November 20, 2006
"If you've got nothing to be guilty about, you should have no problem"
One of my longtime concerns has always been what to do if a SWAT team arrives because of a bureaucratic mistake, kicks in my door and shoots Coco for trying to defend me. (Yes, police shoot dogs for precisely that.) I like to think this is a remote possibility, but then, I didn't think it was too likely (back in the 1980s) that police would arrive at my workplace to serve a wholly mistaken arrrest warrant on me for a felony committed in Texas where I'd never been. (On another occasion I was mistaken for an SLA bank robber, and guns were held to my head when my goal was only to attend a class.)
Rodger Macek thought something was wrong with the wood-burning stove in the basement of his Penn Hills home when he heard a loud bang about 5:30 a.m. Monday.Holding a gun to your head and demanding money and drugs? Why, that's very similar to what the real SWAT Teams do, except that instead of calling money and drugs "loot," the latter call it "evidence."
While the innocent homeowner might find it tough to discern whether such raids are real emergencies or phony SWAT Teams, the raid victims in this case apparently weren't armed, so they did what the ruling bureaucratic caste would have us all do -- they called 911:
In the moments before the gunmen went upstairs, Macek's girlfriend, who was in a bedroom, called 911 but dropped the telephone receiver before the men entered the room.Oh well. Sometimes robbers target the wrong house, and sometimes police target the wrong house.
I wonder whether the dispatchers always know the difference; when I was a Police Review Commissioner in Berkeley I learned that special investigative units did not want to share raid information with dispatchers, because the latter were civilians and often made lots of extra money tipping off drug dealers about impending raids. Drove the cops crazy.
If this latest outrage isn't an argument for immediately halting the use of SWAT teams in routine law enforcement, I don't know what is.
How the hell is a homeowner to know when and whether self defense is allowed? In theory, there is a right to use armed self defense against home invasions. If there is no way to know whether the invaders are real police or not, I'd say that the homeowner is justified in shooting. The problem is that in real life, police officers don't take kindly to being fired upon by homeowners. They're likely to be even more dangerous and more heavily armed than the criminals. They'll call for backup, and more backup, and in most cases, they will win.
It's a horrific mess, and as a practical matter, there's no accountability for police mistakes, especially if you're dead. (I discussed this last December.)
If society cannot rid itself of the plague posed by SWAT Teams, they ought to at least get rid of immunity for SWAT Team misconduct. I agree with what Glenn Reynolds said last year:
When you break down people's doors and charge in unannounced, you do so at your own risk, cop or not.Unfortunately, there's a collusion of forces which tends to line up against the idea of anything being at anyone's "own risk," against citizens' right to be armed, and against self defense in general. They want people to be defenseless, frightened out of their wits, and they want calling 911 as the only available option. If citizens are afraid of the police, so much the better. Better an occasional mistake by police than a return to the days of the "Wild West."
People who claim to be against crime when they're really against guns don't want to lock up criminals. Instead, they advocate policies such as stopping and frisking everyone:
As Philadelphia grapples with a spike in homicides that makes some neighborhoods feel like killing fields, police, politicians, community leaders and criminologists are looking at tactics used in other cities to confiscate illegal guns. Those tactics include dedicated task forces, and more use of the technique known as "stop-and-frisk."This "security" mentality worries me, and I've commented on it before:
I worry that public fear might be working in collusion with powerful bureaucratic forces, towards an ultimate goal of a gigantic, society-wide safety "lockdown." The more accustomed we are to having airport-style security measures everywhere, the more likely that the tentacles could extend from nearly every school into nearly every home. I'm sure it's just paranoia to think in terms of jettisoning our freedom in favor of a national security society.From "stop and frisk" advocacy to advocacy of house to house searches requires little more than recitation of the same innocent-have-nothing-to-hide line:
"If you've got nothing to be guilty about, you should have no problem. I would put up with that level of inconvenience to make the neighborhood safer."Safety is the weasel word here. If we return to my hypothetical and assume a SWAT Team executed a search warrant at my address because of a typo, they'd probably shoot Coco for their own protection. Assume it was dark outside and I stumbled downstairs with a gun. Either I get off a shot or they see the gun and shoot me first. Were my corpse later to become a "public policy" argument, whether I was the criminal they were looking for would only be a secondary factor. The usual suspects would say I was at fault anyway. I "shouldn't have had" a dog like that. I "shouldn't have had" a gun.
What's the matter with me, anyway? Isn't 911 good enough for me? Don't I care about a safer world?
UPDATE (11/22/06): Now I read that a 92 year old woman has been shot and killed during one of these insane raids. I don't know whether this was a "SWAT Team" or a bunch of "undercover" (read "unidentifiable") officers, but there are more and more situations like this, and it does not bode well. I agree with Glenn's commenter Tamara K, who argues the police should be held to a civilized level of behavior, and who concludes,
....when officers in a neighborhood full of brigands dress up like brigands and act like brigands, there should be no shock when citizens like Ms. Johnston respond to their actions as though they were brigands.How many? I hate to say this, but it might depend on where the Kathryn Johnstons live, and what color they are.
Why is this being spun more as a civil rights issue than as a human rights issue?
MIght that be because black people are seen as chess pieces in a game of identity politics, while white people are seen as neutral, and therefore simply human?
Forgive my cynicism; I don't write these rules.
posted by Eric on 11.20.06 at 10:07 AM
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