War on Drugs

The Drug Raid Paradox


Police in Jackson, Mississippi raided a suspected drug dealer last week. The raid degenerated into a shootout while the suspect's girlfriend and her five-year-old daughter huddled in a bedroom. While it appears the raid was on the correct house, and the suspect himself is a legitimately scary dude, the shootout only reinforces a point I made after the Lima, Ohio raid earlier this month that killed a mother of six and wounded a one-year-old boy: Why create violence if it isn't necessary? Couldn't Jackson police have apprehended "Poo" Jones as he was coming or going?

Here's their explanation:

The police showed up at Jones' house about 3:30 a.m., armed with a search warrant allowing them to look for drugs.

Police said they often choose middle-of-the-night raids so they can safely "catch 'em sleeping."

That's immediately followed by…

When the police entered Jones' house, they clearly identified themselves, Sampson said.

Which is when Jones, according to police, came out of the short hallway that leads to the bedrooms and fired at them with a .45-caliber handgun.

If the purpose was to catch a dangerous criminal while he was sleeping, why would police clearly identify themselves upon entering?

This is a common refrain from police in drug raids that turn into shootouts—be it with actual criminals, or with innocent people whose homes were wrongly raided. The middle-of-the-night timing, concussion grenades, and door-busting tactics are necessary, we're told, to catch dangerous people by surprise. But when surprised suspects then mistake police for intruding criminals, we're told that the suspects had to have known the intruders were police. Put another way, we're told these tactics are necessary to bewilder and confuse, but when people say they were genuinely bewildered and confused, we're told to assume they're lying. Should police find actual drugs in the home, no matter how small an amount (see Cory Maye), you can forget about the "I didn't know" defense entirely.

By the same token, when police mistakenly shoot unarmed people in these raids, they're generally forgiven, due, they say, to the inherent volatility and dangerous nature of the raids.

Paradoxes and double standards abound.

Also, no word on whether Jackson' crazy-ass mayor went along on this particular raid.