But Monroe, who worked for 10 years in the school where the incident occurred, is pessimistic. The policy remains in place, and the damage has already been done. “My son was a perfectly normal, happy kid,” Monroe said. “He doesn’t trust anybody anymore.”
Likewise, though Huntsman and his lawyer, David Shores, sued the Newport-Mesa schools and won, tolerance in that school district is still next to zero. When a Superior Court judge ruled that the school board had violated Huntsman’s right to due process, the Newport-Mesa district changed its policy only slightly to allow for a disciplinary hearing before handing down verdicts.
Huntsman also filed civil suits against the police and the city, and another challenging the school district’s zero-tolerance policy as unconstitutional. But Kathleen Huntsman, Ryan’s mother, told me over the phone that they recently dropped these lawsuits and stopped talking to the press. “He wanted to get on with his life,” she said.
Over the past year, a raft of such radical organizations as the American Bar Association, Harvard Law School and, in May, Indiana University all made strong recommendations that schools dismantle their all-or-nothing discipline codes. But at Newport-Mesa, fear proved more powerful: In April, under pressure from parents who could not shake the specter of the recent shooting at Santee High School near San Diego, the district became one of the first in the nation to implement a zero-tolerance policy against bullying.
Students will be referred to counseling for a first offense, and then suspended or expelled if found disturbing “safe and harmonious relations” at the district. I wonder what they would have done with Eddie Haskell?
About 10 years back, I visited a midtown recording studio in New York City to talk with rock legend Ted Nugent about his rabid advocacy for hunters’ rights. After introducing me to Jack Blades (former Night Ranger) and Tommy Shaw (the voice of Styx), he produced a hunting bow he had brought along. He was showing me how to draw and target the thing when he was suddenly distracted by something happening outside the window.
“Look down there,” said the Motor City Madman, aiming the empty weapon at two figures huddled in an alley across the street. “If they’d give me a permit, I could whack crackheads all day from up here. That’d solve the drug problem real quick. Whack ’em and stack ’em.”
It was an absurd notion, of course, but I had the feeling the Nuge was only half joking. And if you keep an eye on the headlines coming out of Washington, you’ll see he’s not alone. Maverick senator and media darling John McCain has gone on record advocating the death penalty for “drug kingpins.” And Dubya’s new drug-czar nominee, John Walters, has been gunning them down for almost a decade already.
Walters is widely regarded as the biggest Drug War hawk in Washington. As the deputy in charge of supply reduction under drug czar Bill Bennett during the first Bush administration, Walters dismissed efforts to reduce federal sentences for drug offenses, pressed for longer terms for marijuana violations and rejected federal subsidies for needle exchanges.
And, borrowing a page from Ted Nugent’s playbook, Walters was the architect of the Peruvian “shoot first” policy now under investigation by Congress. During recent hearings, the U.S. State Department testified that about 50 planes were destroyed during the 1990s. A couple of years ago, however, before this was a hot topic, General Charles Wilhelm testified for the U.S. Department of Defense that its last count was 123 planes. Whether any of the fliers truly are narco-traffickers is of course moot after they’re dead.
Bush may have a reputation as a dullard, but he was too crafty to name Walters without some sort of cover. Indeed, when the president outlined his approach to the Drug War at a White House news conference a couple of weeks ago, the * rhetoric was balanced with much discussion of prevention and treatment. But when it came to introducing Walters, Bush wrapped his soft talk around the old hard line, saying, “The only humane and compassionate response to drug use is a moral refusal to accept it.”
Advocates of a new strategy for the Drug War rose immediately to challenge the new czar. Arianna Huffington called it “an advanced case of rampant hypocrisy — the latest manifestation of the administration’s penchant for talking one kind of game while actually playing another.” Added Marc Mauer, assistant director of the Sentencing Project, a group fighting the use of mandatory minimum sentences, “I think any movement toward treatment is just designed to deflect criticism from the approach that [Walters] has been taking for many years now.”
Late in his life, in the science-fantasy novel The Place of Dead Roads, William S. Burroughs envisioned a world peopled by either “Johnsons” or “shits.” The Johnson is a classic American type, the kind of independent thinker lionized in John Ford Westerns and World War II comic books, a common-sense citizen who lives by his own lights and, in so doing, looks to protect his freedom and yours, too. The shit, by contrast, regards all that easygoing ambiguity as harboring evil. The shit has a pathological need to control, and instead of looking for space to be free, he’s looking for freedom to effect those controls. The ascendance of zero tolerance might be regarded as the triumph of the shits, a logical extension of our Puritan past. Today, the Johnsons are on the run.