Too Often, No-Knock Warrants Kill Innocent HomeownersSeptember 13th, 2012
The increasingly-militarized War on Drugs demonstrates what can happen when health regulations run wild. What began as an effort to help people beat terrible addictions has deteriorated (in a fashion typical of government programs) into a violent policy which does far more damage than the drugs themselves. No where is this more clearly visible than in the case of no-knock warrants.
Lots of attention has been paid to the subject ever since the highly-publicized death of US Marine and war veteran Jose Guerena, shot 71 times by SWAT officers in an unannounced, home-invasion style raid which produced no evidence of criminal activity. However, hidden under the headlines are countless other similar tragedies, many involving bad intelligence from untrustworthy informants, leading officers to target the wrong house and accidentally kill law-abiding senior citizens in their own homes. Meanwhile, the War on Drugs has not in any way reduced drug use, and the policies designed to stop it are not helpful either to drug addicts or their addiction-free neighbors.
Wrong Address: When Clerical Errors Turn Fatal
Reason.com reported in 2007 on the tragic death of Atlanta resident Kathryn Johnston. She lived 92 years on this Earth before she was cut down by police in a hail of bullets. However, she was no outlaw, and her home was hardly the OK Corral. In fact, after police picked up an ex-con on drug charges and asked him where he got his cocaine, her address was mistakenly identified as his dealer’s home.
The officers suited up in SWAT gear and forced entry into Kathryn Johnston’s house. When she saw black-suited shadowy figures with firearms charging in, she grabbed her pistol to defend herself. Shots rang out from the officers’ weapons. Once the mistake was realized, no effort was made to get medical attention for Johnston, who bled to death in handcuffs in her own home.
ABC News reported on another incident where Lebanon, TN resident John Adams, 61, was shot and killed by police during another “wrong house” raid. His wife witnessed the event and indicated that the police did not announce themselves before forcing entry. As a result, the homeowners believed they were under attack by home invaders. Adams did what any Tennessee homeowner would likely do in that case — he fired a warning shot with a shotgun, the perfect home defense firearm. His wife remained shackled nearby as officers took her husband’s life. Police found no evidence of criminal activity, and the description of the location did not match the warrant paperwork.
Should SWAT Teams Be Health Regulators?
Policymakers in the War on Drugs suffer from a degree of tunnel vision. So much effort goes into militarizing police for an armed conflict against drug dealers that sight has been lost on the original point — public health. How does the criminalization of drug use boost public safety? Addiction rates continue to rise. Our jails fill up with peaceful addicts while murderers and rapists are let loose early to continue their rampages. No-knock warrants leave people (who often have nothing to do with drugs) dead all across the country
Law enforcement agents are required to enforce absurd laws and violent policies that put them in impossible situations. The War on Drugs puts every citizen under suspicion, as police are forced to shift resources from apprehending violent, thieving criminals to monitoring the belongings and health decisions of each and every taxpayer. No-knock warrants, specifically, and the War on Drugs, more generally, are dangerous policies that put innocent people at risk without providing any appreciable benefit to public health.
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