All across the country, heavily armed SWAT teams are raiding people’s homes in the middle of the night, often just to search for drugs. It should enrage us that people have needlessly died during these raids, that pets have been shot, and that homes have been ravaged.
Our neighborhoods are not warzones, and police officers should not be treating us like wartime enemies. Any yet, every year, billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment flows from the federal government to state and local police departments. Departments use these wartime weapons in everyday policing, especially to fight the wasteful and failed drug war, which has unfairly targeted people of color.
As our new report makes clear, it’s time for American police to remember that they are supposed to protect and serve our communities, not wage war on the people who live in them.
ATLANTA; SWAT Raid Ends with Toddler in Medically-Induced Coma
This van, containing several car seats, was parked in the driveway of the home where they were staying when, just before 3:00am on a night in May of 2014, a team of SWAT officers armed with assault rifles burst into the room where the family was sleeping.
Some of the kids’ toys were in the front yard, but the Habersham County and Cornelia police officers claimed they had no way of knowing children might be present. One of the officers threw a flashbang grenade into the room. It landed in Baby Bou Bou’s crib.
It took several hours before Alecia and Bounkahm, the baby’s parents, were able to see their son. The 19-month-old had been taken to an intensive burn unit and placed into a medically induced coma. When the flashbang grenade exploded, it blew a hole in 19-month-old Bou Bou’s face and chest. The chest wound was so deep it exposed his ribs. The blast covered Bou Bou’s body in third degree burns. At the time of this report’s publication, three weeks after the raid, it was still unclear whether Baby Bou Bou would live. Bounkahm spent this Father’s Day in the hospital with his son. Learn more at www.justiceforbabyboubou.com and in ACLU report.
DETROIT: SWAT TEAM MURDERS AIYANA STANLEY-JONES, 7
“In 2010, 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones was killed when, just after midnight, a SWAT team threw a flashbang grenade through the window into the living room where she was asleep. The flashbang burned her blanket and a member of the SWAT team burst into the house, firing a single shot, which killed her.” (From ACLU Report).
Since Aiyana’s horrific death, her family has been subjected to unending agony by a police cover-up, which recently resulted in the imprisonment of her father Charles Jones for 40-60 years . See VOD related stories in Aiyana’s case at bottom of this post.
Disparate Impact on Communities of Color
It is widely known that policing tactics across the country often unfairly target communities of color. According to our investigation, the use of paramilitary weapons and tactics appears to be no different. These maps show the distribution of SWAT raids by racial composition of neighborhoods in two cities, but this trend is echoed nationwide. Read the complete report for more.
Hyper-aggressive policing won’t go away simply by identifying a couple “bad apples” or dismissing the problem as a few isolated instances. As this map makes clear, excessive militarization is a nationwide trend.
To Serve and Protect, Not to Raid and Ravage
Not every situation requires 20 heavily armed SWAT officers and an armored personnel carrier. And yet, we collected reports of full deployments to homes where no contraband was found, where there was no clear reason for thinking the people inside would be armed or awake, and where children and the elderly were present. We need to ensure that hyper-aggressive tools and tactics are only used in situations where they are truly necessary to protect people. It’s also time to push for greater transparency and ensure that the federal government is not incentivizing the militarization of our state and local police.