Pubdate: Mon, 8 Sep 2008
Source: Hartford Courant (CT)
Copyright: 2008 The Hartford Courant
Author: Vera Leone
Note: Vera Leone is Internet communications associate for the Drug 
Policy Alliance. This first appeared in The Baltimore Sun.
Referenced: Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in 
Bookmark: (Drug Raids)
Bookmark: (Policing - United States)


Imagine you're Cheye Calvo, the white mayor of Berwyn Heights, an
affluent part of Prince George's County in Maryland. Coming home one
night in late July, you find on your front porch a large package that,
unbeknownst to you, happens to contain a lot of marijuana.

As it turns out, your spouse is the victim of a drug-smuggling scheme
that targets innocent customers in the UPS system. You bring the box
inside; moments later, the SWAT officers standing by break in and
shoot your two beautiful Labradors. As the dogs lie there bleeding to
death, you're held in the same room, handcuffed for hours. Nearly a
month later, you have yet to receive an apology.

Because of who he is, the nation knows what happened to Mr. Calvo a
few weeks ago. Here's what most Americans don't know: There are
perhaps 40,000 such raids each year, according to a Cato Institute
report, "Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America."

Now try to imagine that instead of a middle-class white man in the
Maryland suburbs, you're a young Latino boy in Modesto, Calif. Shortly
before dawn, in early September 2000, a SWAT team forces its way into
your house. Thirty seconds later, although you comply with police
orders to lie face down on the floor, you are dead from a shotgun
blast to the back. The officer responsible is later cleared of
wrongdoing in what is concluded an accidental shooting -- though it was
not the first time his weapon had "accidentally" discharged during a
raid. Alberto Sepulveda had just begun the seventh grade.

Or say you're 57 and getting ready for work in May 2003. A battering
ram breaks down your door shortly after 6 a.m., and a flash grenade is
tossed inside. You're coughing, you can't breathe, while the police
search for a stash of drugs and guns they'll never find because it
isn't there. Alberta Spruill, a church volunteer and city worker in
Harlem, died of a heart attack on the way to the hospital.

Or you're a fierce 92-year-old Atlanta woman, frightened by the sounds
of someone prying off the burglar bars that cover your door but
determined to protect your home. The door is broken down; you fire one
shot at the intruders before being shot at 39 times, handcuffed and
left to die while the police (who have broken down the wrong door)
realize their mistake and plant drugs in your basement. Two of the
cops responsible for Kathryn Johnston's death pleaded guilty to
manslaughter last year; a third was recently convicted of lying in the

Many lives are lost, and many more are ruined, by these paramilitary
operations in the ever-widening circles of survivors and families of
those killed. You're in extra danger if you happen to be poor or a
person of color.

No-knock warrants may be justified in unusual circumstances. But
unreasonable, routine no-knock raids must be stopped. Police should do
their homework beforehand, show restraint and use the minimum amount
of force necessary in a situation. They must take extraordinary care
not to enter the wrong house when conducting a raid. Most important,
they need to be held accountable to the communities they serve.

The fact is, raids like the one on Mayor Calvo's home violate every
precept of American liberty that is held up as integral to our "free"
society. We can no longer allow our supposedly democratic government
to terrorize communities across the country with the very tactics that
are publicly decried when used by defense contractors and our own
military in Iraq.

Unfortunately, racism in political structures and security forces
still dictates who matters and who doesn't -- and for the most part,
violence against those who don't is tolerated. Because the vast
majority of these raids are against poor people of color, we hear very
little about them.

That's what makes the Berwyn Heights case so potentially important: It
is opening a window into the realities lived every day by innocent
victims and survivors of the ineffective and destructive "war on
drugs." Let's remember this case, keep this window open, and use it to
address the misguided (at best), unjust and indisputably failed drug
war policies that are destroying the fabric of our society.
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