The abuses of America’s militarized police attracted fresh attention and outrage this week as news spread that a SWAT team had blown a hole in the chest of a two-year-old boy. Alecia Phonesavanh was temporaily staying at her sister-in-law’s house with her husband and toddler the night a SWAT team moved on the house, looking for drugs her nephew was suspected of having. Toys were strewn across the front lawn, but the SWAT team told Alecia they could not have known there were children present. When they entered the house they threw a flashbang—a military device that makes a loud noise and emits a bright flash—into her child’s crib. Here’s what happened next:
I heard my baby wailing and asked one of the officers to let me hold him. He screamed at me to sit down and shut up and blocked my view, so I couldn’t see my son. I could see a singed crib. And I could see a pool of blood. The officers yelled at me to calm down and told me my son was fine, that he’d just lost a tooth. It was only hours later when they finally let us drive to the hospital that we found out Bou Bou was in the intensive burn unit and that he’d been placed into a medically induced coma. […]As of the afternoon of 6/24/2014, Baby Bou Bou has been taken out of the medically induced coma and transferred to a new hospital to begin rehabilitation. The hole in his chest has yet to heal, and doctors are still not able to fully assess lasting brain damage.
No drugs were found; the nephew didn’t even live there. Shocking as this story is, however, such raids have become unexceptional. The ACLU has just published the results of a year-long investigation into dangerous police tactics. The report, based on 800 SWAT deployments in 2011, is sobering. 62 percent of the studied raids were for drugs, but in 38 percent of those 800 deployments no drugs were found. The likely presence of weapons in the house is often cited to justify full SWAT raids, yet half of the raids done on private houses found no weapons.Bou Bou is just the most vivid example lately of how easily a police force can lose all sense of restraint and proportion when it is overarmed with military-grade weapons—and takes the “war on drugs” all too literally.