Police Abuse

When Drug Warriors Burn a Baby, Who's the Terrorist?

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WSB-TV

Habersham County, Georgia, Sheriff Joey Terrell feels bad that his deputies horribly burned a toddler by tossing a "distraction device" (a.k.a. a "flash bang" grenade) into the playpen where he was sleeping during a drug raid on Wednesday morning. "The baby didn't deserve this," Terrell concedes in an interview with AccessNorthGa.com. "The family didn't deserve this. This family was displaced from another home down here and apparently just moved in." If his deputies had known there were children in the home, he says, they would not have used the grenade. But given what they knew, Terrell insists, they acted appropriately:

We keep asking ourselves, "How did this happen?" No one can answer that. You can't answer that. You try and do everything right. Bad things can happen. That's just the world we live in. Bad things happen to good people. 

But it turns out Terrell does have an answer:

The person I blame in this whole thing is the person selling the drugs. Wanis Thonetheva, that's the person I blame in all this. They are no better than a domestic terrorist, because they don't care about families—they didn't care about the family, the children living in that household—to be selling dope out of it, to be selling methamphetamine out of it. All they care about is making money. 

They don't care about what it does to families. It's domestic terrorism, and I think we should treat them as such. I don't know where we can go with that, but that's my feelings on it. It just makes me so angry! I get so mad that they don't care about what they do. They don't care about the families or the people they're selling to.

It makes me angry too, but in a different way. It makes me angry that Terrell thinks violence is an appropriate response to consensual transactions in which someone exchanges methamphetamine for money (provided that person is not a pharmacist and his customer is not a patient with a prescription). It makes me angry that Terrell sees nothing wrong with sending a heavily armed SWAT team into an alleged meth dealer's home in the middle of the night, which inevitably endangers not only the dealer but anyone else who happens to be there. In Terrell's mind, that is not an act of aggression. It was Wanis Thonetheva who attacked first by agreeing to sell speed to people who wanted it. Hence Thonetheva is a "domestic terrorist," harming an innocent child because all he cares about is making money.

Terrorists, of course, are usually motivated by politics rather than greed. And it was not Thonetheva who sent Alecia Phonesavanh's 19-month-old son, Bounkham, to the hospital with severe burns. One of Terrell's deputies did that, in service of a political ideology that says people may not alter their consciousness in ways that are not approved by the government. "He is in a medically induced coma and he is paralyzed," Phonesavanh told WSB-TV, the ABC affiliate in Atlanta. "I hope he's not going to remember this. I know his sisters, his mommy, and his daddy will never forget this. Our kids have been through enough this year. This is just more trauma that they didn't need, and I just wish there was something better I could do to make it better for him. Wrong place, wrong time."

That place is America, and that time is a period during which police believe it is their duty to launch military-style assaults on civilians who sell politically incorrect drugs, knowing full well that there is bound to be "collateral damage" like this from time to time. After Bounkham recovers from the injuries inflicted by his government and becomes old enough to ask what happened that night, is there any explanation that will make sense to him?