May 10, 2010

The Cops that Shot the Corgi

The story has "legs" because of the terrifying, disgusting video. But this sort of thing happens with insane regularity all across the country. And sadly, shooting all the animals they can find appears to be part of the standard operating procedure in this kind of raid. That's the first thing they do. It's infuriating, sickening, and wrong. Most people who have viewed the video seem to agree: this must stop. (It's hard to imagine anyone feeling otherwise, but here's one. Unfathomable to me.)

There clearly needs to be a much higher bar to clear for authorization of paramilitary night-time home invasions like this. SWAT teams should be deployed only in extreme situations where the threat of violence, danger to the public, and seriousness of wrong-doing is likely to be greater than that caused by the "operation" itself. That's what they were designed for. Using them to serve routine warrants is insane. They often get the wrong house entirely. Innocent people get killed, along with all sorts of animals, not to mention the slow (but accelerating) death of Constitutional protections against state tyranny. (You think the Fourth Amendment still protects you against "unreasonable" searches and seizures? Me neither.)

Last week I cited concern for the pets, only partially in jest, as reason enough to vote for the decriminalization of marijuana in the upcoming CA state election. Fewer paramilitary raids on ordinary citizens suspected of smoking dope means fewer corgis shot on sight, right? If you won't do it for the hippies or the children or the United States of America, at least do it for the animals. It's not their fault we decided to have a stupid war on drugs.

However, it turns out that Columbia, MO actually does have a cannabis decriminalization law, similar to that established by Oakland's Measure Z, passed by city referendum (62-39%) in 2004! I still believe the fewer pretexts for police home invasion the better, but the lesson here is, if agents of the state want to break down your door and kill your animals and terrorize your family, they can probably find a way, whatever the law says. The real problem is that the bar for authorizing paramilitary "dynamic entries" and no-knock raids is ridiculously, absurdly low, and that police departments and the officers involved rarely face any real consequences for malfeasance in the course of them. I still hope California's legalization initiative passes, mostly because the drug war is stupid. Mostly. But also as an animal lover.

Anyway, I guess the decriminalization thing could explain the "endangerment of a child" malarky. It is, of course, patently absurd to accuse this fellow of endangering his own kid's life, since he wasn't the one firing multiple rounds in an enclosed space and storming a single family home like it was Iwo Jima. If that charge had any real meaning, it would be the reckless officers (and the police department that authorized the action and the judge who signed the warrant) who should have to answer for it. But of course, it is a manifestly bogus charge, likely brought only because the city's decriminalization law precludes felony drugs charges, and they wanted to charge him with something more serious than the law authorizes. In other words, the police have undertaken to nullify the existing law, using "child endangerment" as a proxy for possession, essentially pursuing the possession charge under a different name and quite literally subverting justice. This is itself a serious abuse, though it is my understanding that it is a common practice. We should be able to expect law enforcement to enforce the law as it actually stands, rather than seeking creative loopholes to circumvent it for the sake of justifying their budgets, harassing people they dislike, and saving face. In a saner, more just, world there would be severe penalties for this alone.

The worst abuse, though, is the mere fact that paramilitary units are deployed to conduct routine business like this at all. The actions of those officers were arguably criminal and certainly unwise and dangerous, but those guys shouldn't have been there in the first place. Everyone should be concerned about this, because even if they get the wrong house (which happens frequently) and even if you are completely innocent and you and your pets are lucky enough to come out of the ordeal with your lives, they will find something to charge you with, seeing as they're there. Think about it: 40,000 of these raids per year; over 100 per day. It could quite easily be you and your pets or family one day, even if you live in a city that has decriminalized possession, and even if you have never come within a mile of the substance in question. This is not the kind of country anyone wants. This is, allegedly, the United States of America. And we should start acting like it.

Finally, I realize it is trivial compared to these other points, but would it be too much too ask that these public servants conduct their business without screaming obscenities at the public any time there is a hint of conflict? We're all accustomed to this sort of behavior from TV and perhaps decorum is a lost cause in this day and age; perhaps we should simply be grateful on those occasions when they opt to allow our pets to live till the next altercation. But in fact, we do deserve a degree of professional conduct and cordiality from public servants, and why should police officers be any different? Maybe they should be trained to address members of the public, even naughty or unpleasant ones, as "Citizen" rather than "motherfucker." It worked for Batman.

Posted by Dr. Frank at May 10, 2010 08:27 PM | TrackBack

Hey Frank, are you still interested in doing the interview with ?

Let me know, thanks Silla.

Posted by: Priscilla John at May 10, 2010 08:48 PM

Incidents of police brutality have, of course, increased, since the war on the police began in the 1960s. For Pete's sake, Doc, don't you live in Oakland? Are you aware that there was once a time that there was relative peace and the police rarely ever shot people's dogs. It's true.

I'm not defending these police officers as individuals, or their actions here. What I'm saying is that the entire paradigm of how modern people think about freedom is wrong. Freedom is a quality of government issue. Freedom by attempting to create a self limiting government, or dividing power among different groups has been an abject failure. Imagine, if you will, Victorian England with Ipods. Or just take a trip to Singapore, where both crime and dog murder is comparably rare.

Posted by: josh at May 11, 2010 03:50 PM

Interesting, Josh, but I'm not 100% certain I understand what you're getting at. Is it that authoritarian governments (a la Singapore) are the only way to a peaceable society and that it is to be expected that greater civil freedoms inevitably invite violent attacks upon the people by the government, and that it is naive to think you can have both civil freedoms and a liberal government that protects them? If we were more compliant, the government would have no need to discipline us so harshly? That can't be what you're saying, can it?

Posted by: Dr. Frank at May 11, 2010 04:27 PM

Burke said: "Nothing turns out to be so oppressive and unjust as a feeble government. "

So there, I've got an argument from authority going for me.

What I'm really saying is that the kind of liberal society you are talking about is a special case of society in general. First a society must be conquered, order established, then the government can put its feet up and enjoy the highest form of order, spontaneous order. We had this in America, but it has been lost.

The problem with our society is that our political ideals evolved in one of the most orderly, civilized time periods in history. At the bottom of each of our major and even minor political tribes in this country, you will find Locke.

But where did the concepts of the "Rights of Englishman"or natural rights even come from? They
evolved during a period of increasing centralization of power. Its a simple matter of incentive compatibility. The king has no reason to oppress the people (unlike modern dictators whose hold on authority is always extremely tenuous) and every reason to create a stable, prosperous society to pass on to his heirs. Adopting a philosophy attributing liberal government to nature or god was a political maneuver by competing power interests (especially the emergent Puritan merchant and scholarly classes). Of course self-serving political ideologies continue to be adopted today. Ever asked a gang member why they joined. Most gang members see themselves as a noble resistance to the evil and oppressive government. The response to this phenomenon is to capitulate, to create community programs, to weaken law enforcement.

Essentially, what we have in Oakland is the "hearts and minds" theory applied to crime. Is there any evidence that this works ever? In contrast, Lord Cromer turned Egypt (yes Egypt) into a cosmopolitan Boho tourist destination by hanging one man a year. At least in his book, he doesn't mention shooting innocent people's dogs. They used to call it "Grasping the Nettle" after the Stinging Nettle plant, which apparently doesn't sting if you grasp fast enough. Of course, Lord Cromer was evil and the Egyptians deserved the "freedom" they so enjoy today, etc.

Basically, I am of the opinion that the past 300 years have been spent burning the accumulated cultural capitol of western civilization. Our attempts to weaken the government have only made it grow larger to the point where we have sovereignty divided into a million tiny slivers. Corruption is a direct result of this lack of coherent authority. Obviously, we have not gone so far as Mexico, where you can bribe the cops, or Liberia, were each police officer seems to be an independent contractor, but its there. Anyway, the problem is way to big to be addressed without major upheaval.

Sorry for the rambling incoherence.

Posted by: josh at May 11, 2010 05:31 PM


The government attacks people because it is too weak not because it is too strong. You can have liberal government and civil freedoms; however, liberal government does not mean weak government, it means strong, small government with coherent authority. The experiences of the Golden Age of Europe, as well as modern states such as Lichtenstein and Monaco demonstrate that this is achievable. Further, the atrocities of 20th century dictators were a result of lack of stable coherent authority and their existential dependence on maintaining the ideal (illusory or not) of democratic popular authority rather than the centralization of power per se.

Posted by: josh at May 11, 2010 05:36 PM

***The government attacks people because it is too weak not because it is too strong. You can have liberal government and civil freedoms; however, liberal government does not mean weak government, it means strong, small government with coherent authority.****

I certainly agree with that. Thanks for clarifying.

I get that you think this particular abuse is a mere symptom of a much deeper, systemic problem, and I pretty much agree with that, too. But none of that means we can't raise the bar for no-knock warrants and make it easier to hold government agents accountable when they abuse their authority. Even if it doesn't solve everything, at least it might save a corgi or two.

Posted by: Dr. Frank at May 11, 2010 06:14 PM

btw, Josh, your comment about Oakland is right on, too. From what I can tell, Oakland's effective policy is to turn a blind eye to street crime, whilst enforcing parking and traffic violations with ruthless efficiency.

The crazy thing is, this approach appears to be broadly approved by the populace. I cannot tell you how many conversations I have had where this or that tale of street assault (include my own) will elicit the response: well a mugging or two now and again is just the price you should expect to pay for living in such a vibrant, diverse city.

I don't know the stats on Oakland's SWAT unit deployment. The two instances I know about (the raid on Your Black Muslim Bakery after the murder of Chauncy Bailey and the pizza parlor hostage holdup situation I happened to observe here: seem justifiable.

Is there not a third option between the Oakland and the Columbia approach? I believe supporters of pot crackdowns claim that prohibiting personal use does, somehow, diminish street crime, but I'm skeptical about that.

Posted by: Dr. Frank at May 11, 2010 07:02 PM

Uh, you were assaulted? What happened and when?

Posted by: Maury at May 11, 2010 09:46 PM

It happens approximately once or twice every couple of years, Maury. I'm actually due for a mugging any time now, by that schedule.

Posted by: Dr. Frank at May 11, 2010 09:50 PM