Captured at Web page Civil Liberties Monitoring Project

Helicopters and the War on Drugs

During the Waco and Ruby Ridge hearings US senators rightly criticized the trend towards militarizing US civilian law enforcement. They do so, so far, from the comforts of a relative immunity from the consequences of the militarization. I’d like to invite them to spend a summer in the Mateel portion of the coastal mountains of northern California if they want firsthand experience of what it’s like to live with law enforcement that wants to play army.

CLMP was formed by local citizens twelve years ago when the first invasions of our community began. Every summer since we have had months of helicopter overflights, armed men in camo stopping vehicles and hikers on back roads, destruction of water systems and other private property, disruption of businesses, death of livestock, and in the past couple of years, added to our problems, have been nighttime low level flights for thermal imaging searches of homes, and massive harassment of motorists traveling on Highway 101 by pretext stops so the cars may be searched for marijuana.

Our approach has been nonviolent observation of raids, and documentation of their aftermath. CLMP has been in federal court suing for relief since the 1980s. See Normal v. Mullen and DPF v. Bennett for details. We are hoping to launch two more suits this year: one to enjoin further helicopter overflights, and one to enjoin the California Highway Patrol from further harassment of motorists. In 1995 we are documenting about 100 complaints of invasions of privacy, illegal searches, and a surprising amount of property damage from helicopters.

Helicopter overflights are often conducted at or near tree-top level (say 150′ from the ground) despite an agreement by law enforcement to maintain a 500′ height except when actually landing or taking off. The noise level from these low flights is incredibly loud, causing much disturbance to wildlife, domestic animals, and of course human beings. A sudden loud noise from above triggers fight or flight response in most birds and animals. Much of the injury to animals is impossible to document in a largely forested rural area like the Mateel, but we have documented the deadly injury to a horse, death of a deer and its fawns, stampeding of cattle, and destruction of eggs and young birds in the nest at several commercial aviaries. This last effect is especially disturbing as we have several endangered species of birds in our forests including the spotted owl. We documented very low overflights of 2 known spotted owl nests in the spring of 1995.

Two groups cannot handle the psychological effects well, however. They are children and Vietnam vets with flashback problems. We have documented cases of children becoming fearful of going outside, where they had previously enjoyed gardening with their parents; of nightmares about helicopters; and similar effects. There is really no program to assist parents and their children in dealing with the consequences of the summer raids and we can’t know yet what the results will be. Vietnam vets flashbacks are well known, and we are seeing them here.

We know these types of raids are being carried out in other parts of the nation but so far we are unaware of any organized attempts to deal with them. We’d like very much to hear from people who have personally experienced the raids and would like to document their experiences, or to help us fight to make law enforcement obey the law.

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