Earlier this month in Pennsylvania, a 51-year-old man named Gregory Longenecker was found crushed underneath a bulldozer that was being driven by a Pennsylvania Game Commission worker and carrying a state trooper, according to authorities.
Without scrolling down and seeing what crime he was accused of (and ignoring the headline of this piece), many of you would be forgiven for assuming the crime must have been pretty bad for a state trooper to chase a man with a bulldozer. After all, violent criminals must be apprehended as quickly as possible so they are not able to bring violence to more innocent members of the community, right?
Those who didn’t ignore the headline already know the answer. Gregory was not a violent criminal; in fact, he was being chased because he was suspected of growing 10 cannabis plants, something that “had he been arrested, prosecuted and convicted [under] Pennsylvania’s sentencing guidelines, [he] would have [faced] a sentence of probation,” said Patrick Nightengale, Executive Director of Pittsburgh NORML.
Not only was the bulldozer that ultimately killed Mr. Longenecker employed in the pursuit, a helicopter was as well. “This awful event could have and should have been prevented,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said. ”This tragedy is a direct result of our nation’s draconic and failed criminalization of marijuana. Not only was the use of resources in this matter excessive and the tactics highly questionable, but more importantly a man lost his life over the act of growing a plant that is now legally regulated in a majority of US states. No matter your opinion on marijuana legalization, the penalty for growing cannabis should never be an extrajudicial death sentence.”
According to various and somewhat unclear reports, Longenecker and an accomplice were found with 10 marijuana plants that were being grown on state land after the above-mentioned Game Commission worker called authorities about a strange vehicle parked near where he was clearing some brush. When discovered, Longenecker ran and hid in some brush that had not been cleared and was lost sight of by the helicopter. This caused the pursuing trooper and bulldozer operator to not see Longenecker until he was crushed under the bulldozer.
To be fair, hindsight is 20/20 and Longenecker made several bad decisions in the course of all this. But there is no getting around the impression that a helicopter/bulldozer chase through thick brush for someone only suspected of growing marijuana plants is quite excessive – a point brought home even more by the man’s very unnecessary death.