As the father of a baby and a toddler, there are few stories in the news more horrifying to me than small children being maimed or killed. When that happens as a result of bad policy by government, it is even more horrifying. If the horrific burns suffered by Bounkham Phonesavanh have convinced me of anything, it is that the War on Drugs is a terrible mistake that needs to end. We are doing far more harm than good at this point.
I said on Monday that while less aggressive methods of arresting a drug dealer might have put innocents at risk the no-knock paramilitary raid did result in an innocent being maimed. This is not to sau that the maiming of a toddler was guaranteed, but even if no one was hurt the raid would have been excessive force. Raids like this create an unnecessarily dangerous situation and create the potential for fatalities or serious injuries that would not exist if less aggressive methods were used. No-knock paramilitary raids are vastly overused.
In addition to the raids themselves, the use of flash-bang grenades for domestic law enforcement needs to be severely curtailed if not banned outright. Had there been no flash-bang grenade, Phonesavanh would not have been maimed. As Radley Balko points out, flash-bang grenades are dangerous, potentially lethal explosives that have killed and maimed a number of people – including law enforcement agents themselves.
These are not the harmless devices in video games that make the enemy AI characters cover their eyes for a few seconds – they can cause severe burns and start deadly fires.
Are these raids necessary because of the “need” for more gun control? No. A large portion of SWAT raids are on nonviolent, unarmed drug users, not against armed-to-the-teeth gangsters. Sometimes SWAT gets the wrong house, and sometimes they act on a bad tip – as was the case with Kathryn Johnston, a 92-year-old woman gunned down in her own home. Too many innocents and nonviolent “criminals” have been mamed or killed by paramilitary raids. Police have also been killed because the violent and disorienting nature of the raids can lead people being raided to believe the people entering their homes (especially at 3:00 am) are criminals instead of police.
Furthermore, as Radley Balko pointed out last year, the evidence suggests that the threat to police is overblown. In 2008, there were 461,000 sworn officers, and 158 fatalities – a fatality rate of 0.034%. As in 34/1000 of one percent. And the number of fatalities has been a lot lower than that over the last two years. Does this mean police work is not a dangerous job? Of course not. Police definitely face risk of death or serious injury at the hands of criminals. But by being alarmists about the threat, we are creating a dangerous situation.
We are dramatically ramping up the use of force by law enforcement while violent crime has sharply decreased over the last 20 years. There is a good reason that Congress passed the Posse Comitatus Act in the 1800’s – they understood then (as some still do now) that using the military for domestic law enforcement is extremely dangerous to our liberty and our system of government. The role of a police officer is (or at least should be) completely different from the role of a soldier. Police are not soldiers, and there should be a clear distinction between the two.