My post about the Lima, Ohio SWAT team’s shooting of of Tarika Wilson and her infant son drew an angry comment from Kevin P:
Ok, First of all i would say who the fuck are you to tell them how to handle things. When you become part of the SWAT let me see how you react. I bet you have no clue how that even works do you? Do you know how hard they train. Lets keep it this way, I live over in New Jersey, And i am only 15. We go up to camden and also pennsauken, to play at a real SWAT house. This house is used for every Kind of Law Enforcement Agency. Now remember we are just playing paintball, but being traied by an Ex-Navy Seal. But do you know how your heart beats around every corner you go. I don’t think you relize what exactly goes on do you. They are pretty much trained to not shoot untill they see movement. Now if were in the swat and you were called out to go to this house, And your the point-man In the stack(If you Even now what that means) And im coming around the corner now all of a sudden someone pops out in front of you. Ohh yea are you just going to let them walk right by??? When your in there it is a whole diffrent world. How do you know that Anothny Terry didn’t have a gun. Do you know that bullets can go through walls, well if u did. Did yo ever come to think that the kid was hit by axident. What do you think thier going to be perfect?? Well anyway i just wanted to give you a little example and next time you should think twice bud. Remember Im Only 15 To!
The paintball exercises in the SWAT house sound really cool. I never got to do stuff like that.
Now let me address a few of your points…
First of all, I’m an opinionated blogger, that’s who the fuck I am. Welcome to the blogosphere.
I’m sure you know more about SWAT tactics than I do. (Folks, that’s not snark: Wargames are a fantastic learning tool, and I think paintball is about as realistic as it gets for close combat.) However, I know a thing or two about firearms safety and the ethics of deadly force.
As a general rule, except for open warfare, you are responsible for what you shoot. Whoever shot Tarika Wilson didn’t identify his target properly, or handled his weapon poorly and had an accidental discharge, or (to adopt your scenario) shot through a wall because he wasn’t paying attention to his backstop when he pulled the trigger, or…something else bad, because it’s an undeniable fact that a member of the SWAT team shot a finger off a baby and killed its mother. That can’t be right. It was almost certainly an accident, and it may have even been an excusable accident, but you can’t deny that it was a bad outcome.
(I don’t know what kind of SWAT scenarios you run through, but don’t you lose points or something if you shoot a hostage or an innocent bystander?)
Like all men under arms, a SWAT team exists to serve a political goal: Promoting law and order. However, the shooter was white and the victim was black, which has increased racial tensions in Lima. Hundreds of people have marched through the street and outside the police station. Thankfully, the unrest hasn’t turned violent.
I think the SWAT team has been stood down while the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation is investigating the incident. The Ohio Attorney General’s office is observing the situation, and a special prosecutor has been appointed. The FBI has also begun an investigation of possible civil rights violations.
The Lima SWAT team may have succeeded in their mission—the capture of Anthony Terry—but in terms of the larger goals of the Lima police department and the city government, this was a disaster.
As for the hypothesis that Anthony Terry had a gun, I think we can dismiss it. Here in Chicago the police shoot people all the time, and they usually announce within hours if the offender had a gun. Two weeks have gone by since the Lima shooting, and nobody in the police department or the city government has said anything about Terry having a gun.
I was pretty angry when I wrote that original post, so I should make it clear that my anger isn’t directed at the individual member of the Lima SWAT team who pulled the trigger. Something definitely went wrong that day in Wilson’s house, but I have no idea what, and it may not have been his fault. Unless he’s a psychopath, I’m sure he feels terrible about the shooting. His life will never be the same again.
My objection is not about SWAT tactics, it’s about the SWAT mission. The original purpose of SWAT teams was to handle violent situations that were beyond the capabilities of a few cops in patrol cars, especially barricade and hostage situations. That was a great idea, and SWAT teams have worked out well handling tough problems like that.
But police departments have increasingly begun to use SWAT-like tactics for a far less vital purpose: Gathering evidence in the war on drugs. The armed dynamic entry into a home is not intended to keep police officers safe, it’s intended to prevent the occupants from destroying evidence.
In New York, drug cops don’t like to use the main SWAT team for arrests because they move too slowly and carefully to preserve all the evidence, so they have their own dynamic entry teams that work faster.
If all police wanted to do was arrest someone, there are much safer ways. A friend of mine was arrested (falsely) a little while ago. Despite a witness saying he had a gun, when the police came for him, they didn’t throw stun grenades and crash through his door. A handful of ordinary cops just grabbed him when he came out of the house. That’s because you can’t flush a gun down a toilet.
The FBI Hostage Rescue Team is probably the finest SWAT team in the world. But when the FBI went to arrest the Unabomber—the most wanted man in America—a couple of federal law enforcement officers just walked up to his cabin, lured him outside with a ruse, and put the cuffs on. Because he had no way to get rid of the evidence.
But when police needed to collect drug evidence from a home filled with children, we’re supposed to believe they went in hard and fast because it’s safer that way? I call bullshit.
As for how much training SWAT teams do and the heart-pounding stress of being on a mission, that just makes my point. SWAT work is difficult and demanding and filled with risk. All the more reason to avoid SWAT raids for any purpose other than saving lives.
SWAT teams were originally formed for the purpose of bringing violent confrontations to a close, but increasingly they are used to start violent confrontations for the purpose of stopping victimles drug crimes, and the results are often tragic.