Stewart was a poor standard bearer for drug legalization
By Ken K. Gourdin
Author’s Note: The following op-ed was submitted to, but declined for publication by, The Salt Lake Tribune. It was written in response to the op-ed “Neither Stewart nor Francom had to die,” which was published in the June 2, 2013 edition of The Tribune. A link to Mr. Boyack’s piece is included below.
Connor Boyack (Salt Lake Tribune, Opinion, June 2; see Mr. Boyack’s op-ed at the following address: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/opinion/56387368-82/stewart-drug-francom-bears.html.csp, last accessed today ) concludes that neither Matthew David Stewart nor Agent Jared Francom of the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force had to die. Boyack is right there is room for debate about whether the so-called “war on drugs” should continue, and, if so, how it should be waged, but Matthew David Stewart is a poor “poster child” to use as the center of that debate.
Boyack’s assertion that Stewart simply was growing marijuana for his personal use is belied by the amount police seized following the raid. The Tribune reported that police seized 16 marijuana plants from his home while conducting a search warrant.
If Stewart had simply wanted the right to grow, possess, and use marijuana personally, there are several states in which he would have been allowed to do so. However, even in states where marijuana is legal, Stewart would not have been allowed legally to possess the amount which was seized from his home.
Stewart’s assertion that he was simply defending himself against unknown armed intruders who he thought had broken into his home to rob him doesn’t withstand serious scrutiny in light of statements Stewart himself reportedly made the day after the shootout to Robert Carpenter, an investigator with the Weber County Attorney’s Office.
According to Tribune reports, Carpenter testified at Stewart’s preliminary hearing that Stewart told him the men who broke into Stewart’s home “believed what they were doing was right.” This is a curious statement, since most all armed robbers know what they’re doing is wrong: they simply don’t care.
Since most everyone (including those who commit it) knows armed robbery is wrong, it’s unlikely Stewart was referring to armed robbery when he reportedly made that statement. More likely, Stewart was referring to the war on drugs, since (as Boyack’s piece proves) there is much wider disagreement as to the propriety of drug interdiction efforts.
Further, when Carpenter asked if he knew who had entered his home that night, Carpenter said Stewart told him, “Not specifically.” According to the Tribune, Stewart then asked Carpenter who the intruders were and added, “There are a lot of branches out there.” Carpenter asked, “Branches of what?” Stewart then replied, “Branches of the government.”
Viewed in light of these reported statements by Stewart, Boyack’s assertion that “Stewart fought back against [unknown] intruders” also fails to withstand serious scrutiny. Stewart’s responses during Carpenter’s interview with him indicate that, while Stewart may not have known which agency the officers work for, he knew that he was shooting at law enforcement officers.
Boyack is concerned about the “near deification” of police officers, and implies that such an attitude would adversely have impacted Stewart’s ability to get a fair trial. However, the Tribune’s comment boards and similar Internet sites teem with Stewart defenders who are sympathetic to both Stewart’s and Boyack’s positions.
Marijuana is only one drug. While it may account for a sizeable proportion of currently-illegal drug use, legalization of marijuana alone will not solve the nation’s drug problem. There are numerous other illicit substances, many of which make their users paranoid and violent.
Had Stewart’s case gone to trial, he could have used that proceeding as a springboard to argue for wider legalization of marijuana, or even to call for an end to the war on drugs. His suicide, however, prevented that. Contrary to Boyack’s assertions, one person (and one person alone) is responsible for Stewart’s death, and that is Matthew Stewart himself.
Ken K. Gourdin received a B.S. from Weber State University in Criminal Justice and is certified as a paralegal. He lives in Tooele.
Update, June 15, 2013: It’s true that I do espouse somewhat of a “law-and-order” stance in the foregoing op-ed. Still, the main issue I have with what Matthew Stewart did has little or nothing to do with drugs (if someone wants to smoke pot [or even to deal it], that’s one thing) and almost everything to do with the fact that he chose to open fire on police (if someone kills, and attempts to kill, law enforcement officers, that’s another thing entirely). As somewhat of a moderating voice to my “law-and-order” stance, see Robert Kirby’s Salt Lake Tribune column of June 9, 2013, in which he tells of befriending and developing a rapport with a drug-dealing suspect while working undercover, and the sense of remorse he felt at betraying the guy’s trust when the guy found out who he was; and realizing that if he hadn’t been doing his job, the two might have been friends. The column can be found here (last accessed today): http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/entertainment2/56428752-223/john-kirby-bad-liked.html.csp.
In a similar vein, it is I, myself, who provides a moderating voice amongst the commenters on a story about a juvenile who was arrested after he blindsided a soccer referee with a sucker-punch after receiving a yellow card, and the referee later died of his injuries. One on-line comment to a story about a judge’s order that the perpetrator remain in custody ridiculed the stance of those who might call the perpetrator in this incident an “otherwise-good kid” (my words). In response, I wrote the following:
I’m as pro-police and pro-prosecution as they come, and I’ve taken plenty of heat for it in this corner of cyberspace. And in no way am I excusing what this young man did. Keep those things in mind as you ponder what I’m about to tell you. I agree with you, as a general principle. Most of us, though, are fortunate enough that we don’t have our entire lives defined by the worst thing we’ve ever done. While I’m sure your worst moment wasn’t nearly as bad as this young man’s, perhaps you could pause and ask yourself whether you’d like your entire life to be defined by that moment, and how fortunate you are (I assume) that this is not the case for you.
As one of Robert Kirby’s more recent columns points out [see the link above], there’s more bad in even the best of us, and more good in even the worst of us, than we might suspect.