In February, I wrote the following about a drug raid in Missouri:
SWAT team breaks into home, fires seven rounds at family’s pit bull and corgi (?!) as a seven-year-old looks on.
They found a “small amount” of marijuana, enough for a misdemeanor charge. The parents were then charged with child endangerment.
So smoking pot = “child endangerment.” Storming a home with guns, then firing bullets into the family pets as a child looks on = necessary police procedures to ensure everyone’s safety.
Just so we’re clear.
Now there’s video, which you can watch below. It’s horrifying, but I’d urge you to watch it, and to send it to the drug warriors in your life. This is the blunt-end result of all the war imagery and militaristic rhetoric politicians have been spewing for the last 30 years—cops dressed like soldiers, barreling through the front door middle of the night, slaughtering the family pets, filling the house with bullets in the presence of children, then having the audacity to charge the parents with endangering their own kid. There are 100-150 of these raids every day in America, the vast, vast majority like this one, to serve a warrant for a consensual crime.
But Jonathan Whitworth won’t be smoking that pot they found in his possession. So I guess this mission was a success.
Mike Riggs at Daily Caller:
Daily Tribune reporter Brennan David submitted a public information request for the video immediately after the charges were filed in February and was denied because the video was being used in criminal proceedings. “I knew that SWAT video was available and that SWAT teams use video. The deputy chief told me that he had watched it a few times,” David said.
He requested the video again after Whitworth pleaded down to possession of paraphernalia and paid the possession fine earlier this month. David says his request was granted within 72 hours and that it does not show the corgi being shot.
Columbia PD spokeswoman Jessie Haden told David on Monday that an ongoing investigation of the use of firearms inside an occupied home is “expected to be completed within the next two weeks,” and that “Internal Affairs is conducting the review because the incident involved multiple shots and was inside an occupied residence. This allows Internal Affairs sergeants to review the incident independent from the SWAT command.”
According to the Tribune’s first report in February, “SWAT members encountered a pit bull upon entry, held back and then fatally shot the dog, which officers said was acting in an uncontrollably aggressive manner.”
This is what happens when you give a bunch of cowboy assholes heavy weapons and fill them with a God complex. Although I’m sure Joe Lieberman would suggest we strip this family of their citizenship.
Oddly enough, I doubt the tea partiers screaming about individual liberty will notice this. After all, it isn’t like the cops were going to raise their taxes or provide them with affordable healthcare coverage. They were just shooting his dogs in front of his family and then made up some bullshit excuse to try to take away the kid. No big deal.
Mark Thompson at The League:
What is so remarkable about this video is precisely that it is so unremarkable, depicting something that happens up to 40,000 times a year. Indeed, perhaps nothing proves how common this is more than the calm, cool, and thoroughly routine manner in which the agents of tyranny carry out their task, quickly disposing of the family dogs (one of which was a corgi) and filling the victim’s home with bullets within, literally, moments. All in front of what looks to be the victim’s six or seven year old son.
The cops did recover a “small” amount of marijuana though, which was apparently enough to charge the parents with child endangerment. Somehow, the people who riddled that child’s home with bullets, killed that child’s pets, and forcibly removed that child’s father – all while the child was looking – were not charged with child endangerment.
When the government has the right to bust into tens of thousands of homes in the middle of the night, unannounced, with guns drawn and in full military armor, to take the life of beloved family members, and to menace 6-year old children, all because the homeowner is believed to possess a few grams of a plant or a non-explosive substance, tyranny cannot be said to be on the way. It’s already here. And President Obama wasn’t the one who created it, either.
I will believe that conservatives and the American Right view the words “liberty” and “tyranny” as something other than politically effective platitudes when they make putting an end to 40,000 raids like this a year a higher priority than whether they are taxed to provide someone else with health care or the unrealized hypothetical consequences of cap and trade.
Tim Lynch at Cato:
In America today, lawmaking is discussed much too casually. The consequences are not seriously considered. We allow agencies to issue regulations without having a formal vote in the legislature. “Too cumbersome.” Compliance is automatically assumed. Few want to consider whether the use of brute force can be justified against someone who resists, or the danger that might be created for the innocent who get swept up in investigations. We now have thousands of rules and regulations on the books.
We suffered through the painful lessons of liquor prohibition, but have been slow to see the parallels in the drug war. A few years ago, Cato published a report on these paramilitary raids, called Overkill. The author of that study, Radley Balko, has been vigilant about highlighting these raids and dispelling the idea that they are just a few “isolated incidents.”
Conor Friedersdorf at The American Scene:
The longer I’m around, and the more I despair about movement conservatism as a whole, the more I’m impressed by two right-leaning organizations, Cato and Reason, for bankrolling the important work done by Mr. Balko, Julian Sanchez on surveillance, and other staffers too numerous to mention here, whose output I don’t just respect, but judge to be vital. The same goes for the Institute for Justice’s work on asset forfeiture, and a few other organizations on the right whose work often overlaps with left-leaning folks at the ACLU and similar organizations.
Health care and cap and trade are important issues, and the policy choices made do have implications for personal and political freedom, but one effect of demagoguery about “liberty and tyranny,” and the supposed embrace of statism by the whole left, is that it obscures or even poisons alliances between right and left against actual abuses that are going on now, and all that is gained are cheap, largely inconsequential political points on issues that at most concern predicted abuses at the end of a slippery slope that we aren’t yet careening down.
I don’t know if Brink Lindsey and Will Wilkinson can succeed at their very-much-worth-trying liberaltarian project, but I wish that one way or another, liberty-minded folks on right and left can refrain from demonizing one another about their disagreements enough to cooperate on drugs, prison, detainee policy, and all other matters related to wars without end.
Von at Obsidian Wings:
Put aside the wisdom or morality of the drug war. Balko and Sullivan both pivot that way. I want to talk about something different. Something a bit larger. Folks talk about the banality of evil. It’s one of those cliches that you hear from time time. But I don’t think that folks stop very often to think about what that phrase means. Or what it looks like in action. Evil becomes banal when people — good people — stop recognizing it, stop appreciating it, and come to accept it as normal. When evil becomes so routine that good people accept it as the way of doing business.
I am not comparing the cops in the video to Nazis (whence the phrase comes). But it’s hard for me to see their actions, here, as anything other than evil. Maybe I’m overly influenced by having kids; maybe I’m not thinking straight. But my reaction to watching these cops, dressed to kill, bashing down a door and shooting two dogs (a pit bull and a corgi) in front of a seven year old child all because his father had a little bit of pot … well, my initial reaction was shock. This video literally took my breath away. Followed, quickly, by anger. This kid could easily have been killed for nothing; he certainly will be scarred.
The second greatest trick the Devil ever played was to convince folks that being good, and having good intentions, means that you can’t do evil. That is bullshit. These cops are likely good people who do a lot of good in their community. But this was a cheorographed raid. They had overwhelming force. There was no resistance. This wasn’t a war. They weren’t being shot at. The target was clear. Their acts were premeditated. This wasn’t stupidity, or error, or chance. No conceivable hypothetical — no matter how outlandish — justifies the behavior of these men. There was no ticking time bomb. (They were simply looking for “a large amount of marijuana at the location.” Which wasn’t there.)
This is what evil looks like. On this night, these cops decided to be thugs.
This is our nation’s drug enforcement in a nutshell. We started out by banning the things. And people kept taking them. So we made the punishments more draconian. But people kept selling them. So we pushed the markets deep into black market territory, and got the predictable violence . . . and then we upped our game, turning drug squads into quasi-paramilitary raiders. Somewhere along the way, we got so focused on enforcing the law that we lost sight of the purpose of the law, which is to make life in America better.
I don’t know how anyone can watch that video, and think to themselves, “Yes, this is definitely worth it to rid the world of the scourge of excess pizza consumption and dopey, giggly conversations about cartoons.” Short of multiple homicide, I’m having trouble coming up with anything that justifies that kind of police action. And you know, I doubt the police could either. But they weren’t busy trying to figure out if they were maximizing the welfare of their larger society. They were, in that most terrifying of phrases, just doing their jobs.
And in the end, that is our shame, not theirs.
CPD Internal Affairs continues to investigate whether this was an appropriate response to the “tip” they received that started all this.
UPDATE: Radley Balko at Reason
UPDATE #2: Scott Horton at Harper’s