Ruthless political regimes have always relied on tattletales. In Cuba, every citizen is a vigilante. When some hapless soul crosses the line of free speech or the free market, someone peeping through a window shade files a report. For such reasons, perhaps, Americans have always been antsy about turning in their neighbors. Squealing feels patently un-American.
In some cases, they are right to think so. Nobody should have to live life under the gaze of spies.
Except when it comes to drugs. Reporting drug activity is a public service, not an invasion of privacy. In the case of crack houses, meth labs, hidden marijuana fields, stolen prescriptions, elite cocaine parties and low-brow heroin hide-outs, being vigilant does not mean being a vigilante. It means being a good citizen.
For such reasons we salute the outdoors enthusiasts and woodsy set for helping the Forest Service find and destroy more than half a million marijuana plants in Utah at more than 1,000 locations. Drug traders are quick on their feet and clever. Some have learned to seed marijuana plants between the stalks in corn fields to prevent detection from the air. Others have found ways to greenhouse the plants in hidden bunkers the KGB couldn't unearth. Enforcement officials couldn't find it all themselves. They must rely on John Q. Public.
The same goes for any and all shady transactions.
"Maybe the neighbor only cooked up a bad batch of eggs, but if you suspect it is a meth lab, call the police," says Pat Fleming, director of the Salt Lake County Substance Abuse Services. "Your neighbor will understand. And you may have been right."
With drug use creeping into the grade schools now, Fleming suggests parents always ask their children those famous journalistic W's whenever kids leave the house: Where are you going and why, who are you going with and when will you be home?
In the end, citizens should understand that drug use is never a privacy issue, a lifestyle choice or even a behavioral problem. It is a public health hazard. And just as residents of a neighborhood would be justified in reporting anyone seen pouring poison into the water, they have every right to report people who poison the streets and the lives of others.
Being watchful isn't spying. It's wise.