"A Drug Raid Goes Viral" Archives
"A Drug Raid Goes Viral"
Last week, a Columbia, Missouri, drug raid captured on video went viral. As of this morning, the video had garnered 950,000 views on YouTube. It has lit up message boards, blogs, and discussion groups around the Web, unleashing anger, resentment and even, regrettably, calls for violence against the police officers who conducted the raid. I've been writing about and researching these raids for about five years, including raids that claimed the lives of innocent children, grandmothers, college students, and bystanders. Innocent families have been terrorized by cops who raided on bad information, or who raided the wrong home due to some careless mistake. There's never been a reaction like this one.
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The overwhelmingly negative reaction to the video is interesting. Clearly, a very large majority of the people who have seen it are disturbed by it. But this has been going on for 30 years. We've reached the point where police have no qualms about a using heavily armed police force trained in military tactics to serve a search warrant on a suspected nonviolent marijuana offender. And we didn't get here by accident. The war on drugs has been escalating and militarizing for a generation. What's most disturbing about that video isn't the violence depicted in it, but that such violence has become routine.
As horrifying as the video from Columbia, Missouri, is, no human beings were killed. The police got the correct address, and they found the man they were looking for. In many other cases, such raids transpire based on little more than a tip from an anonymous or confidential informant. Nor is it unusual for raids just as violent as the one depicted in the video to turn up little in the way of drugs or weapons. (Whitworth wasn't exactly an outstanding citizen--he had a prior drug and DWI conviction. But he had no history of violence, and there were no weapons in the home.) Surveys conducted by newspapers around the country after one of these raids goes bad have found that police only find weapons of any kind somewhere between 10-20 percent of the time. The percentage of raids that turn up a significant amount of drugs tends to vary, but a large percentage only result in misdemeanor charges at worst.
Shooting the family's dogs isn't unusual, either. To be fair, that's in part because some drug dealers do in fact obtain vicious dogs to guard their supply. But there are other, safer ways to deal with these dogs than shooting them. In the Columbia case, a bullet fired at one dog ricocheted and struck another dog. The bullet could just as easily have struck a person. In the case of Tarika Wilson, a Lima, Ohio, SWAT officer mistook the sounds of a colleague shooting a drug dealer's dogs for hostile gunfire. He then opened fire into a bedroom, killing a 23-year-old mother and shooting the hand off of the one-year-old child in her arms.
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The militarization of America's police departments has taken place over a generation, due to a number of bad policy decisions from politicians and government officials, ranging from federal grants for drug fighting to a Pentagon giveaway program that makes military equipment available to local police departments for free or at steep discounts. Mostly, though, it's due to the ill-considered "war" imagery our politicians continue to invoke when they refer to drug prohibition. Repeat the mantra that we're at war with illicit drugs often enough, and the cops on the front lines of that war will naturally begin to think of themselves as soldiers. And that's particularly true when you outfit them in war equipment, weaponry, and armor. This is dangerous, because the objectives of cops and soldiers are very different. One is charged with annihilating a foreign enemy. The other is charged with keeping the peace.
May 12, 2010 07:47 AM Caught Our Eye