Friday, August 08, 2008

The War on Your Neighbors

From today's issue of the Newport Daily News comes this story about a SWAT team that raided the house of Cheye Calvo, mayor of Berwyn Heights, Maryland, on July 29. Mayor Calvo was the innocent victim of a scheme in which packages full of marijuana were sent across the country by delivery services to random addresses. One such package had been addressed to Calvo's wife, Trinity Tomsic.

Calvo had just returned home from walking his two black labs, and was upstairs in his bedroom changing his clothes when a SWAT team from the Prince George's County Police Department and Sheriff's Office kicked in the door. They shot Calvo's dogs (one was running away at the time), and forced his mother-in-law, who was cooking dinner in the kitchen, down on the floor at gunpoint next to one of the dead dogs. She was soon joined there by Calvo himself, wearing only boxer shorts. The police spent the next two hours interrogating them on the floor next to the dead dog. Tomsic came home during this, and was quickly handcuffed and forced down on the floor next to her husband, mother, and dead pet. When Calvo asked to see a search warrant, the police refused.

Incidentally, Berwin Heights has its own municipal police force, but the county cops didn't bother to notify them that they intended to launch a drug raid on one of the town's residents. County Police Chief Melvin High said that he wasn't ruling out the possibility that Calvo and his family were involved in the drug smuggling scheme, and defended the way the raid was conducted.

Calvo has asked the federal government to investigate the county cops because, not surprisingly, he doesn't trust the county cops to conduct their own investigation. FBI agent Rich Wolf announced that the bureau had opened a civil rights investigation into the case, and would monitor how effective, fair and professional the law enforcement agency's conduct was during the incident.

Was this simply an unfortunate isolated incident? Sadly, no. As Radley Balko of the Cato Institute has documented:

Over the last 25 years, America has seen a disturbing militarization of its civilian law enforcement, along with a dramatic and unsettling rise in the use of paramilitary police units (most commonly called Special Weapons and Tactics, or SWAT) for routine police work. The most common use of SWAT teams today is to serve narcotics warrants, usually with forced, unannounced entry into the home.

These increasingly frequent raids, 40,000 per year by one estimate, are needlessly subjecting nonviolent drug offenders, bystanders, and wrongly targeted civilians to the terror of having their homes invaded while they’re sleeping, usually by teams of heavily armed paramilitary units dressed not as police officers but as soldiers. These raids bring unnecessary violence and provocation to nonviolent drug offenders, many of whom were guilty of only misdemeanors. The raids terrorize innocents when police mistakenly target the wrong residence. And they have resulted in dozens of needless deaths and injuries, not only of drug offenders, but also of police officers, children, bystanders, and innocent suspects.


At Balko's website, The Agitator, you can find links to this story about police in a drug raid in Massachusetts shooting a dog that was cowering under a coffee table (n0 drugs found, btw), and this story about cops shooting and killing a 17-year-old boy in a drug raid in Texas (again no drugs found), and this story about cops shooting and killing an innocent bystander in a drug raid in Connecticut, and this story about a cop shooting and killing an unarmed woman in a drug raid in Ohio because he heard the sound of some other cops shooting her boyfriend's dogs and he thought someone was shooting at him.

This is the war on your neighbors.

This is the war on drugs.

(this post is cross-posted to Grace P.)
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