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SWAT Team Critically Injures Infant In Drug Bust

Francesca Bessey |
May 30, 2014 | 5:09 p.m. PDT

Senior Opinion Editor

We should have realized something was wrong with the war on drugs when investigative reporter Radley Balko published an article detailing the death of 13 innocent people through police negligence during drug busts. Three of the victims were children and almost all of them were shot directly by an officer.

Or maybe it should have been when we realized that 13 is 13 more people than are known to have ever died from marijuana overdose (as in, zero) despite the fact that half of all drug abuse arrests are for the sale or posession of weed.

Or maybe we could have counted on the fact that the war on drugs continues to be one of the most overt examples of contemporary racism in the country, as black people are almost four times as likely as white people to be arrested for marijuana possesion, despite comparable usage rates.

But we may have reached a breaking point at last because on Thursday, a SWAT team threw a stun grenade into a playpen in a home they were raiding and critically injured a 19-month-old boy.

Alecia Phonesavanh told a local Atlanta news station that she and her family were spending the night at her sister-in-law's place when, around 3AM, a SWAT team entered the home without warning. They did, however, announce their entrance by throwing the stun grenade, which landed directly on the pillow of Phonesavanh's sleeping son and exploded in his face. The boy is now in a medically-induced coma.

The SWAT team had a no-knock warrant for the drug-related arrest of Wavis Thometheva, 30, who lived in the house. They apparently interpreted it as a license to blow up an infant's face.

The police's excuse?

"There was no clothes, no toys, nothing to indicate that there was children present in the home," said Cornelia Police Chief Rick Darby. "If there had been then we'd have done something different."

To clarify, when the police department staged their sting operation at the household earlier that day, in which undercover operatives purchased drugs at the home, there was, according to their report, no evidence of a child in the home. We can, of course, assume that given the friendly, Sunday-afternoon-barbeque feeling that accompanies most drug transactions, these operatives would have most likely been given a full tour of the house, met the drug dealer's entire family and probably sat down for some biscuits and tea.

In other words, if that's all the risk assessment law enforcement is conducting, it's no shock that they critically wounded a baby, nor any of the thousands of other innocent people who have been injured or killed by police. The tragedy is that it should be.

In the United States of America, we are granted extensive rights and freedoms that are supposed to protect us from abuse at the hands of the government and, by extension, the criminal justice system. But when consideration for the safety of a 19-month-old child - or anyone else who might get caught in the crossfire - is sacrificed in the interest of a flashy arrest (I won't say expedient because I can't imagine busting down doors and lighting up living rooms is actually a more effective way to capture criminals at three in the morning), these protections have been all but flushed down the toilet.

Our chance to recover them is one and only: don't let this go unnoticed. Retribution for Phonesavanh's young son does not come from a news story, or Chief Darby's pathetic "we'll do better next time, guys." It won't come from a resignation or a departmental inquiry either. It is past time that we turned our attention to actual reform of the criminal justice system: to tightening the parameters on "no-knock" warrants that currently lack guidelines to keep bystanders safe, to increasing penalties for law enforcement officers that demonstrate disregard for the safety of the innocent or the rights of the accused, to reevaluating the entire $40 billion nightmare that is America's war on drugs from a true risks and rewards perspective that doesn't leave the realities of police brutality and negligence out of the equation.

I do not want to live in a society where there is violence against the innocent. I do not want to live in a society where violence against the innocent is considered a secondary concern to offending the state's ego.

When I was little, I was told the cops were there to keep me safe. This was a lie - but I have also realized that it was a privilege to grow up in a household and neighborhood where this lie could be remotely belieavable for whatever amount of time.

Because we live in a country where law enforcement puts babies at risk of fatal injury.

The jury's still out for me on the moral status of drugs but that, my friends, is objectively evil. 


Reach Senior Opinion Editor Francesca Bessey here; follow her here.



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