Many People Must Be Maimed or Killed Before We
End the Militarization of Our Police Forces?
By Kara Dansky
October 09, 2014 "ICH"
a grand jury in Habersham County, Georgia,
decided not to bring charges against the
police officers who threw a flashbang grenade
into the crib of Bounkham Phonesavanh, known
affectionately as "Baby Bou Bou." The explosion
left a hole in the then-19-month-old's chest,
exposing his rib, and almost ripped his nose
from his face.
could this happen? Combine systemic police
militarization, the war on drugs, and sloppy
police work, and you have the perfect recipe for
the Habersham County Special Response Team
executed a no-knock drug raid on the home of a
family friend where Baby Bou Bou, his parents,
and sisters were staying. It was the middle of
the night, and even though the family's minivan
was parked in the driveway and children's toys
were in the yard, a squad of SWAT officers
decided to throw a flashbang grenade into the
and looking like an invading army, the cops
broke down the door, terrorizing the entire
family. When Alecia, Baby Bou Bou's mother,
tried to go to him, they screamed at her to shut
up. They violently threw and pinned Bou, his
father, to the ground, injuring his shoulder so
badly he cannot take care of his children alone
anymore. Alecia and Bou did not see their son
until they arrived at the hospital several hours
they were able to see him, they were devastated.
explosion from the flashbang tore a hole in Bou
Bou's chest, separated his nose from his face,
and covered his body in third degree burns. His
injuries were so severe that doctors placed Bou
Bou in a medically induced coma.
the SWAT team was looking for no longer lived in
the house and was later arrested without
incident. There weren't any guns or drugs in the
home either. To add insult to injury, the county
refuses to pay the Phonesavanh's medical bills,
which now total $1 million,
claiming the law doesn't allow it.
Phonesavanh family, however, is not alone. SWAT
teams raid people's homes approximately 50,000
times a year in the United States. Most of these
raids are to search for drugs. Many of them
result in tragedy.
the police shot and killed a man in his home
raid to search for some marijuana. The
man had reported that he was fearful of being
burglarized and the police told him: "If
anyone breaks into this house, grab your gun and
shoot to kill." When he followed their
instructions, they killed him.
July, a St. Paul SWAT team
raided a home and killed the family dogs
in front of two young children. All they found
was some marijuana.
this month, the Georgia State Patrol
sent a helicopter and a K-9 Unit to a
man's home in search of what they thought was
marijuana. It turned out to be okra.
pointed out in our report,
War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization
of American Policing, police
militarization is real. And it can be deadly.
America watched in horror as law enforcement
responded to the peaceful protests in Ferguson,
Missouri, as though they were an invading army.
They threatened to kill peaceful protesters.
They pointed assault rifles at people exercising
their right to peaceably assemble. They jailed
suggested that the answer is better
training. Training will help, but it is not an
answer to the very real and very entrenched
problem of police militarization.
enforcement agencies have been aggressively
using military weapons and tactics in
communities of color for decades, mostly for the
purpose of waging the failed and wasteful War on
Drugs. They have been able to do so largely
courtesy of the federal government, which
funnels billions of dollars' worth of funding
and equipment to state and local law enforcement
agencies – equipment that was designed for
Habersham County, where the flashbang exploded
in Baby Bou Bou's crib, has received at least 17
assault rifles, 13 automatic pistols, two
utility trucks, and an armored personnel carrier
from the federal government in the last 10 years
alone. When the police use combat weaponry to
serve drug warrants and respond to peaceful
protests, they do so knowing that they are using
weapons and tactics designed for war against
their own citizens.
happened to Baby Bou Bou is not a rare
occurrence, and neither is the lack of
accountability for the police officers who
altered his life forever. It's the price our
communities pay – young and old,
disproportionately black and brown – when police
believe they are counterinsurgents waging the
War on Drugs, and Uncle Sam arms them that way.
It is time
to end police militarization. Not only through
improved training, but through an end to the
federal programs that fuel it and a shift in how
the police view the communities they're meant to
protect and serve.
- Our communities
are not warzones -
Kara Dansky, is Senior Counsel, ACLU
Center for Justice