“Officer Safety” Puts Children at Risk

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The SWAT stormtroopers who invaded the Columbia, Missouri home of Jonathan Whitworth on February 11 knew a seven-year-old child lived there. This didn’t stop them from invading the home late in the evening, when the child would be put at risk. Nor did the invaders see anything amiss in shooting at two dogs that presented a “tactical obstacle” to the raid, even though the first shot missed the target.

Had things turned out just a bit differently, Whitworth’s child could easily have been murdered by the police through depraved indifference, as was the case with Detroit resident Aiyana Jones, the 7-year-old who was burned and shot to death during a May 16 SWAT raid on her duplex.

Perhaps the nastiest aspect of the raid — the video of which has been viewed more than a million times on YouTube — was the fact that Whitworth was charged with “child endangerment” because of the actions of the goons who conducted a military raid on his home that eventually netted a misdemeanor amount of marijuana.

In a May 20 news conference, Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton announced — and wasn’t the suspense terrific? — that the department had exonerated itself of misconduct in the February 11 raid. He admitted that “The officers knew a child was present,” despite solemn assurances to the contrary that had been issued earlier.

Burton also stated that the decision to shoot the dogs was “based on the safety priorities [SWAT operators] are taught to adhere to.”

Whatever the official policy might be, in practice the  “priorities”  alluded to by Burton dictate that “officer safety” is — at all times, and in all circumstances — the most important consideration. This means that if a dog presents “either a threat to the officers or a substantial tactical obstacle,” it can and should be shot — despite the fact that while armor-clad SWAT heroes can survive a dog attack, an errant round can easily kill a defenseless 7-year-old.

The official story continues to be that the dogs had to be shot because of their “aggressive” behavior. That claim is difficult to reconcile with Burton’s detailed account: “The first dog retreated and no longer posed a threat or tactical obstacle. The other dog did not retreat, and continued to pose a threat or substantial obstacle.”

This is to say that merely standing one’s ground is defined as “aggression” in the lexicon of the state’s armed enforcers.

Also noteworthy is the admission that lethal force can be used against “tactical obstacles.” Yes, Burton used that term with reference to the dogs. But keep in mind that by engaging in close-quarters gunfire, the SWAT raiders were willing to deal with that “tactical obstacle” in a way that put the child’s life at risk.

All of this was done to enforce a warrant based on unreliable “evidence” provided by a paid informant. While offering perfunctory promises to refine official procedures in trivial ways, Burton insisted that the actions of the SWAT team were “appropriate” and compatible with department policy.

It should be noted that Burton most likely wouldn’t have troubled himself with this matter at all were it not for the fact that the video of the raid went viral. This is why Burton, shortly before his self-exculpatory news conference, was heard to exclaim, “I hate the internet.”

The cyber-samizdat got the Mundanes all riled up, which isn’t how things are supposed to work. It’s so much better when incidents of this kind are filtered through government-approved propaganda channels. Just ask Detroit Police Chief — and aspiring “reality TV star — Warren Evans.

11:13 am on May 22, 2010