Earlier this month, a 7-year-old girl was shot and killed by police officers who forced entry into her home in the middle of the night after tossing a flash bang grenade into the home. The police were looking for a homicide suspect, and Radley Balko does an excellent job of pointing out why this specific raid was unnecessary and why it was excessive force.
The senseless killing of Aiyana Stanley-Jones is another in a long line of overuse and abuse of paramilitary tactics by police.
In 2006, a 92-year-old woman named Kathryn Johnston was gunned down in her own home by Atlanta police. Her only “crime” was defending her home from what she thought were criminals committing a home invasion. To cover up the botched raid, police planted drugs in her home. A Sheriff’s Department SWAT team raided the home of Cheye Calvo, the mayor of Berwyn Heights, Maryland. They shot his two dogs and held him at gunpoint for hours.
The worst example of abuse of power was in Waco, Texas, where a paramilitary raid on the Branch Davidian compound in February 1993 resulted in an armed confrontation that led to a standoff with the federal government. The federal government eventually used tanks, tear gas grenades and other military equipment to invade the compound. A fire that started during the raid obliterated the compound and killed 168 people – including 19 children.
We have entirely too much of a “cowboy” mentality in law enforcement, fueled by politicians who want to appear “tough on crime” to win votes. As the “war on crime” has escalated, civil liberties have been sacrificed and too many innocent victims have been caught in the crossfire. For too many politicians, the “war on crime” is about gaining political power rather than justice. As evidence, consider that evil men like Harry Connick intentionally send innocent men to death row by withholding evidence that proves innocence, rather than “lose” a criminal case.
It is long past time to reign in the overuse and abuse of paramilitary tactics by police. SWAT teams should only be used in cases where it is absolutely necessary, such as a hostage situation or a dangerous criminal who is an imminent threat to the lives of those around him. The overuse of paramilitary tactics creates an unnecessarily confrontational situation in a high-stress environment – a situation where a split-second decision too often leads to tragedy.
The use of paramilitary tactics is a symptom of a government that treats citizens as subjects rather than constituents, an attitude that is not compatible with liberty. Either we will restrain the government or we will live in tyranny.
We need to throw out politicians who value political power more than justice, and elect politicians who place their love of liberty over political expediency. Throughout history, free people have had much more to fear from their own government than criminals – or even Islamic terrorists.