Adam J. Smith, DRCNet Associate Director, [email protected]
Last week the New York Times carried an item about a woman in New York City who shows up every time there is a protest against the use of unreasonable force by police. She comes alone and carries a sign, always the same one. Her sign reads simply, "Another Isolated Incident." The fact that this woman and her ironic sign have become well-known is a testament to the truth of the point she is trying to make.
Attending each and every anti-police brutality protest in New York City can certainly keep a person busy, but with the aggressive prosecution of the drug war a political priority across the country, that woman might want to consider starting a franchise.
In the town of Osawatomie, Kansas (pop. 4,500) last week, Willie Heard, a forty-six year-old man, was shot to death in his bedroom at one-thirty in the morning by police who had stormed into the home to execute a search warrant. Heard's sixteen year-old daughter claims that the officers failed to identify themselves other than to shout "freeze!" and "get down!" The police, after kicking in the front door, entered the bedroom and came upon Mr. Heard clutching his twenty-two caliber rifle. They shot. He died.
The warrant said that the police were to search for crack cocaine and related items. None was found. A probe is underway by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation to determine whether police acted improperly in killing Mr. Heard.
Whatever that investigation reveals, there should be no question that when Americans are being killed in their homes by agents of the government, something is inherently wrong. The investigation of the shooting will not call into question the impact of the issuance of no-knock warrants in pursuit of drugs; nor will it likely question the methods used by law enforcement agents across the country to gather the evidence to obtain such warrants; and it will certainly not delve into the question of why, after decades of experience which shows it to be ineffective in reducing the amount of drugs on our streets or our children's access to them, we are still fighting a war against our own citizens and endangering both police and civilians by our ever more aggressive efforts and intrusions.
The killing of Willie Heard in his own bedroom may well have been a first for the tiny town of Osawatomie, but it is hardly an isolated incident. Tragedies such as this are endemic to the drug war. They are the product of the errant notion that if we just crack down hard enough, build enough prisons, kick in enough doors, then certainly the drugs will disappear. But they haven't. And they won't. And we are left with the blood of hundreds of innocents on our collective hands, slain by police, or caught in the crossfire, or killed in the line of duty. They are the casualties of our dirty little war, their families its refugees. It is highly unlikely that the shame of these senseless deaths will ever be acknowledged by those who perpetuate the war. But in New York City, a solitary woman carries a sign marking their passage. They are all just isolated incidents. Again and again and again.
(Read Adam's May '98 editorial, on a similar topic, "Bad Raids," http://www.drcnet.org/wol/043.html#editorial.)