for dealers. I believe users that are addicted to drugs are victims, so criminal prosecution doesn’t make sense.

  8. &Jordan M

    Here’s the straight legalization argument:

    Many prescription drugs are highly illegal, and alcohol fits your definition of a drug “that affect judgment so strongly that users commonly put the public in danger” better than anything else on the market. Further, the death of Cory Maye is an example of “harsh enforcement policies for dealers” in action. By making the consumption of drugs legal and the sale of drugs illegal, you continue to keep the organized crime, the unsafe ingredients, and the urban blight caused by the drug war alive. It’s a convenient position to say that drug users are “victims” to be pitied, but oh, the dealers are predators, lock ’em away for good. The worst problems of the war on drugs remain intact.

  9. Sorry, “highly addictive” not “highly illegal”, although marijuana, LSD, MDMA, cocaine, heroin, et. al. are all examples of drugs that made the jump from prescription to highly illegal.

  10. please, it is not a “war on drugs”. It is a “Waronsomedrugs Industry”, just a business like any other. Money to be made.

  11. Cops without recorders are like Court-rooms without stenographers. Not in the eyes of the law. It’s nigh impossible to impeach their testimony.

    Require the cops record these events, just as the record traffic stops and such. Actually the reason most forces adopt this is more for their own protection against fivilous lawsuits. There are a lot of bogus claims of sexual misconduct and assault. I doubt they would purchase the equipment if the reason given was “we don’t trust cops.”

  12. you damn yankees and foreigners. down here in mississippi, we can’t let the nigra get too uppity. next thing you know they will start trying to vote again. and we need to kill a few to keep in line. if you had our nigra problem, you would feel the same way.

  13. @YBKul

    I never said that using or possessing drugs should be legal. I said it shouldn’t be criminal. Nor did I say anything about saying that alcohol should be legal or continue to be legal.

    The fact that alcohol is legal now is no argument that other addictive substances should be too. If anything, we should take the fact that alcohol is so destructive to so many lives as a lesson to never allow other stronger drugs that are easier to become physically dependent to become legal.

    As for prescription drugs, well.. they are so heavily regulated and controlled that the vast majority of people either never receive a dosage large enough to be addictive or have to jump through hoops constantly to continue to get more.

    The dosages necessary to produce euphoria or whatever the desired effect for illicit drugs are often greater than the dosage to become physically dependent – so making them a controlled substance isn’t practical.

    Now mind you, I’m drawing a very clear line here about what kinds of drugs I’m talking about. There are a lot of illegal drugs that have no addictive properties and incapacitate people so heavily they don’t have the opportunity to harm anyone. I could care less about those.

    It is one thing to sit quietly and hallucinate. It is a completely different thing to need a drug so badly that you’ll commit any crime for it or be so out of it that playing grand theft auto on the streets sounds like a good idea.

  14. Aside from the drug issue, this is a great reason for gun control. If the population weren’t allowed (?encouraged)to have guns then the risk of someone getting shot lessens.

  15. @Pyros, Takuan, Jake: Somehow, I doubt any of the other readers of BB who might support the ‘War on Drugs’ would fall for your obvious bait, especially if they’ve read the site before.

  16. Might I be the Euro to point out again that iof you weren’t all armed to the teeth then this wouldn’t happen.

    Your war on drugs is a farce, and a very expensive one. But that is political policy, irrespective of that, if you were not armed then there’d be a live cop and a bogus drugs charge.

    Not ideal but a helluva loe better than dead cop and an imminent ride on old Sparky.

  17. You can’t really ban guns in the US now, though. There are far too many already in the population, a ban at this stage would definitely be closing the door after the horse has bolted.

  18. @ Jordan M

    Re dealer/user split:
    Nearly everyone who uses is legally a drug dealer. Smoke a joint with a friend, pass him that joint, and you’ve just distributed marijuana. Possess enough of anything, (“enough” being not a whole lot) and you’ll be charged with intent to distribute. Remove a dealer from the street and you create a job opportunity. We can’t punish or incarcerate our way out of the problem. We incarcerate more people than any other country in the world. Drug use has remained steady despite a surge in incarceration.

    Re Prohibition:
    If your goal is to reduce threats to public health or safety, banning most substances is poor public policy. It hasn’t served to make drugs less accessible, and as the experience of prohibition shows, it creates a violent black market around the substance. Get rid of the prohibition, as we did with alcohol, and the violent black market disappears. Liquor store owners and bartenders don’t generally shoot their business competitors.

    Alcohol certainly causes enormous problems. But prohibition failed at significantly reducing consumption, turned millions of ordinary people into lawbreakers, inflated the price of booze, increased the level if impurities because it ceased being regulated, and forever changed the nature of violent crime in America. The substance, misused, is harmful, but the “solution” was worse than the problem it sought to address.

    Re addiction:
    One of your comments was particularly absurd: “As for prescription drugs, well.. they are so heavily regulated and controlled that the vast majority of people either never receive a dosage large enough to be addictive or have to jump through hoops constantly to continue to get more.”

    Many prescription drugs are highly addictive when used as directed. Some nonprescription drugs are as well. Addiction is not necessarily dosage dependent. Peculiarly, you admit as much in your next sentence, shooting you previous argument in the foot: “The dosages necessary to produce euphoria or whatever the desired effect for illicit drugs are often greater than the dosage to become physically dependent – so making them a controlled substance isn’t practical.”

    The first part of that sentence is entirely correct. Even if you take only enough to control your pain, if you are on any opiate long enough, you will become physically addicted. You don’t get high, but you need them to feel normal even once you’re not in pain. Steroid inhalers and nasal sprays are also highly addictive when used as directed, but don’t produce any pleasant buzz. So too with sleeping pills (at the prescribed dosage). How the conclusion that you draw: “so making them a controlled substance isn’t practical” follows from that fact is lost on me.

    If you can become addicted at doses below the dose it takes to make you high, then obviously people can and do become addicted to them, and I have no idea how that fact means you can’t make them a “controlled substance.” (I’m ignoring that you’ve got terminology all wrong and just assuming you mean “Schedule 1 drug” instead of “controlled substance.”)

    I’m currently taking hydrocodone for a fractured vertebrae. By the time I’m healed enough to stop, there is absolutely no doubt that I will be physically addicted to it and would have withdrawal symptoms if I stopped suddenly. I’ll have to be tapered off slowly. I know that and my doctor knows that, but many patients and many doctors don’t. Doctors are also lax about giving painkillers to people who need them because of physical dependency when they’re well past the point that they could reasonably need them for pain. It’s especially true with patients who don’t fit the stereotype of addicts. And when the doctors wise up, then addicted patients behave like junkies, see, e.g., John McCain’s wife:

    Anybody who regularly drinks caffeine, even in small quantities, and stops suddenly would be able to tell you that a great many widely available substances are highly addictive. How addictive a substance is has no relationship with how harmful it is to your body or to society.

  19. oddly my post here seems to NOT have shown up.

    So here goes again.

    The war on drugs is policy and as such can be changed by you lot voting in reformers.

    As for this incident…

    If you weren’t all armed for bear, then you’d have one live copper and one illegal search and seizure/arrest.

    As it is, dead police and a guy off for a ride on Old Sparky.

    The gun thing is like some sort of localised dementia with you US types.

  20. #15 mikelotus:
    As a Mississippian, I can assure you that your cheap characterization of the state in which I currently reside is nothing short of wildly inaccurate, and incredibly offensive to boot.
    Mississippi is one of the most diverse states in the country, with strong African-American, Latino, white and Asian populations living side by side. We have the largest African-American population in the country, and I’ll bet dollars to donuts that my workplace, my neighborhood and my community as a whole is far more diverse than your own.
    Sure, Mississippi has problems – we’re very, very poor for one – but racism and ethnic hatred is not an ideology embraced by every Mississippian, nor is it one solely endemic to the residents of this state. Please remember this the next time you choose to draw your knowledge of an entire community of people from situation comedies and courthouse dramas.

    In reference to the topic of this post, like most of you, this Mississippian strongly condemns the “war on drugs” as an utterly criminal waste of public resources that negatively impacts people of every creed and color. Every law enforcement officer dedicated to protecting citizens from themselves is one less who can protect my belongings from theft and my loved ones from violent crime. It’s terrible to hear about these deaths, and even worse to realize that they’re only too typical of this needless and ugly conflict.

  21. Far be it from me to stir the libertarian dragon, but it seems to me (as some mentioned in the comments) this this extremely unfortunate event presents a rather compelling argument for gun control. Dwelling on hypotheticals doesn’t accomplish much, but had Mr. Maye not been armed, he’d likely have paid a fine or gotten community service for a small amount of marijuana. Ron Jones would most certainly be alive.

    I’m taking for granted that that the US “drug war” is an abject a failure prosecuted with draconian enthusiasm (other commenters can make those points better than I) and needs some serious rethinking. I’m also not speaking to the race aspect of the situation or the obvious fact that Mr. Maye’s case was handled poorly (and with some questionable conduct on the prosecutor’s part).

    But the approach this article takes gives me some concern. Why do people feel that we have the right to kill someone for trespassing in our home or on our property? Is it the perception of threat (or the fear of threat) that gives someone that right? Is it the trespassing? What if I feel threatened sitting on my front porch by someone walking on the sidewalk? Radley Balko seems to take it as a given that if the police didn’t identify themselves appropriately, Mr. Maye was justified in attempting to kill someone. Why is that? Not having children myself, I can only imagine that the argument is that protecting your children gives you that right, but I don’t know.

    Also, I love the way that Mr. Balco tuns this phrase: “[Mayne] fired three bullets, one of which killed Officer Ron Jones.” There are a number of ways to make the same statement, most of them aren’t nearly as passive.

  22. The article says that the death penalty was dropped, so now he’s looking at a lengthy jail term instead. I agree that the cops should videotape all raids to eliminate any “he said/she said” afterward. In some cases it can even work to the police’s benefit. There have been multiple instances where a dash cam has helped apprehend people who assault or kill cops during traffic stops. Plus, if cops know they’re being videotaped, they may be less likely to abuse a suspect. I wonder what really happened. Did this guy have a past record of dealing drugs and/or shooting people? Do the cops in that area have a history of barging-in unannounced? We may never know the real story.

  23. Does anyone know what Obama’s or McCain’s position is on the legalization (or decriminalizatin) of drugs? Or do we just want to talk about gay marriage, flag burning and abortion for yet another election?

    So far, despite calls to do so, no one has stepped forward in support of the drug war (war on the poor who no one gives a fuck about except for me, apparently). Is it possible that there is not a single fucking America who is for it even though there are literally millions languishing in jail or prison because of it to say nothing of the huge drain it is on public resources? How is it that this hasn’t become a political issue for 2008? How can we say that Obama is so deserving of our votes if he doesn’t speak out against this appalling holocaust?

    How can we make this a political issue for 2008? Am I the only one who sees through gay marriage, abortion and flag burning? Is there anyone else tired of this bullshit?

  24. &Pyros
    Obama said he wouldn’t send the DEA after users and distributors of medical marijuana. That’s probably all we’re going to get.

    &Gun Control
    Had the thugs who burst into Cory Maye’s home not been wearing badges, we’d be talking about a strong argument FOR gun control right now. Plus, are you talking about just gun control or a gun ban? Because Cory Maye probably would have been able to buy a gun legally under any gun control situation. (And illegally if guns were banned. As the drug war shows, banning something doesn’t make it hard to get.)

  25. #17: You’re exactly right. However, a lot of societal woes could be solved by violating our constitutional rights. Screw the 4th amendment…if we just searched everyone’s house regularly, we could wipe drugs out completely. Which is apparently what happened.

    From the wikipedia article on Cory Maye: “Jones, though not a member of the Task Force, had received a confidential tip that large quantities of marijuana were being stored and sold in the apartment of Jamie Smith, who lived in the other half of the duplex. The officers obtained search warrants for both apartments. Whether the warrants legally allowed for a no-knock entry is still not clear.”

    So, the police suspected his neighbor of having some pot….and then decided to raid his part of the duplex, too? I have a lot of sympathy for the cop that got shot, but here I am, imagining myself in that situation. I’m a law abiding citizen who has no reason to expect a police raid. I’m armed because I’m worried about break ins. A group of men dressed in military gear breaks into my house unannounced, then comes and starts busting down my bedroom door while I’m in there WITH MY CHILD? I’m not listening for them to shot out “Police!” once they’re in the house, because at that point I’m frantically preparing to defend my defend my child from what I assume is a gang of homicidal maniacs.

    I know sounds a little alarmist, but the reason the founders added the 2nd Amendment was to give us a tool to protect ourselves from EXACTLY THIS SORT OF THING. What would Jefferson think of this type of government raid?

    We’ve become a nation with midnight raids on unsuspecting, law-abiding citizens who happen to live next to a guy who might have contraband the government thinks is, at the most, immoral. He defends himself and gets sentenced to death.

    Police state, anyone?

    P.S. Guns are not the cause of the problem. Switzerland is the 4th or 5th most heavily armed country, and has one of the lowest murder rates in the world. Why?

  26. #28 Agreed. Guns are not the cause of the problem. This is yet another red herring that takes the spotlight away from the real issue which is social inequality. This was the point that Michael Moore made abundantly clear in Bowling for Columbine.

    Comfortable complacent, smug, self-satisfied liberal elites love issues like gun control. I can never tell whether they are stupid or whether, in their comfortable, Ivy-league, Volvo-driving Bourgeoisie world they could give a fuck about social inequality. Probably both.

    This is another spin-your-wheels issue much like flag burning, gay marriage, and abortion.

    It will never go anywhere. If you try to take guns away from people, they will shoot you. They will assassinate you either literally or figuratively if you oppose it politically. Of all the bad liberal issues, it ranks with assisted suicide and gay marriage.

  27. As one of the more “conservative” occassional posters, I agree with the first poster on its’ difficult to tell who’s telling the truth; but I find it hard to justify shooting someone coming through your front door with at least some attempt at identifying them. But I digress…

    The follow-up posters regarding support for the war-on-drugs. No, I don’t agree with it. All drugs should be dealt with as controlled substances, regulated and taxed by the government. It would cut the crime out of the system; we’d still have junkies, but as other posters have pointed out we still have drunks, so what difference does that make really? People have to have personal accountability, the biggest issue with drugs is the violence, which legalization signicantly reduces.

    As for the suggestion that the “war on drugs” is about money; I think that’s a little paranoid. The government would likely make more money if they were to legalize it and tax it. I agree with other posters that its more about racism, as most of the prohibited substance originate from non-caucasian ethnic groups and the prohibition of it was mostly used as an excuse to incarcerate them.

    Canada has recently started to lighten up on pot, and may eventually go as far as legalization, but concern about the perception from our southern neighbour is preventing that. However, I predict that within 10 years, pot will be legal here, and within 20 years legal in the US. This debate is about demographics and shifting the focus onto the unfounded bias against the legalization of these substances (much like was done with gay marriage).

  28. #30 You miss the point even while sort of making a valid one. Let’s grant that the government would make a greater overall amount of money by legalizing drugs. The salient fact is that there is already a very well funded establishment that benefits from the status quo. The fact that “the government” might be able to make more money by legalizing drugs doesn’t mean that the entities in and out of government which benefit from criminalization aren’t avidly trying to protect it. Given that hundreds of billions of dollars are at stake, I would imagine that they are in fact trying to protect it.

  29. Pyros, I’m not quite missing the point. I understand the point, and I even agree that the status quo benefitors likely muck up the facts to support the current war. I just disagree that this is the main reason it continues; the amount of money that could be made for corporations and government in a regulated market simply dwarfs the amount of money that is being made in the current black market. As such any “government plot” to maintain the war simply doesn’t make sense, as the players (i.e. drug companies) that stand to gain from the end of the war and the legalization would very likely pay better.

    The massive opposition which prevents this change lies in the protracted propoganda campaign that has lasted over 100 years against substances like marijuana, cocaine, and heroin (which we are now starting to see ebb a little, re: the book about “Pot just being a leaf”). There was some negative reaction to that, but certainly not at the level it would have been in 1998.

    However there is certainly no support for any immediate change on this topic; at least not until Obama’s 2nd term ;).

  30. The sad thing is that Americans don’t want the damn drug war or any of the other wars for that matter yet we happily elect leaders who are unwilling to take a stand or only a very weak one.

    Will someone please step forward and explain to me why this isn’t a political issue? Please, someone???

    We should be calling an immediate end to all the wars, especially the war on drugs (the war on the poor) and the Iraq massacre situation which we’re responsible for.

    For those pragmatists out there, we simply don’t have the money. To those whose primary concern is loss of innocent life, well, as I’ve said before, blood everywhere. It is time to move past our apehood.

  31. Pyros,

    You keep saying the same things and asking the same questions. I appreciate your frustration, but it’s getting a little tedious. BB readers, half of whom don’t even live in the US, can’t fix the problem. How many times have you contacted your elected officials about this in the last month?

  32. This isnt a political issue because its a real issue. Im not sure if you noticed but this country is run by one party, which is run by the elite bankers who own the federal reserve. Regardless of who is in office you can put money on the fact real issues will not be brought up. Even this war in Iraq isnt a big issue, nor is the dismantling of the federal reserve. So if you want “change” we all have to work hard to remind our government that they work for us. We should not be afraid of our government, they should be afraid of us. Look at how the people France mass protest for change as an example.

    “as for prescription drugs, well.. they are so heavily regulated and controlled that the vast majority of people either never receive a dosage large enough to be addictive or have to jump through hoops constantly to continue to get more.”

    That is false, it is ridiculously easy to get any kind prescription drug illegally, at any quantity. Sure you might have to pay street prices but i can assure its out there. Goto any middle class high school and talk to the right people. Or the web sites with relaxed prescription checking. I’m pretty sure i heard that prescripts are becoming the most abused drug, right under alcohol.

    Many people actually snort prescription opiates so the effect of the drug is much stronger, so regardless of dosage a “high” is still easily achieved.

    and yes we are moving quickly to a police state, but we shouldn’t be surprised, our fore fathers have warned us about it all.

  33. Antonius–

    I don’t think you are technically correct. Anyway, if you repeat the truth 3 times, people will start to believe it.

    I am not a smart man, Antonius, so please be sensitive to this fact. If you had such a disability, I wouldn’t be critical of you. I simply can’t understand why this isn’t a political issue for 2008. I wanted someone to step forward to explain this, but apparently it is a foolish question. Hmmm…

  34. “The government would WANT to make more money so the Warondrugs business can’t be a business”

    No. “The government” is composed of individuals whose personal financial interests are not those of a nations. Unwillingness to see this is what creates the Waronsomedrugs Industry in the first place.

    Please understand: “The Government” is only an abstraction. Like money, it only exists in our minds.

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