A recent example of ridiculous police excess has led to the death of another non-violent citizen of the United States, a country that has increasingly become the police state dystopians have feared. This inevitability has been intensified over the last several decades by the odious War on (Politically Incorrect) Drugs.
Police forces across the country have become heavily militarized, often procuring their military-style equipment directly from US Army surplus sales. As police forces have begun to look more and more like Armed Forces soldiers, they have also begun to ape military tactics to an appalling degree.
Violent no-knock warrants for non-violent and victimless crimes have become standard operating procedure for police departments across the nation. This (incomplete) map from the CATO Institute, largely the work of current Huffington Post journalist Radley Balko, records instances of paramilitary raids in the US that have resulted in the deaths of innocent people and police officers, raids on innocent suspects and other examples of police excess. Balko estimates that paramilitary no-knock raids are used to serve drug warrants about 150 times each day across the country. Although the map hasn’t been updated since June 2011, it still dramatically illustrates how dangerous and widespread these shameful police tactics are being employed.
These violent raids are usually used to serve drug warrants, but this story from Memphis demonstrates that the cops are also willing to use these tactics when confronting another terrifying breed of deranged criminal—animal hoarders. The suspect, whose name has not yet been released, was shot and killed during a daylight raid last Friday.
After neighbors complained about the “sights and smells” of animals, the police raided the unnamed man’s home to serve an animal cruelty warrant. The police report that the deceased, described as being in his mid-late 60s, was armed and pointed a weapon at the police. An unnamed officer shot the suspect, who died at the scene.
Memphis PD Sgt. Karen Rudolph reported on the findings inside the house:
Well, we can all certainly rest assured that this crazed human can no longer roam the streets, menacing the masses with his unholy cat horde. /snark/
If the suspect did indeed point a weapon at the officers (a finding that can no longer be verified, thanks to trigger-happy cops), they were perhaps correct to shoot and neutralize the suspect. But the police committed Original Sin in this instance: they created violence where none existed previously. When a group of armed men force their way into someone’s home, it’s easy to understand why a person living there would feel threatened and want to defend their life and property. The natural, base instinct of self-preservation does not wait to see if violent intruders are in fact police officers or not. In your own home, you have an absolute right to shoot first and ask questions later in such chaotic situations.
Sometimes these paramilitary raids are absolutely the necessary response by the police. Hostage situations and shootouts, for instance, demand immediate and violent action to prevent imminent or further loss of life threatened by such suspects.
The horrific reality is that these raids are very infrequently used to neutralize violence. Rather, they inject violence into situations that previously lacked any. Most of these home invasions are performed to serve non-violent drug warrants, with the police stating that no-knock raids give an element of surprise that makes it impossible for the suspects to dispose of any evidence.
If these suspects possess so few drugs that they can easily be flushed, perhaps these people aren’t committing so heinous a crime that necessitates a violent SWAT raid. Just sayin’.
The truly frightening thing about instances like this is that seldom does anyone question the general mentality of the police involved. Except in situations where violence is already present and transpiring, military-style raids should be the absolute last option. These days, however, paramilitary tactics are more and more becoming the standard method of first response. Having a dialogue with the suspect and actually trying to peacefully assess the situation is becoming an antiquated notion in America. If the man was indeed such a threat, wouldn’t it be safer for everyone involved to park a few officers down the street and nab the suspect when he went to make a cat food run?
None of this should really be a surprise. If you start calling something a war, people will start to act like warriors. If cops dress like soldiers, they’ll soon behave like them. My personal pet peeve is when police officers refer to we Little People as “civilians,” as if the police are occupying hostile territory.
The officer who fired the fatal shot is on paid leave, as per protocol, and will almost assuredly face no disciplinary punishment for ending a human life. Sad to say, I feel increasingly as if America has become occupied territory, with one set of rules for the “civilians” and another for the occupying forces.
The War on (Some) Drugs is the most destructive and shameful domestic policy since slavery. Indeed in some ways it serves the same purpose as America’s history of involuntary servitude: as the demographics of drug offenders in state prisons illustrate, the WoD disproportionately affects blacks and other minorities. Blacks and Hispanics account for about 80% of drug prisoners despite making up only 30% of the US population. Instead of being trapped on a plantation, these new victims are locked in penitentiaries, and the effect of their incarceration trickles down into the next generation. The WoD has certainly played a part in the tragic reality that over half of black children are raised by only one parent.
Until this dreadful policy is eradicated from the vernacular, American governments—federal, state and local—will use it as a bludgeon against the basic freedoms that are supposed to be unalienable to all citizens. I rightly fear that this manufactured “War” will continue, simply because it grants politicians and the police too much power.
Power is more addictive than any physical substance the drug warriors wish to contain. Wrenching it from those addicted to it is a difficult and dangerous proposition, but one that must be undertaken if the US wishes to remain a country free of the nightmares Orwell and Huxley prophesied. The first step is waking up to the cruel injustice that occurs every day as a result of these brutal, police-state tactics.