Sunday, July 26, 2015

Violent Raids in Iraq and Virginia

Alex Horton was an infantryman in Iraq, where he participated in his share of violent raids on Iraqi homes. Many of which, he is now convinced, did more harm than good.
In one instance in Baghdad, a stray round landed in a compound that our unit was building. An overzealous officer decided that we were under attack and ordered machine guns and grenade launchers to shoot at distant rooftops. A row of buildings caught fire, and we left our compound on foot, seeking to capture any injured fighters by entering structures choked with flames.

Instead, we found a man frantically pulling his furniture out of his house. “Thank you for your security!” he yelled in perfect English. He pointed to the billowing smoke. “This is what you call security?”

We didn’t find any insurgents. There weren’t any. But it was easy to imagine that we forged some in that fire.
Now Horton lives in Virginia, where police burst into his apartment one morning, guns pointed at his head. It was a simple mix-up; emergency repairs were being made to his apartment, so the superintendent put him in a vacant unit, without telling the neighbors, who then reported a squatter to the police.
When I later visited the Fairfax County police station to gather details about what went wrong, I met the shift commander, Lt. Erik Rhoads. I asked why his officers hadn’t contacted management before they raided the apartment. Why did they classify the incident as a forced entry, when the information they had suggested something innocuous? Why not evaluate the situation before escalating it?

Rhoads defended the procedure, calling the officers’ actions “on point.” It’s not standard to conduct investigations beforehand because that delays the apprehension of suspects, he told me.

I noted that the officers could have sought information from the apartment complex’s security guard that would have resolved the matter without violence. But he played down the importance of such information: “It doesn’t matter whatsoever what was said or not said at the security booth.”

This is where Rhoads is wrong. We’ve seen this troubling approach to law enforcement nationwide, in militarized police responses to nonviolent protesters and in fatal police shootings of unarmed citizens. The culture that encourages police officers to engage their weapons before gathering information promotes the mind-set that nothing, including citizen safety, is more important than officers’ personal security. That approach has caused public trust in law enforcement to deteriorate.
Yes. Shoot first, ask questions later is exactly the wrong response for police to take, no matter where they are. Ignorant violence is never the right response to anything.


Shadow said...


A conflation of the drug war and 300 million plus guns. We did it to ourselves.

G. Verloren said...

Plus government programs that incentivize the literal militarization of the police, selling surplus military hardware to police forces at a pittance or giving it away for free...

Plus a profit-driven prison system which incentivizes packing as many people into cells as possible...

Plus municipal budgetings that underfunds the police but leaves them loopholes to aggresively pursue the issuance of exorbitant public fines to make up the difference...

Plus good old fashioned corruption, racism, and authoritarianism, which are all quietly (and in many cases not so quietly) alive and well...