(visit: http://stopthedrugwar.org/policeraids) EDITORIAL ADVISORY November 20, 2007
Washington, DC: One year ago, on November 21, 2006, Atlanta police serving a drug search warrant at an incorrect address supplied by an informant killed 92-year old Kathryn Johnston. On the anniversary of her death, the organization Stop the Drug War is releasing the results of a Zogby likely voters poll which shows that 66% of Americans oppose the use of aggressive entry tactics such as battering down doors, setting off flash-bang grenades, or conducting searches in the middle of the night, in routine drug investigations in non-emergency situations.
No matter how the results are broken down, by age, race, political party, income, or education, a clear majority opposes SWAT raids in routine drug investigations. The largest majority is among 18-24-year-olds, 90% of whom are against the raids. African Americans come in a close second, with 83% opposing. Conservatives come in as the most closely split groups, but still a majority opposing (52%). A majority of people with children (61%), NASCAR fans (70%), and people with members of the armed forces in their family (63%), also oppose.
Stop the Drug War urges editors and columnists to join the call for a moratorium on SWAT-style drug raids in most non-emergency situations.
According to some estimates, police across the US carry out as many as 40,000 SWAT raids per year. While the SWAT team's founding purpose was to enable police to respond effectively to high-intensity situations â situations involving hostages or snipers, for example â today the tactics have become commonplace in many kinds of low-level situations, including routine drug enforcement.
While some defend the proliferation of SWAT raids as necessary to protect officer safety, expert analyses have found that no-knock raids instead tend to increase the dangers, to police and to persons inside the homes being entered, by escalating the situation into one filled by tension and panic. The shooting in Atlanta of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston is the most famous example of a no-knock raid gone bad â for Johnston and for police. Three of the officers were shot and two will serve 10 years or more in prison for manslaughter.
Sadly, it is not the only case. For an interactive map of botched paramilitary police raids compiled by Radley Balko, author of "Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids" and "Straight Talk: Casualties of the Corrupt Drug War (FoxNews.com 11/20/07), visit: http://www.cato.org/raidmap/. For further information on this issue from Stop the Drug War, visit http://stopthedrugwar.org/policeraids.
Any possible benefit gained by entering a home in an aggressive fashion is outweighed in the vast majority of circumstances by the dangers inherent in the unnecessary brandishing of weapons, by the shock and trauma experienced by the people inside (people who are often either innocent or only low-level offenders), and the risk that the officers, mistaken for criminal invaders, will incite a confrontation.
There is no excuse for more needless tragedies, not in the service of a failed drug war. It is time to put a stop to the common use of aggressive police entry tactics, and to alter the policies, legal standards and funding patterns that have made such tactics commonplace.
Stop the Drug War (still known to many of our readers as DRCNet, the Drug Reform Coordination Network), is an international organization working for an end to drug prohibition worldwide and for reform of drug policy and the criminal justice system in the US. Visit http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle for the latest issue of our acclaimed weekly newsletter, Drug War Chronicle.
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