[OPINION] Who Will Protect You From The Police? The Rise of Government-Sanctioned Home Invasions

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John Whitehead

John Whitehead

By John W. Whitehead

“Democracy means that if the doorbell rings in the early hours, it is likely to be the milkman.”—Winston Churchill

It’s 3 a.m. You’ve been asleep for hours when suddenly you hear a loud “Crash! Bang! Boom!” Based on the yelling, shouting and mayhem, it sounds as if someone—or several someones—are breaking through your front door. With your heart racing and your stomach churning, all you can think about is keeping your family safe from the intruders who have invaded your home. You have mere seconds before the intruders make their way to your bedroom. Desperate to protect your loved ones, you scramble to lay hold of something—anything—that you might use in self-defense. It might be a flashlight, your son’s baseball bat, or that still unloaded gun you thought you’d never need. In a matter of seconds, the intruders are at your bedroom door. You brace for the confrontation, a shaky grip on your weapon. In the moments before you go down for the count, shot multiple times by the strangers who have invaded your home, you get a good look at your accosters. It’s the police.

Before I go any further, let me start by saying this: the problem is not that all police are bad. The problem, as I point out in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, is that increasing numbers of police officers are badly trained, illiterate when it comes to the Constitution, especially the Fourth Amendment, and, in some cases, willfully ignorant about the fact that they are supposed to be peacekeepers working for us, the taxpayer.

Unfortunately, with every passing week, we are hearing more and more horror stories in which homeowners are injured or killed simply because they mistook a SWAT team raid by police for a home invasion by criminals. Never mind that the unsuspecting homeowner, woken from sleep by the sounds of a violent entry, has no way of distinguishing between a home invasion by a criminal as opposed to a government agent. Too often, the destruction of life and property wrought by the police is no less horrifying than that carried out by criminal invaders.

Consider, for example, the sad scenario that played out when a SWAT team kicked open the door of ex-Marine Jose Guerena’s home during a drug raid and opened fire. Thinking his home was being invaded by criminals, Guerena told his wife and child to hide in a closet, grabbed a gun and waited in the hallway to confront the intruders. He never fired his weapon. In fact, the safety was still on his gun when he was killed. The SWAT officers, however, not as restrained, fired 70 rounds of ammunition at Guerena—23 of those bullets made contact. Guerena had had no prior criminal record, and the police found nothing illegal in his home.

Seven-year-old Aiyana Jones was sleeping on her living room sofa, which was positioned under a window, when suddenly, the silence of the night was shattered by a flash grenade thrown through the living room window, followed by the sounds of police bursting into the apartment and a gun going off. Rushing into the room, Aiyana’s father, Charles, found himself tackled by police and forced to lie on the floor, his face in a pool of his daughter’s blood. It would be hours before Charles would be informed that his daughter was dead. The 34-year-old suspect the police had been looking for would later be found elsewhere in the apartment building.

Then there was the time police used a battering ram to break into the home of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnson, mistakenly believing her house to be a drug den. Fearing that burglars were entering her home, which was situated in a dangerous neighborhood, Johnson fired a warning shot when the door burst open. Police unleashed a hail of gunfire, hitting Johnson with six bullets. Johnson died.

Eighty-year-old Eugene Mallory suffered a similar fate when deputies with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, claiming to have smelled chemicals related to the manufacture of methamphetamine, raided the multi-unit property in which Mallory lived. Thinking that his home was being invaded by burglars, Mallory allegedly raised a gun at the intruders, who shot him six times. Mallory died. “The lesson here,” observed the spokesman for the sheriff’s department, “is don’t pull a gun on a deputy.”

In Fort Worth, Texas, two rookie police officers sent to investigate a possible burglary circled 72-year-old Jerry Waller’s house with flashlights shining. Waller, concerned that his home was being cased, went to his garage, armed with a gun for self-defense. The two officers snuck up on Waller, who raised his gun on the intruders. When Waller failed to obey orders to lower his gun, the officers shot and killed him. It turned out the officers had gone to the wrong address. They blamed the shooting death on “poor lighting.”

During a raid in Ogden, Utah, police dressed in black and carrying assault rifles charged into a darkened home. Upon entering the hallway and encountering a man holding a shiny object that one officer thought was a sword, police opened fire. Three shots later, 45-year-old Todd Blair fell to the floor dead. In his hands was a shiny golf club.

In Sarasota, Florida, a mixture of federal and local police converged on the apartment complex where Louise Goldsberry lived after receiving a tip that a child rape suspect was in the complex. Unaware of police activity outside, Louise was washing dishes in her kitchen when a man wearing what appeared to be a hunting vest pointed a rifle at her through her window. Fearing that she was about to be attacked, Louise retrieved her revolver from her bedroom. Meanwhile, the man began pounding on Louise’s front door, saying, “We’re the f@#$ing police; open the f@#$ing door.” Identifying himself as a police officer, the rifle-wielding man then opened the door, pointed a gun at Goldsberry and her boyfriend, who was also present, and yelled, “Drop the f@#$ing gun or I’ll f@#$ing shoot you.” Ironically, the officer later justified his behavior on the grounds that he didn’t like having a gun pointed at him and because “I have to go home at night.”

These incidents underscore a dangerous mindset in which civilians (often unarmed and defenseless) not only have less rights than militarized police, but also one in which the safety of civilians is treated as a lower priority than the safety of their police counterparts (who are armed to the hilt with an array of lethal and nonlethal weapons), the privacy of civilians is negligible in the face of the government’s various missions, and the homes of civilians are no longer the refuge from government intrusion that they once were.

It wasn’t always this way, however. There was a time in America when a man’s home really was a sanctuary where he and his family could be safe and secure from the threat of invasion by government agents, who were held at bay by the dictates of the Fourth Amendment, which protects American citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures.

The Fourth Amendment, in turn, was added to the U.S. Constitution by colonists still smarting from the abuses they had been forced to endure while under British rule, among these home invasions by the military under the guise of writs of assistance. These writs were nothing less than open-ended royal documents which British soldiers used as a justification for barging into the homes of colonists and rifling through their belongings. James Otis, a renowned colonial attorney, “condemned writs of assistance because they were perpetual, universal (addressed to every officer and subject in the realm), and allowed anyone to conduct a search in violation of the essential principle of English liberty that a peaceable man’s house is his castle.” As Otis noted:

“Now, one of the most essential branches of English liberty is the freedom of one’s house. A man’s house is his castle; and whilst he is quiet, he is as well guarded as a prince in his castle. This writ, if it should be declared legal, would totally annihilate this privilege. Custom-house officers may enter our houses when they please; we are commanded to permit their entry. Their menial servants may enter, may break locks, bars, and everything in their way; and whether they break through malice or revenge, no man, no court can inquire. Bare suspicion without oath is sufficient.”

To our detriment, we have now come full circle, returning to a time before the American Revolution when government agents—with the blessing of the courts—could force their way into a citizen’s home, with seemingly little concern for lives lost and property damaged in the process.

Actually, we may be worse off today than our colonial ancestors when one considers the extent to which courts have sanctioned the use of no-knock raids by police SWAT teams (occurring at a rate of 70,000 to 80,000 a year and growing); the arsenal of lethal weapons available to local police agencies; the ease with which courts now dispense search warrants based often on little more than a suspicion of wrongdoing; and the inability of police to distinguish between reasonable suspicion and the higher standard of probable cause, the latter of which is required by the Constitution before any government official can search an individual or his property.

Indeed, if Winston Churchill is correct that “democracy means that if the doorbell rings in the early hours, it is likely to be the milkman,” then it’s safe to say that we no longer live in a democracy. Certainly not in a day and age when the Fourth Amendment, which was intended to protect us against the police state, especially home invasions by government agents, has been reduced to little more than words on paper.

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute and editor of GadflyOnline.com. His latest book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State (SelectBooks) is available online at www.amazon.com. He can be contacted at johnw@rutherford.org.


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18 comments for “[OPINION] Who Will Protect You From The Police? The Rise of Government-Sanctioned Home Invasions

  1. gvw3
    October 23, 2013 at 8:20 am

    I agree this is out of control. The same thing happened in my old neighborhood 35 years ago. Cop’s had the wrong address and killed the home owner.

    Maybe there should be a law that cop’s can’t fire until fired on.

  2. stein2010
    October 22, 2013 at 7:44 pm

    NO KNOCK warrants should be banned!

  3. Daniel L Cameron
    October 22, 2013 at 5:10 pm

    I have to wonder how much time the author spent actually talking to police officers? It doesn’t sound like he spent any!

  4. MuzzleHead Wayne
    October 22, 2013 at 11:58 am

    We have never lived in a democracy. We live in a Republic, it’s a big difference.

    • obloodyhell
      October 22, 2013 at 12:48 pm

      In the sense democracy is meant, we have lived in a democracy, and apparently no longer do so, thanks to the police.

      If 70k to 80k no-knock raids EACH YEAR doesn’t disturb you, there likely isn’t much.

      US Censis figures put the number of US Households at 114,800,000,
      so call it 115 million for a nice round number. That’s about 1 for every 1500 households. That’s not raids, that’s raids they BROKE INTO without warning.

      I’m finding it pretty difficult to believe that this is even vaguely justifiable for *ANY* array of purposes, since the only reason for it is to prevent the destruction of evidence in a crime already pretty well known.

      • MuzzleHead Wayne
        October 22, 2013 at 7:45 pm

        We live in a Republic. I have no idea what the hell you are going on about. I never said I agree with the raids, or the police state we live in. Actually I am opposed to both. I am only pointing out that according to our Constitution we are a republic.

      • Marshall Eubanks
        October 23, 2013 at 5:21 pm

        Jefferson (for example) used the words “democracy” and “republic” interchangeably.

        This distinction is artificial, modern, exists solely to make a political point (a rather naive one of little relevance, frankly), and has no bearing on the legal history of the nation.

      • MuzzleHead Wayne
        October 23, 2013 at 9:04 pm

        The distinction is neither artificial, modern or exists to make a political point. Perhaps the naïve one is the one that does not know the difference between the two. The key difference between a democracy and a republic lies in the limits placed on government by the law, which has implications on minority rights. Both forms of government tend to use a representational system where citizens vote to elect politicians to represent their interests and form the government. However, in a republic, a constitution or charter of rights protects certain inalienable rights that cannot be taken away by the government, even if it has been elected by a majority of voters. In a democracy, the majority is not restrained and can impose its will on the minority
        The distinction between our Republic and a democracy is not an idle one. It has great legal significance. The Constitution guarantees to every state a Republican form of government (Art. 4, Sec. 4). No state may join the United States unless it is a Republic. Our Republic is one dedicated to “liberty and justice for all.” Minority individual rights are the priority. The people have natural rights. The people are protected by the Bill of Rights from the majority. One vote in a jury can stop all of the majority from depriving any one of the people of his rights; this would not be so if the United States were a democracy. The founding fathers knew the differences between these two forms of Government and choose a Republic.

  5. Joe Davis
    October 22, 2013 at 8:37 am

    I don’t care if its the police or not, this is my home and I will defend it to the death. No difference between these cops and the criminals. You will still remain dead.

    • YouHanoiMe
      October 22, 2013 at 8:45 am

      Tea party nutjob. Stop scaring soccer moms at starbucks.

      • David Lef
        October 22, 2013 at 2:07 pm

        Your resorting to name calling is an obvious attempt t desperately hide the fact that you have no argument worth hearing.

    • obloodyhell
      October 22, 2013 at 12:51 pm

      Unfortunately, you are more likely to remain dead than they well. You might be lucky and get one, but only if you shoot first without warning. After that, their full-auto weapons are going to perforate your body many many times.

      Now doesn’t that make you feel all Warm and Fuzzy about your government?

      Just keep thinking:

      Warm.

      Mmmm. …

      Warm AND Fuzzy. :-S

      • bossmanham
        October 22, 2013 at 1:40 pm

        Problem is, it’s now impossible to differentiate between a raid by police and a raid by a criminal. Not that it matters a whole lot, given these police are acting criminally, but at least if you knew it was the cops you could lay down and wait for the smoke to clear.

      • David Lef
        October 22, 2013 at 2:05 pm

        Interesting statistic- You are 8 times more likely to be killed by a US law enforcement officer than by a terrorist.

  6. David Lef
    October 22, 2013 at 7:47 am

    Here’s the problem, those invaders crashing into your bedroom in the middle of the night, might just be home invaders pretending to be police. It is very, very common for home invaders to claim they are the police as they break in. So as for me, I KNOW I have broken no laws I will shoot first and ask questions later. Let’s hope they don’t screw up with a wrong address.

    • TomHorn1903
      October 22, 2013 at 8:11 am

      There will be blood. If mine, so be it; but I’ll be damned if I’ll just roll over since I’ve broken no laws.

  7. Unlicensed Dremel
    October 22, 2013 at 1:11 am

    But it’s much worse than as-described, because the cops almost never “knock and announce” as they’re supposed to….. That’s the key… They don’t want to so people won’t flush drugs….

    Time and time again, the police have been caught lying, when an innocent ends up dead like these stories, claiming “well, we knocked and announced, so they shoulda known” – then witnesses appear to contradict their stories. They don’t knock at all, and if they do announce, it’s just a single word, “Police”, while immediately knocking down the door – now if you’re in a deep sleep, what are you gonna hear, the word “police” from outside, or the 10-20 times louder sound of the door being knocked in?

    You were in the deepest sleep during the announce if there even was one. They should be required 100% of the time, to know, loudly announce police with megaphones 3 or 4 times, wait a minute, then come in when the door is answered – or bust it down if no one comes in – then us law abiding have a fighting chance to live, as we can wake up – since they always do these at 4 or 5 am.

    • obloodyhell
      October 22, 2013 at 12:53 pm

      But they’re describing NO KNOCK warrants here. They don’t even have to announce themselves.

      You’re supposed to roll over on your backside and present your belly to them, because you’re a well-trained poodle.

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