There’s been a great deal of debate floating around the libertarian blogosphere about the elderly woman shot and killed by Atlanta SWAT police while they executed a search warrant. Kip addressed one underlying issue that I agree shouldn’t be lost in the discussion. It’s easy enough to pontificate like a Monday Morning Quarterback, but it’s entirely different to face down the gun of an armed woman. It doesn’t matter that she’s elderly, and likely innocent of any alleged drug-related crimes that brought police to her home. As Kip said, if someone shoots, you shoot back. There may be procedural flaws in the SWAT raid, or even the warrant process, but the default assumption should be that the police did their jobs. With the woman’s death, there should be an investigation, but we must remember that, like the woman, the officers are innocent until proven guilty.
That said, I have the same problem many have with raids like this. I don’t think we’re dealing with an “epidemic” of botched SWAT raids, but even one is too many. And creating a scenario that will result in death and destruction, as SWAT raids are necessarily violent, is stupid beyond belief. The simplified solution is to knock on the door and let the suspect answer.
I know this is a bit too simplistic. Kip’s assertion, and I think I’m summarizing it correctly from his past entries, is that any right to the home’s sanctity does not include the right to flush the evidence when the police arrive. This makes sense. If an activity or item deserves to be illegal, the government has a legitimate interest in eliminating it and prosecuting those who violate the law. Hence, drugs are illegal and if police reasonably suspect drug possession, then serving a warrant is appropriate.
I don’t believe drugs fall into the scope of legitimate, at any quantity, though. I’ve said in the past that I think drugs should be legal. Of course, if they were legal, usage in my household would not change. I’ve never used drugs, and I don’t intend to, legal or not. They’re not right for me, but I don’t pretend to know what recreation (or addiction) is right for anyone else. Legalize and let’s move on.
I like to be realistic, so I know that’s not going to happen soon. In the context of drug raids gone wrong, there can be a middle ground, I think. Rather than pursuing eradication, decriminalize possession. Even if there’s a specific threshold, as exists today, it can only help the situation. If the police find a few seeds in the trash, how likely are they to conduct a SWAT raid to prevent flushing the evidence? If they knock and wait for suspects to answer the door, there is still a point at which the police are entitled to force entry. If a reasonable person could assume someone’s home and being uncooperative, for example. (Assumptions, probably based on too many cop shows. Definitely with risky loopholes. But plausible. Correct me if I’m wrong.)
Of course, there are consequences to any change in policy. Where would the police change tactics? What would politicians want to see, since they have a thriving need to be tough on crime at the expense of justice and common sense? Is there some additional legislative limit that could be placed on prosecuting distribution? I don’t know. I concede that there are flaws in this, both known and unknown. Unlike some demands, I wouldn’t do something just to do something. Appearances don’t help. See: PATRIOT Act. But there has to be a better way than knocking down doors and creating situations in which violence is likely.