Grenadiers blast fist-sized bombs through windows. Soldiers in unmarked, black uniforms swarm through the shards of a battered door, shooting people on reflex. This may be customary on the battlefield, but in your own home it’s an Orwellian nightmare. This is the War on Drugs, in which police officers have been replaced by SWAT teams. And, like any army, SWAT teams run the percentages. If you look like the enemy, you are the enemy. If you are holding something in your hand, it is likely a weapon, and so you will be shot. Regular police officers, affected by the SWAT mentality, are also carrying heavier weapons and a lighter concern for human life.
Baptized in blood
Police shot a family dog three times, splattering blood on the face of a two-week-old baby who was nursing at its mother’s breast in Abbotsford, BC, on January 3, 1999. There were 27 other children and parents there to witness the horrific deed. It was Ron Raber’s 7-year-old son’s birthday party. The police had a warrant to search the house for cannabis.
They blasted the door open with a hydraulic ram at about 5pm.
“They didn’t yell ‘police’ or anything,” said Chris Marchant, who was at the party. “They wore black SWAT uniforms. They came up the stairs with semi-automatics with flashlights clipped on them. They were screaming ‘get down!’ They pointed their flashlights at all the kids, which is to say they pointed their guns at all the kids.”
That is when, Marchant recalls, Raber’s dog, Kona, stepped between the officers and the children, then bit one officer by the arm of his jacket.
“The officer ripped his arm from the dog and stepped back, and the other officer stepped up and shot the dog. I saw the bullets go in one side of my friend and out the other. At that point we thought they were going to shoot all of us.”
A nursing baby and mother were splattered with blood. Witnesses say Raber was there to catch his dog as it fell over, emptying its veins onto the floor.
“The cop came over and kicked Ron in the back of the head while he was still cradling the dog in his arms,” says Marchant. “Ron flew threw the air and landed at the feet of his friends. The cop then came up and hit him with the butt of his rifle. Ron says, ‘You murderer, you shot my dog!’ And the cop says, ‘shut the fuck up Ron.’ The cop was lifting his combat boot four feet in the air and slamming it down on Ron’s head and neck.”
Ron Raber was later admitted to hospital, coughing up blood. When questioned by the media, police claimed ignorance as to the cause of Raber’s condition.
After the raid, Abbotsford Police Spokesperson Dale Cresswell used fear-mongering as a public-relations tool. Cresswell held a press conference where he stated that “marijuana, heroin, magic mushrooms and firearms” were found during the raid. These claims, repeated by the media, inflamed public response against the parents of children at the birthday party. The Province then printed many letters criticizing the parents for “having the kids there in the first place,” under the headline, “Parents should be arrested.” Rumours were spread on the internet that Raber had automatic weapons on the coffee table and crack cocaine lying in bags in the kitchen.
“Blue collar people are coming up to us in the mall and giving us shit and harassing us for having kids there,” said Chris Marchant.
Charges against Raber reveal that police are claiming Raber had only a tiny, personal amount of heroin and mushrooms in his home. There were no weapons charges at all laid against Raber. As the illegal possession of a firearm is considered even more serious than the possession of heroin in Canada, it is highly unusual that the police would not charge Raber? if he had such a weapon. Witnesses present at the raid knew of no such weapons.
Raber’s friend Jason Rowsom said that Raber owned a broken 22-calibre rifle. “It wasn’t even in the house,” says Rowsom. “Police took it in a previous raid and hadn’t returned it yet.”
Ron Raber’s friends do not contest that he sold small quantities of marijuana. “Ron does flog doobies,” says Chris Marchant, “but he does it to support himself. He’s disabled.”
Ron Raber is being held in Surrey pretrial until his pretrial appearance at the Abbotsford Provincial Court House on April 1. His trial date is set for May 6, and continues from May 10 to 12.
“Ron is devastated by the death of Kona,” explained Marchant. “When his wife left him he couldn’t sleep. The dog came in and slept beside him so that he could drift off. He got that dog for 2 eighths of weed.”
Guilt by Association
Perhaps people readily accept lies such as “Raber had automatic weapons,” or “Raber sold crack cocaine,” so as to make sense of police brutality. But police brutality is not reserved for a particular segment of society deemed especially offensive in some way. Anyone can be a target.
The same weekend that the Abbotsford cops were raiding Ron Raber’s home, the Edmonton police blasted through the door and window of a rooming house for the elderly, and cuffed Julia Johnson, 64. She was cuffed so tight that her hand swelled up and is now useless.
“She’s in shock right now,” said Ron Davies, Julia’s 65-year-old partner. “She can’t even move her fingers. They should never have tied her up.”
The landlord has threatened to evict the couple unless damages caused by police are fixed, even though police found no marijuana in Davies and Johnson’s residence.
“These people live in a building where this type of activity was going on,” said a police officer, after the raid, as though to explain the inestimable damage done to two more lives.
Also on the weekend, Vancouver narcs smashed down the door of another man’s home, because they thought he was growing marijuana. Their evidence? He was burning incense, had moisture on his windows, and bags of fertilizer in the front yard. Police found no marijuana whatsoever.
If the man had been holding a remote control when police broke down his door, it wouldn’t have mattered that the police were mistaken. He could easily have been shot by an overzealous cop trying to keep the streets safe from cannabis. The same tragedy could have occurred in Abbotsford, had some parent or child been playing with a toy gun when invaded by police. It’s happened more than once before?
Good cop, rotten cop
It was March 19, 1990, 10:20 pm, and David Glover was sitting in his Vancouver basement suite watching television. There was a knock at the door. Glover didn’t know it, but it was a group of cops with a warrant for marijuana.
“I opened the door and I heard ‘Po’ ? he fired ? then ‘lice’,” explained Glover. “I lay on the floor with blood oozing out of my mouth, shooting out of my chest, my guts spilling out on the floor. It looked like he was going to fire again. Finally, another police officer pushed the gun away and he stopped.”
The other officer, Constable Rod Boothe, did his best to stop the rivers of blood flowing from Glover’s body. The bullet had missed Glover’s heart by only an inch. While blood erupted and broke from his lips, Glover kept talking.
“I kept asking them, ‘why did you shoot me? I’ll probably die in a few minutes, please tell me why you shot me.’ And he [Constable Glen Magark] said, ‘I thought that TV converter in your hand was a weapon.'”
When that question was answered, Glover had another: “I asked ‘what was I shot with?’ and finally someone said a ‘9 mm automatic.'”
Later, Glover learned that the gun used to shoot him was an illegal calibre for regular RCMP. Although Magark was reprimanded for the shooting and the use of a 9mm, less than two years later he shot another man with the same gun.
David Glover is now suing the police, who had almost killed him for the less than 1 1/2 pounds of marijuana they found in his home.
Throughout the ordeal, Officer Rod Boothe stayed at Glover’s side, even to the operating table, literally holding Glover’s life in his hands.
Some officers, like Rod Boothe, are capable of wielding their powers with some compassion. But quick-triggered officers like Glen Magark are beginning to make their mark? defining a heartless, militaristic era of policing.
Shooting to kill
Another victim of trigger-happy pot-cops was Daniel Possee, who was also holding something in his hand when police burst through the door looking for pot.
22-year-old Possee was watching TV and drinking beer at a friend’s place in West Vancouver on May 12,1992. He and a friend were taking turns shooting a pellet gun at a mattress across the room.
Without identifying themselves, police burst through the unlocked door to search for marijuana. Within an instant, Daniel Possee had been shot to death. David Possee, Daniel’s father, remembers the police testimony about the shooting:
“Danny got shot around the shoulder-blade area.” says Possee. “The officer said it was to the right, but it was to the left. The officer said Danny turned and aimed the gun at his head. But by the positioning, there was absolutely no way that could have happened. We proved it. The police were very unprepared, very unprofessional. They thought they were going to kick some teenagers’ butts. An informant had told them that there was 2 and 1/2 pounds [of marijuana]in the home.”
Although no lawsuit followed Daniel Possee’s death, Daniel’s father still sees something good having come from the police killing of his son.
“I believe in fate,” says David Possee. “Danny got shot for a reason. The Opal Commission was a direct result. During the Opal Commission, a judge met with the police, communities, and different groups. Now, before the police get a search warrant signed, they have to draw up a plan of what they are going to do. In Danny’s case, five officers had different ideas of what they were going to do. One thought they were going to ram the door down. They had brought a ram with them. They went in without any clothing or identification saying who they were. Now they must wear clothing saying ‘police’, and a senior officer must sign to agree on a course of action? Danny died to make the streets safer.”
The recommendations of the Opal Commission may have made a difference to police policies in West Vancouver, but other police forces have not yet bothered to even consider similar improvements. Military-style police action becomes ever more the norm.
SWAT’ing house plants with hand-grenades
JP Martel, of Nanaimo, BC, hasn’t had it easy from the start. He’s missing his left hand and has had a broken back since 1993. He used a little marijuana to control the pain of the spinal surgeries he has suffered for the past four years, to “take the edge off” of the screws left behind to hold him together.
He even grew 10 marijuana plants, until the police got a warrant for his home and took them away in Spring of ’97, along with a registered gun, legally stored.
Martel didn’t expect police to come back. He wasn’t growing any more.
When police did come back, on Nov 12, 1997, they sent a SWAT team in black uniforms? unmarked, unidentified. They smashed in his door.
“They came in like idiots shooting concussion grenades everywhere,” says Martel. “I was downstairs and they shot me in the leg with one [grenade]? Purposely I think, because he made eye contact with me first. Then one [grenade was fired]upstairs. I was on the ground with my leg all blown apart. They held an M-16 to my head. They couldn’t put cuffs on me, because I don’t have a left hand. So the big guy [an officer]grabbed my arms and put his knee on my back and put his whole weight on it and popped a screw.” A screw that had been holding his spine together since 1993.
Police found no grow operation, only 80 grams of leaves, probably from his former garden. Still, Martel must suffer the consequences of police brutality.
“Now I have to go back for spinal surgery,” Martel says. “They were aware of my back condition. When they came six months before they knew what was going on. I want people to know that the police are very dangerous. I understand they have a lot of stress in their lives, and that they have a lot on their shoulders. But they should do an investigation before breaking down someone’s door.”
In Martel’s case, the police had been acting on an unsubstantiated rumour.
“An informant told them that I had 400 plants in the house,” asserts Martel. “Even if I did, there is no reason for them to come into the house like that. It’s not like I’m a terrorist or anything.”
Like David Glover and the parents at Raber’s party, JP Martel must sue the police to seek justice. In a society that protects the rich with a cash-driven legal system, rights and freedoms aren’t worth anything unless they protect a monetary loss.
Just like US
When police organizations lobby for increased drug war funding, they often claim that all marijuana operations are owned by bikers and mafia.
The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CAPC), when they met in Ottawa with Solicitor General Andy Scott in April of last year, asked for increased drug war funding to deal with “organized crime.” Yet bikers and mafia are rarely implicated in marijuana busts.
The CAPC also collaborated on the recent “Controlled Drugs and Substances Act” which allows police to seize the homes and other property of marijuana growers.
Most recently, the CAPC has been lobbying for more than just SWAT teams to maim and kill you and steal your home. They are pushing for the ability to keep the proceeds of the sale of your house to fund yet more drug-war atrocities. In the US, such laws have led police stations to commits rampant acts of abuse, blatantly destroying people’s lives for the price of a new squad car.
As the United States is on the cutting edge of the drug war, it provides us with an insight into Canada’s future if it should continue to follow the American example. In the US, SWAT teams are a matter of fact in almost every city, and authorities are pushing for even stronger uses of force.
American White House drug-war general, Barry McAffrey, complains that: “The biggest limitation, it seems to me, is our constitutional and political uneasiness with getting the armed forces involved in domestic law enforcement.”
McAffrey failed to mention that the military has been involved in the drug war since ordered into the battle by President Bush in 1989, despite a law against such action known as the “Posse Comitatus Act of 1878.”
McAffrey also failed to mention that American inner-city SWAT teams have become indistinguishable from military units, and have been furnished by the American Department of Defence with over 1.2 million pieces of military hardware between ’95 and ’97. The numbers of SWAT members in the US have swelled to over 30,000, and in some areas they have gone from being special-response teams to a regular, patrolling force.
The SWAT-team drug war is used to justify the same kind of racial oppression that existed in the early 1900’s, when drug laws were invented to vilify Chinese and blacks in Canada, and blacks and Hispanics in the US.
For a vision of where this kind of policing will bring us, reflect upon October 30, 1990, when a SWAT team descended upon the Martin Luther King Jr/Marcus Garvey Housing Cooperative in San Francisco. They came with assault rifles, shotguns, and concussion grenades to round up the predominantly black tenants. The SWAT team’s mandate? To scare a “drug gang” that was known to frequent the area.
Innocent citizens were dragged from bed, slapped and stepped on, while grandmothers were held with guns to their heads and children were handcuffed, peeing themselves in fear. Homes were ripped apart, and at one point a neighbourhood dog was dragged out in front of the crowds and shot in the head.
In the end, the raid netted only a pound of marijuana and four ounces of cocaine. Police also confiscated $4,000 that had been collected to pay for the funeral of a popular resident.
The drug war mentality leads police officers to believe that innocent citizens should be punished for “fraternizing with the enemy.”
After the raid, a narcotics officer named Kitt Crenshaw reflected, “I feel bad for the innocent women and children that were there, but in a way they do bear some responsibility for harbouring drug dealers.”
The raid on the housing cooperative is but one example of a general trend in the US, toward one style of policing for poor people, racial minorities, and members of the cannabis culture, and another style of policing for the upper classes.
As Canada moves toward a more American style of policing, members of the Cannabis Community need to take a role in defining themselves. Do we want to be herded into ghettos and shot on the street like dogs? Or will we find our voice and speak out against police brutality and fear mongering? You decide: help organize a rally, donate to the legal fund of one of the drug war’s many victims, or spread awareness, and you will be doing your part.
* David Possee, Daniel Possee’s father: (604) 418-5387; [email protected]