By now, the entire internet knows about the SWAT raid in Missouri that ended up with a dead dog. It woke up a lot of people, and angered a lot more who were already awake.
Almost nobody believed that it was right, regardless of political viewpoint. In this sense, the video (which was obtained by the Columbia Daily Tribune through a public records request) has served an incredibly important function.
It also got a lot of people wanting to blame someone. The question was “Who?”.
Von at Obsidian Wings writes
Folks talk about the banality of evil. It’s one of those cliches that you hear from time time. But I don’t think that folks stop very often to think about what that phrase means. Or what it looks like in action. Evil becomes banal when people — good people — stop recognizing it, stop appreciating it, and come to accept it as normal. When evil becomes so routine that good people accept it as the way of doing business.
I am not comparing the cops in the video to Nazis (whence the phrase comes). But it’s hard for me to see their actions, here, as anything other than evil. […]
This is what evil looks like. On this night, these cops decided to be thugs.
John Cole at Balloon Juice says:
I Hope These People Go to Hell […]
This is what happens when you give a bunch of cowboy assholes heavy weapons and fill them with a God complex.
Megan McArdle in The Atlantic takes a different focus
Short of multiple homicide, I’m having trouble coming up with anything that justifies that kind of police action. And you know, I doubt the police could either. But they weren’t busy trying to figure out if they were maximizing the welfare of their larger society. They were, in that most terrifying of phrases, just doing their jobs.
And in the end, that is our shame, not theirs.
Jonathan Perri of SSDP points out that the law is to blame:
â€œBy making it illegal, you are making it criminal,â€ Perri said. â€œIf a local liquor store breaks a law, you are not going to see a SWAT team raid the place and kill a dog. â€¦ You still have the alcohol abuse but donâ€™t have people killing each other over it.â€
And David Bordon points out the excesses of SWAT use today:
â€œThe idea of SWAT was created for hostage situations and when military-style power is required and there is no other choice,â€ he said. â€œWhen going into a situation that the purpose is to preserve evidence, itâ€™s not a good enough reason to put these thousands of people that are served search warrants each year through the aggressive and traumatic experience of a para-militarized police squadron entering your home.â€
So who is responsible?
The answer is… everyone. And it’s complicated.
The politicians are to blame. Every day, they pass more bad laws, and refuse to correct the mistakes of the past, turning a blind eye to the destruction they cause. All the while, they fret about some non-existent 30-second attack ad, and take campaign contributions from drug war profiteers. Without the bad laws, the vast majority of these paramilitary raids wouldn’t have a reason to exist.
The federal bureaucrats are to blame. Every time they tell another lie about the drug war, they provide cover for the craven politicians, and blunt the outrage from the citizenry.
Local leadership is to blame. Seduced by the gift of toys from the military, local officials have gleefully accepted the tools of warfare in the hopes that people would think they had big dicks. Worse yet, they’ve actively made the decision to use SWAT-style raids in situations that are absolutely wrong. Their decisions have made it more dangerous for police, suspects, and the general citizenry.
They have failed to learn the difference between fighting a war and having a functioning police force. Once you decide to fight a war instead of policing, you have decided that the residents are acceptable collateral casualties of war.
The proof of this failure is evident in the statement by Deputy Police Chief Tom Dresner:
â€œIf we were searching for stolen televisions in his house, there is no reason for SWAT,â€ he said. â€œHe canâ€™t flush televisions.â€
He doesn’t even get the wrongness underlying his statement.
The entire philosophy behind SWAT-style drug raids is that the death of a mother, a child, or the family pet is an acceptable risk to prevent flushing. (Deep Thoughts)
What makes it worse is that you can’t actually flush large amounts of marijuana.
Local cops and SWAT officers are to blame. It can be convenient to say they’re just following orders, but the truth is that they do have some choice in not only choosing their job, but in how they actually perform that job. Even in the midst of a SWAT raid (even when it shouldn’t have happened to begin with), it’s possible to be safe and firm while still treating the suspects like human beings who are going through a traumatic experience and minimize both the trauma and the collateral damage.
The automatic shooting of a dog that is merely doing its job isn’t the sign of a cop that’s trying to balance safety with serving the public. A responsible cop could ask for better tools in dealing with such situations.
Unfortunately, too many of these cops have had the “war” mentality reinforced non-stop for them, like the cops that are part of the Illinois Task Force 6 in my area. When you see yourself this way every day at work, it’s hard to think of the citizenry as anything but the enemy.
Even without the reinforcement imagery, there’s a natural problem that crops up when you’re a cop doing mostly drug busts (and it does get compartmentalized that way). It’s the same problem that many treatment professionals have â€” generalization based on skewed personal experience.
My dad is a retired minister. He never used alcohol or went to places where alcohol was used or served. His total experience with alcohol was from those who were at the end of their rope and were coming to him for counseling and help. Alcoholics, domestic violence, etc. He didn’t really realize that there were people who used alcohol responsibly and was understandably upset when I started playing the piano in bars.
For drug cops, it’s too easy to get in the mindset that all drug suspects are non-human scum, and that affects how they do their job.
We’re all to blame. By not rising up and forcing change, we’re at fault for the death of that family member.
Yep. And that’s one of the reasons that I continue to spend so much time on this blog after almost 7 years.
In addition to calmly analyzing blame (and realizing that there’s plenty to go around), it’s also important to take a look at where focusing blame assignment will do the most good. That’s simple reality.
While it’s easiest to react viscerally to the images in that video and blame the specific cops in that house, that is the least valuable approach toward achieving real change â€” change that will save someone else’s family member in the future.
Whenever one of these tragedies happens â€” Tarika Wilson, Kathryn Johnston, Jonathan Ayers â€” I find myself torn when it’s announced that an investigation has been opened into one or more of the cops involved. The problem is, as soon as a cop is being investigated for wrong-doing, it generally means that the policy itself, and those who implemented it, will get a free pass.
Even if a cop rightly gets in trouble for his or her actions, it does very little to prevent future abuse.
I’m guardedly optimistic about the fact that, in the case of Columbia, the Tribune is talking about policy instead of individual cops, partly due to the efforts of SSDP and David Borden, among others. If we can keep the policy in the spotlight, we might do some good.
So yes, the answer is that pretty much everyone is at fault, but if we want it to change, we need to focus our blame on the policies and the laws.
We need local politicians besieged by concerned citizens who are afraid their homes will be invaded and their pets or children killed. And we need federal politicians fearing the votes of a motivated and concerned block of constituents.