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swat surge
Police Injure Two-Year-Old in Unsuccessful Drug Raid

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. 

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  • Dan

    this kind of stuff drives me absolutely crazy

  • rheddles

    More evidence of how the government sees the people as enemies, just like the IRS, the VA, the EPA, the list goes on. When the government looses the confidence of the people it is supposed to be protecting, trouble follows for the government. Just ask George III.

    • Andrew Allison

      I pray that you are right!

    • gabrielsyme

      America had far less to complain of George III. The Declaration of Independence, read in light of today’s abuses, reveals itself to be a list of trivialities interspersed with gross exaggerations and paranoias.

      • rheddles

        But it’s still the greatest press release in history.

        • gabrielsyme

          Well said, sir.

  • dfooter

    And no doubt are targeted strongly disproportionately against minorities and the poor, in the name of the security of “the people”.

  • gabrielsyme

    Toys were strewn across the front lawn, but the SWAT team told Alecia they could not have known there were children present.

    Of course they could have known. Even if the toys had not been there to tip them off, there’s this obscure technique called surveillance. It is typically used to determine who is present in a given place and when. But it’s a hell of a lot more fun to play at being soldiers than to take the time to observe who actually lives at the house they intend to throw bombs into.

    One also questions why the police are being granted search warrants in most of these cases. A 38% failure rate is way too high; clearly the police do not have probable cause to obtain search warrants in many cases, but are being granted them anyways.

    Heads need to roll.

    • Andrew Allison

      Kinda like the largesse of FISC in granting essentially every request for snooping. Could it be that the problem is not our militarized polices force but the judiciary?

      • gabrielsyme

        Let’s not make the blithe assumption that the problem is in one place or another. Multiple areas of American governance are highly dysfunctional; and the electorate isn’t much better.

        We could also implicate state governments, who have not put appropriate and effective oversight structures to restrain municipal and county police forces. Every police force generally gets to make its own policies, and there’s little to constrain them.

  • Andrew Allison

    Public safety is becoming a public menace and it’s time to de-militarise it (to a hammer, everything looks like a nail). A few very large damages awards for unwarranted (in both senses) use of force in these assaults might be salutary.

  • Bruce

    But think of the adrenalin rush these guys got to experience by throwing the flashbang. As Rheddles pointed out below, the people are now the enemy. The government has turned on us. It probably can’t be reversed at the voting booth.

  • Curious Mayhem

    Disgraceful. This is law enforcement, not a war. Someone needs to puncture the mythology that police routinely need SWAT techniques or that enforcing drug laws is a “war” requiring military-grade weaponry. Drug dealers are not armed that way, although you still hear this lie being repeated.

    The courts have generally given the “drug war” a free pass. Maybe that can change.

  • ShadrachSmith

    From the movie Brazil: a case in point.

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