In February of last year, video surfaced of a marijuana raid in Columbia, Mo. During the raid on Jonathan Whitworth and his family, police took down the door with a battering ram, then within seconds shot and killed one of Whitworth’s dogs and wounded the other. They didn’t find enough pot in the house to charge Whitworth with even a misdemeanor. (He was, however, charged with misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia when police found a pipe.) The disturbing video went viral in May 2010, triggering outrage around the world. On Fox News, conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer and Bill O’Reilly cautioned not to judge the entire drug war by the video, which they characterized as an isolated incident.
In fact, very little about the raid that was isolated or unusual. For the most part, it was carried out the same way drug warrants are served some 150 times per day in the United States. The battering ram, the execution of Whitworth’s dog, the fact that police weren’t aware Whitworth’s 7-year-old child was in the home before they riddled the place with bullets, the fact that they found only a small amount of pot, likely for personal use — all are common in drug raids. The only thing unusual was that the raid was recorded by police, then released to the public after an open records request by the Columbia Daily Tribune. It was as if much of the country was seeing for the first time the violence with which the drug war is actually fought. And they didn’t like what they saw.
That video came to mind with the outrage and public debate over the now-infamous pepper-spraying of Occupy protesters at the University of California-Davis protest earlier this month. The incident was just one of a number of high-profile uses of force amid crackdowns on Occupy protesters across the country, including one in Oakland in which the skull of Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen was fractured by a tear gas canister, and in New York, where NYPD Officer Anthony Bologna pepper-sprayed protesters who had been penned in by police fencing.
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