The “war on drugs” is nothing more but a war on race

Another reckless act has been committed by police officers in the nation.  Unfortunately, this time the victim is a toddler.   Habersham County Sheriff, Joey Terrell, is in the hot seat after the execution of a no knock warrant that resulted in severe burns to a 1-year-old child early Wednesday. 

The child was burned when narcotics agents, assisted by members of the Habersham Special Response Team, used a distraction device as they entered the home.  “According to the confidential informant, there were no children,” Terrell said. “When they made the buy, they didn’t see any children or any evidence of children there, so we proceeded with our standard operation.”  Because of recent history with the individual involved in the alleged drug sales and knowledge of weapons in the residence, the special agent seeking the search warrant requested a “no-knock” warrant, Terrell said.

Mountain Judicial Circuit Narcotics Criminal Investigation and Suppression Team agents obtained a search warrant for the residence, with the no knock entry provision approved by Habersham County Chief Magistrate Judge Jim Butterworth.

Sheriff Terrell says the suspects were dangerous drug dealers who were known to be armed and that is why they wanted to execute the plan with the no-knock raid and a flash grenade. Not only was the suspect not in the home, but they found no drugs; however, they managed to put a toddler in critical condition and lie about it. 

Ironically, Terrell said both the district attorney and Georgia Bureau of Investigation have said there was no wrongdoing on the SRT’s part.

“I’ve talked to the D.A., I’ve talked to the GBI,” Terrell said. “I’ve given them the whole information and they say there’s nothing else we can do. There’s nothing to investigate, there’s nothing to look at. Given the information given, GBI’s SWAT team would have done the exact same thing – they’d have used the exact same scenario to enter the house.”  Terrell said the lack of knowledge that there were children in the home contributed to the situation. “It’s an accident that we would have avoided if we’d just had any inclination that there had been a child in that house,” Terrell said. “We had no idea.” 

This raises the question about informants, who they are, their motive for giving information and the police’s intent when using such an unreliable source just so they could have “probable” cause.  What happened here is nothing new.  There have been numerous instances where the police have entered a home because they “suspected” drug activity.  And it must also be acknowledged that this mostly happens in black and other non-white neighborhoods.  In 1982, when President Reagan declared the “War on Drugs” he truly declared a “War on Race.”  Now when thinking about strategies for fighting wars, one thinks about the military.  After all, it is the military that fights our wars and this is the reason why many homes are being entered using such force that causes tragedy.  In addition to shaping the methods used to address the drug problem, the rhetoric of war also shaped the impact of those methods, for a war requires not only military strategies, but an enemy as well. For the constituency the Reagan Administration was trying to reach, it was easy to construct African Americans, Hispanics, and other people of color as the enemy in the War on Drugs. These are the groups that the majority of white Americans have always viewed as the sources of vice and crime. Reagan’s anti- drug rhetoric was skillfully designed to tap into deeply held cultural attitudes about people of color and their links to drug use and other illicit behavior. According to mass communications scholar William Elwood, Reagan’s rhetorical declaration of a war on drugs had a deliberate political effect. In Elwood’s view, ‘Such rhetoric allows presidents to appear as strong leaders who are tough on crime and concerned about domestic issues and is strategically ambiguous to portray urban minorities as responsible for problems related to the drug war and for resolving such problems.’ Thus, the origins of the drug war can be traced to shifting public attitudes toward drugs in the early 1980s. President Reagan sought to exploit this change in attitude through a public relations campaign that promised to wage ‘war on drugs.’ As the metaphor of war might suggest, the War on Drugs required both weapons and enemies. A punitive law enforcement policy of prohibition and interdiction provided the weapons and, while the professed enemies of the War on Drugs were drug cartels in drug source countries, those most affected were people of color in inner city neighborhoods, primarily African Americans and Hispanics—now this is truly more inclusive of all people of color. 

By almost any measure, the drug war’s impact on African American communities is devastating. Millions of African Americans have been imprisoned, many have been unfairly treated by the criminal justice system, the rights of both legitimate suspects and average citizens have been violated and the quality of life of many millions more has been adversely affected. These effects are the consequences of deliberate decisions; first, to fight a ‘war’ on drugs, and second, to fight that war against low-level street dealers in communities populated by people of color. The bottom line is that the direct impact of the War on Drugs is mass incarceration, death, and hurting of those in the African American community and other communities that are non-white.

When are we going to take our communities back from the police? How many more must die before we get it?

Notable “drug” raids gone wrong:

  • In 2011, when police in Greenfield, California approached a home where they believed a shooting suspect named Alejandro Jose Gonzalez was hiding. They would later concede that they learned early on that Gonzalez was not in the house. They had the wrong address. But in checking the address, they learned that a man who did live in the home, 31-year-old Rogelio Serrato, had two outstanding warrants—both for misdemeanors. When Serrato didn’t respond to demands to exit the house, the police forced entry into the home, using a flash grenade. The device sparked a fire that destroyed the house and killed Serrato.
  • In 1989, police in Minneapolis, Minnesota set off a flash grenade during a nighttime raid on the home of 71-year old Lloyd Smalley and 65-year old Lillian Weiss, who were sleeping. The device set a chair on fire, which then spread to the rest of the apartment. The couple died of smoke inhalation. The police had raided the wrong home, based on a bad tip from an informant. Ten years later, a flash grenade used by the same Minneapolis Police Department burned a triplex to the ground. In 2011, Minneapolis paid a $1 million settlement to Rickia Russell, who was sitting on the couch when police threw a flash grenade that rolled under her legs. The blast “burned the flesh off” one of her legs. The police found no drugs or weapons in the house.
  • In April 1997, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, SWAT team raided the home of John Hirko, Jr. after an informant claimed to have purchased drugs from him. The police tossed a flash grenade through Hirko’s window just a few seconds after knocking, then shot Hirko 11 times when he appeared with a gun. A SWAT cop then set off a second flash grenade near Hirko, sparking a fire that destroyed the house and burned Hirko’s body beyond recognition. The district attorney determined Hirko’s death was a justifiable homicide. In the lawsuit Hirko’s family filed against the city, expert witnesses for the estate testified that the disorienting effects of the grenade and its deployment in such close proximity to the alleged announcement, along with the lack of a clear police insignia on the SWAT team’s black, military-style uniforms would have made it difficult for anyone to determine if they were being raided police or invaded by unlawful intruders. In 2004, a federal jury found the SWAT team guilty of violating Hirko’s civil rights. The city of Bethlehem settled with Hirko’s estate for $8 million, nearly a fourth of the city’s annual budget.
  • The family of seven-year-old Aiyana Jones claims that the flash grenade a SWAT officer tossed into her bedroom during a 2010 raid ignited a blanket, which then set the child on fire. She didn’t suffer long. Seconds later, a member of the SWAT team shot her dead. (This case was at least a raid on a suspected murderer, instead of a drug raid.)
  • In 2001, a flashbang deployed during a raid on a house that was home to a small record label ignited the foam rubber put in the walls for soundproofing. The fire destroyed master recordings and $100,000 worth of equipment. Sgt. Gary Robbins said afterward, “It’s unfortunate those guys packed that house with materials that were flammable.”
  • In a 2006 raid in Sugarland, Texas, police deployed a grenade that set a room in the house on fire, causing $5,000 in damage. They also shot the family’s golden retriever. They found two joints.
  • In 1996, a SWAT team in Fitchburg, Massachusetts (population 39,102) burned down an entire apartment complex with a flashbang they used during a drug raid. Six police officers were injured and 24 people were left homeless. Several officers were cited for bravery.
  • In 2009, a drug raid team in San Antonio set off a flash grenade that ignited a mattress, then burned the entire house to the ground.
  • In 1997, Camille Vieira, 18, suffered burns on over half her body after a flash grenade landed on the comforter she was sleeping under and set it ablaze. There were also three children in the home. The police found 20 grams of marijuana.
  • Tomika Smith was severely burned when police in North Carolina tossed a flash grenade into a home she was visiting during a 2002 no-knock raid. The grenade landed on the couch where Smith was sitting and set it aflame. Smith was on a date at the time. She was not a suspect.
  • In 2005, Rhiannon Kephart, 18, was hospitalized in serious condition after a flashbang left her with second- and third-degree burns on her chest and stomach. Police in Niagara Falls, New York, had tossed the grenade through a window. It landed on the bed where Kephart was sleeping, then set the sheets on fire.
  • Nicole White, 29, suffered burns over 11 percent of her body and was permanently disfigured by a flashbang thrown by an Oakland, California, SWAT officer during a 2008 raid on a home she was visiting. The city of Oakland gave her a $1.2 million settlement in 2010.
  • In October 2012, a Montana SWAT team tossed a flashbang through a window into a room where two children were sleeping. A 12-year-old girl suffered first- and second-degree burns. The SWAT team was looking for a home methamphetamine operation, the sorts of do-it-yourself labs that have been known to catch fire and explode. According to the girls’ mother (and a photo she took), the device left a large, rounded dent in the wall and “blew the nails out of the drywall.” The police did not find a meth lab. A police spokesman said the officers did “plenty of homework” before conducting the raid, but still did not know that there were children in the home.
  • When police in St. Paul, Minnesota, raided the home of Larelle Steward in 2010, they demanded that he and his mother drop to the ground. When Steward attempted to explain that his mother had just had surgery, and wasn’t able to lay down, they repeatedly kicked him in the face, breaking his nose. Afterward, they put a pillowcase over his head. They then fired a flash grenade at Steward’s mother, catching her on fire. She suffered third-degree burns on her legs. The police had received a tip that someone was selling cocaine in the house. They found 2.8 grams of marijuana. The city approved a $400,000 settlement in 2012.
  • In 2004, a man lost a foot when a Hempstead, Texas, police officer, tactical team coordinator, and former ATF agent deployed a flash grenade as a prank at a bachelor party. Officers from the same department had earlier set off a grenade for fun in a Denny’s parking lot, causing several people to come out of the restaurant with drawn guns.
  • In 1996, Oxnard, California, Officer James Jensen was killed when a fellow SWAT cop shot him after becoming disoriented by a flash grenade.
  • In a July 2003 drug raid on a Phoenix Hell’s Angels club, police set off a flashbang six seconds after knocking. Michael Wayne Coffelt, asleep at the time, was awoken by the grenade and quickly armed himself with a pistol. He later said he thought the place was being robbed. As he approached the door Officer Laura Beeler shot and wounded him. Beeler initially claimed Beeler had fired at her first, but a ballistics test showed Coffelt never discharged his gun. Police found no drugs in the club. Though he was the one shot in a raid that produced nothing illegal, Coffelt was nevertheless charged with assaulting a police officer. Maricopa Superior Court Judge Michael Wilkinson dismissed he charge, calling the raid an “attack” that violated the Fourth Amendment. Wilkinson ruled Coffelt’s actions were “reasonable behavior, given the hour and the fact that the house was under attack.” Wilkinson also found that Beeler’s mistaken belief that Coffelt had fired his gun at her was also understandable. Wilkinson and police investigators found that the most likely explanation was that she misinterpreted the flash grenade for a gunshot
  • In March 1989, police in Gardena, California raided the home of Lorine Harris on suspicion of drug activity. By the occupants’ account of the raid, Officer Davie Mathieson mistook the sound of a flash grenade for hostile gunfire and shot Haris’ 20-year-old son Dexter Herbert in the back, killing him. Herbert was unarmed.
  • In November 1995, Minneapolis police conducted a raid after an informant had allegedly purchased some marijuana from the home of Andre Madison. At around 8 pm, a Minneapolis SWAT team deployed flash grenades at the front of Madison’s house. At the same time, a city housing police team was breaking into Madison’s home from the back. The police claimed gunfire broke out when Madison shot at them. But forensic analysis later showed that Madison’s gun hadn’t been fired that night. Instead, a police chief from a nearby town asked to investigate the raid determined that the team of cops entering from the back mistaken for gunfire the sound of the flash grenades set off by the team at the front. The team at the back of the house then opened fire, which the team at the front mistook for gunfire from someone in the house. So they opened fire, too. In the end, the two police team exchanged hundreds of rounds of gunfire. Madison was hit twice. The raid turned up a small amount of pot.


Souce: Raid of the Day

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