Last week, for the fourth time in three months, police in New York City broke down the wrong door. The New York Times last week reported that on the morning of May 1, police acting on a confidential tip burst through the door of the Shorter family in Crown Heights, Brooklyn and tossed a stun grenade into the front hall. At home were Mr. Basil Shorter, a retired baker, his wife Cecilia, and their two teenage daughters Isis, 14, and Phebi, 18. "I thought America was invaded, that some force, a foreign force, came to kill us," Mr. Shorter said at a press conference last week. "My family was helpless. I was helpless."
Mrs. Shorter told the Times that she was terrified the police would shoot Phebi, who is mentally retarded and was bathing when the raid began. Police pulled Phebi from the shower and handcuffed her. She was given a robe to cover herself with, but Mrs. Shorter said that police ignored her warning that her daughter was menstruating, and gave her a sanitary pad only after she was obviously bleeding. Meanwhile, the entire family was herded into the hallway as neighbors passed by. "I was so embarrassed," Mr. Shorter recalled tearfully.
No drugs were found in the apartment, though investigators told the Times that drug dealers sometimes operate out of other people's homes "without their knowledge." Organized Crime Control Bureau Chief Martin O'Boyle said he believes the information the police had on the Shorter's apartment was good. A raid of another apartment in the building named by the confidential informant, according to police, turned up a gun and "a small amount of drugs."
The Shorters have hired an attorney, Harvey Weitz, who will pursue a $200 million dollar case against the city. The Week Online asked Mr. Weitz for his comment on the Shorter case and others like it. "It's appalling what we in this country have come to condone in the name of law and order," he said. "No-knock warrants allow the police to break into an innocent family's home, like the Shorters', at any hour of the day or night, on nothing more than the word of an informant, and essentially set a bomb off in the living room, and round everyone up." Mr. Weitz's firm has taken on the Shorter's case in the hopes of bringing public attention to the dramatic curtailment of civil rights in recent years. "People have to recognize that these raids are the equivalent of the excesses of fascist countries, being played out in America every day. It's time to say, 'let's take a moment to reexamine where we're going.'"