Kathryn Johnston: A Year Later

92-year-old woman's death has done little to curb the use of paramilitary police tactics around the country.

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In fact, since the Johnston raid last year, there have been mistaken drug raids on innocent people in Temecula, Calif.; Annapolis, Md.; several incidents in Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York City; Galliano, La.; Hendersonville, N.C.; Ponderay, Idaho; Stockton, Calif.; Pullman, Wash.; Baltimore; Wilmington, Del.; Jacksonville, Fla; Alton, Kansas; Merced County, Calif.; and, believe it or not, Atlanta, Ga.

And of course, these are merely those reported in newspapers.

If any good has come of this, it's that the media coverage surrounding Kathryn Johnston's death has at least exposed the country to the widespread use of "dynamic entry" tactics for routine service of drug warrants, and the rather predictable problems that come with armed police breaking into someone's home. The fact that Johnston was a 92-year-old woman rather than a 19-year-old man probably has something to do with that.

This week, the Drug Reform Coordination Network will release a Zogby Poll on paramilitary police tactics. The numbers are surprising. Nearly two-thirds of those polled don't believe "aggressive entry tactics such as battering down doors, setting off flash-bang grenades, or conducting searches in the middle of the night" are appropriate tactics when the suspect is a nonviolent drug offender.

In fact, in every demographic group Zogby measured, a majority of respondents said such tactics should not be used in routine drug investigations, including 56 percent of self-identified Republicans, and 52.5 percent of respondents describing themselves as "very conservative."

There have been other Kathryn Johnstons over the years. In fact, dozens of innocent people have been killed in mistaken or botched drug raids since these more aggressive police tactics started to be used with more regularity, beginning about in the early 1980s. Cities like New York, Denver, and San Diego have, like Atlanta today, come under tremendous scrutiny over the years after a botched raid ended with the death of an innocent.

Unfortunately, these stories tend to follow a pattern: intense media coverage, followed by promises of reform from police and politicians, followed by-inevitably-a return to business as usual.

Perhaps Atlanta will turn out differently.

Radley Balko is a senior editor for reason.

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  • ||

    If there is anything that reminds me why I am an anarchist it is this case. Rest in peace, Kathryn Johnston. I'm sorry that the thugs in my pathetic city are in charge.

    Something I'm not thankful for this season.

  • pdog||

    I was having a good day until I saw this reminder of that trajedy. Now I'm all angry again... thanks! >:(

  • ||

    On behalf of right thinking people across this country, Thank You Radley for all of your hard work. I often tell folks of the sad tale of Kathryn Johnston and how it is NOT an isolated incident, but business as usual in narcotics law enforcement. This map that you and Lee Laslo created has proven a real eye opener to those who support these Gestapo tactics.

    Again, Thank You. REMEMBER KATHRYN JOHNSTON!

  • ||

    Thanks for keeping watch, Radley.

  • Richardson-Paul \'08||

    End the WoD.

  • Guy Montag||

  • ||

    Nearly two-thirds of those polled don't believe "aggressive entry tactics such as battering down doors, setting off flash-bang grenades, or conducting searches in the middle of the night" are appropriate tactics when the suspect is a nonviolent drug offender.


    Then clearly the answer is to label all drug offenders as "potentially violent" or "potentially armed". After all, a hit of crack or meth turns one into a lethal weapon don't cha know.

  • ||

    Then clearly the answer is to label all drug offenders as "potentially violent" or "potentially armed". After all, a hit of crack or meth turns one into a lethal weapon don't cha know.

    Cops aren't as tough as they used to be. That 125 lb crackhead could just take out two highly trained , physically fit cops if overwhelming force wasn't used. God knows, 92 year old women have been proven dangerous in Atkanta. I sometimes wonder if 21st century LEOs pee themselve on the roller coaster. They're afraid for their lives constantly. Barking dogs, old woman, children in bed... gotta do the paramilitary raids to "protect the officers".

    Fuckin' cowards.

  • ||

    The numbers are surprising. Nearly two-thirds of those polled don't believe "aggressive entry tactics such as battering down doors, setting off flash-bang grenades, or conducting searches in the middle of the night" are appropriate tactics when the suspect is a nonviolent drug offender.

    Your language leads me to believe that you are surprised the percentages are that high. Me, I am depressed the numbers are that low.

  • ||

    I don't know what can be said that hasn't already been said and documented by Radley and others.

    I am at least thankful for the internet, otherwise these egregious violations of liberty and human dignity would go unreported and unnoticed. Thanks for everyone eho is part of the solution and not part of the problem. That includes everyone here at H&R. You guys and gals are the bomb! Happy thanksgiving.

  • ||

    oops!

    eho=who

  • ||

    Your language leads me to believe that you are surprised the percentages are that high. Me, I am depressed the numbers are that low.

    I am both surprised the numbers are that high and depressed the numbers are that low.

  • ||

    Sickening, How can this be let happen.. The world is a horrible place, And America is making it worse every day

  • ||

    Yeah, I actually did expect the numbers to at least be slightly lower given all the anti-drug propaganda that's been pushed over the years.

    It's good to know that at least most people in this country know better...for now.

  • shezmu||

    Hmm, kinda pushes the case for privatized police departments when you think about it. A free market would eat overly aggressive police officers alive. Of course, I'm just thinking out loud here.

  • Guy Montag||

  • Egon||

    The world is a horrible place, And America is making it worse every day

    Don't let the door hit you on the way out, Paul.

  • rojo de verde||

    Public and privatized drug police forces should aggressively eat each other alive. By the way ...Blackwater is coming home. I hope that the K. Johnston case is the straw that breaks the back of a very evil camel.

  • ||

    "Don't let the door hit you on the way out."

    For you younger readers, this is a substitute for the old outrage of the Vietnam War, which was "America, love it or leave it". To which the standard response was "America, change it or loose it". And the counter to this was "Up yours".

    It is shocking how little we have progressed as a nation in the last 40 years. This is one of the reasons I am so glad to have split this pop stand.

  • Mary Neal||

    See http://wrongfuldeathoflarryneal.com

    News reports indicate that Ms. Johnston's family are being represented in their suit against Georgia police by The (Johnny) Cochran Firm. How can this be true, when the law office at 127 Peachtree Street, Atlanta, GA, widely advertised on TV and the Internet as being the Atlanta, GA office of The Cochran Firm, represented in Fulton Co. GA Superior Court that it is certainly NOT the Cochran Firm and has no affiliation with same? The judge therefore dismissed my family's fraud case against that devious law firm in May 2006. This means there is no Cochran Firm in GA. How can that same law firm go to the same court now in defense of Ms. Johnston's family? Seems that any law office that has had itself declared nonexistent by a superior court would have trouble going to that same venue a year later and flexing its muscles in anyone's behalf. What do you think?

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