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The Mindset Responsible For Turning SWAT Teams Into Death Squads

SWAT team

This article comes from

by John W. Whitehead

A government which will turn its tanks upon its people, for any reason, is a government with a taste of blood and a thirst for power and must either be smartly rebuked, or blindly obeyed in deadly fear.John Salter

How many children, old people, and law-abiding citizens have to be injured, terrorized or killed before we call a halt to the growing rash of police violence that is wracking the country? How many family pets have to be gunned down in cold blood by marauding SWAT teams before we declare such tactics off limits? And how many communities have to be transformed into military outposts, complete with heavily armed police, military tanks, and “safety” checkpoints before we draw that line in the sand that says “not in our town”?

The latest incident comes out of Atlanta, Georgia, where a SWAT team, attempting to execute a no-knock drug warrant in the middle of the night, launched a flash bang grenade into the targeted home, only to have it land in a crib where a 19-month-old baby lay sleeping. The grenade exploded in the baby’s face, burning his face, lacerating his chest, and leaving him paralyzed. He is currently in the hospital in a medically induced coma.

If this were the first instance of police overkill, if it were even the fifth, there might be hope of reforming our system of law enforcement. But what happened to this baby, whose life will never be the same, has become par for the course in a society that glorifies violence, turns a blind eye to government wrongdoing, and sanctions any act by law enforcement, no matter how misguided or wrong. Indeed, as I detail in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, this state-sponsored violence is a necessary ingredient in any totalitarian regime to ensure a compliant, cowed and fearful populace.

Thus, each time we as a rational, reasoning, free-minded people fail to be outraged by government wrongdoing—whether it’s the SWAT team raids that go awry, the senseless shootings of unarmed citizens, the stockpiling of military weapons and ammunition by government agencies (including small-town police), the unapologetic misuse of our taxpayer dollars for graft and pork, the incarceration of our fellow citizens in forced labor prisons, etc.—we become accomplices in bringing about our own downfall.

There’s certainly no shortage of things to be outraged about, starting with this dangerous mindset that has come to dominate law enforcement and the courts that protecting the lives and safety of police officers (of all stripes) is more important than the lives and safety of the citizenry. This is true even if it means that greater numbers of innocent civilians will get hurt or killed (police kill roughly five times more often than they are killed), police might become laws unto themselves, and the Constitution will be sidestepped, or worse disregarded, at every turn.

For example, where was the outrage when a Minnesota SWAT team raided the wrong house in the middle of the night, handcuffed the three young children, held the mother on the floor at gunpoint, shot the family dog, and then “forced the handcuffed children to sit next to the carcass of their dead pet and bloody pet for more than an hour” while they searched the home?

Or what about the SWAT team that drove an armored Lenco Bearcat into Roger Serrato’s yard, surrounded his home with paramilitary troops wearing face masks, threw a fire-starting flashbang grenade into the house in order, then when Serrato appeared at a window, unarmed and wearing only his shorts, held him at bay with rifles? Serrato died of asphyxiation from being trapped in the flame-filled house, and the county was ordered to pay $2.6 million to Serrato’s family. It turns out the father of four had done nothing wrong; the SWAT team had misidentified him as someone involved in a shooting. Even so, the police admitted no wrongdoing.

And then there was the police officer who tripped and “accidentally” shot and killed Eurie Stamps, who had been forced to the floor of his home at gunpoint while a SWAT team attempted to execute a search warrant against his stepson. Equally outrageous was the recent four-hour SWAT team raid on a California high school, where students were locked down in classrooms, forced to urinate in overturned desks and generally terrorized by heavily armed, masked gunmen searching for possible weapons that were never found.

The problem with all of these incidents, as one reporter rightly concluded, is “not that life has gotten that much more dangerous, it’s that authorities have chosen to respond to even innocent situations as if they were in a warzone.”

This battlefield mindset has so corrupted our law enforcement agencies that the most routine tasks, such as serving a search warrant—intended to uncover evidence of a suspected crime—becomes a death warrant for the alleged “suspect,” his family members and his pets once a SWAT team, trained to kill, is involved.

Unfortunately, SWAT teams are no longer reserved exclusively for deadly situations. Owing to the militarization of the nation’s police forces, SWAT teams are now increasingly being deployed for relatively routine police matters, with some SWAT teams being sent out as much as five times a day. For example, police in both Baltimore and Dallas have used SWAT teams to bust up poker games. A Connecticut SWAT team was sent into a bar that was believed to be serving alcohol to underage individuals. In Arizona, a SWAT team was used to break up an alleged cockfighting ring. An Atlanta SWAT team raided a music studio, allegedly out of a concern that it might have been involved in illegal music piracy.

Yet the tension inherent in most civilian-police encounter these days can’t be blamed exclusively on law enforcement’s growing reliance on SWAT teams. It goes far deeper, to a transformation in the way police view themselves and their line of duty. Specifically, what we’re dealing with today is a skewed shoot-to-kill mindset in which police, trained to view themselves as warriors or soldiers in a war, whether against drugs, or terror, or crime, must “get” the bad guys—i.e., anyone who is a potential target—before the bad guys get them. The result is a spike in the number of incidents in which police shoot first, and ask questions later.

Who could forget what happened to 13-year-old Andy Lopez? The teenager was shot seven times and killed after two sheriff’s deputies, a mere 20 feet away, saw him carrying a toy BB gun in public.

Then there was the time two Cleveland police officers mistook the sounds of a backfiring car for gunfire and immediately began pursuing the car and its two occupants. Within 20 minutes, more than 60 police cars, some unmarked, and 115 officers had joined the pursuit, which ended in a middle school parking lot with more than 140 bullets fired by police in less than 30 seconds. The “suspects”—dead from countless bullet wounds—were unarmed.

Miriam Carey’s family still can’t get past the shock of her death. Police in Washington, DC, shot and killed the 34-year-old woman after she collided with a barrier leading to the White House, then fled when pursued by a phalanx of gun-wielding police and cop cars. Carey’s 1-year-old daughter was in the backseat. Seventeen gun shots later, Carey was dead and her toddler motherless.

Just as troubling as this “shoot first, ask questions later” mindset is what investigative journalist Katie Rucke uncovered about how police are being trained to use force without hesitation and report their shootings in such a way as to legally justify a shot. Rucke reports the findings of one concerned citizen, “Jack,” who went undercover in order to attend 24 hours of law enforcement training classes organized by the private, for-profit law enforcement training organization Calibre Press.

“Jack says it was troubling to witness hundreds of SWAT team officers and supervisors who seemed unfazed by being instructed to not hesitate when it comes to using excessive, and even deadly, force,” writes Rucke. “‘From my personal experience, these trainers consistently promote more aggression and criticize hesitation to use force,’ Jack said. ‘They argue that the risk of making a mistake is worth it to absolutely minimize risk to the officer. And they teach officers how to use the law to minimize legal repercussions in almost any scenario. All this is, of course, done behind the scenes, with no oversight from police administrators, much less the public.’”

Rucke continues:

According to the learning materials, … there isn’t time for logic and analysis, encouraging officers to fire multiple rounds at subjects because “two shots rarely stops ‘em,” and outlines seven reasons why “excessive use of force” is a myth. Other lessons Jack learned from the “Anatomy of Force Incidents” training in January include a need to over-analyze one’s environment for deadly threats by using one’s imagination to create “targets of the day” who could be “reasonably” shot, to view racial profiling as a legitimate policing technique, even if the person is a child, pregnant woman or elderly person, and to use the law to one’s advantage to avoid culpability.

What we’re dealing with is what author Kristian Williams describes as the dual myths of heroism and danger: “The overblown image of police heroism, and the ‘obsession’ with officer safety, do not only serve to justify police violence after the fact; by providing such justification, they legitimize violence, and thus make it more likely.”

If ever there were a time to de-militarize and de-weaponize police forces, it’s now, starting at the local level, with local governments and citizens reining in local police. The same goes for scaling back on the mindset adopted by cops that they are the law and should be revered, feared and obeyed.

Police have been insulated from accusations of wrongdoing for too long and allowed to operate in an environment in which whatever a cop says, goes. The current practice is to let the police deal with these transgressions internally by suspending the officer involved with administrative pay, dragging out the investigation until the public forgets about the incident, and then eventually declaring the shooting incident justified based on the officer’s fear for his safety, and allowing him to go back to work as usual. And if, on the off chance, a shooting incident goes before the courts, the judiciary defers to police authority in almost all instances. Just recently, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that police officers who used deadly force to terminate a car chase were immune from a lawsuit. The officers were accused of needlessly resorting to deadly force by shooting multiple times at a man and his passenger in a stopped car, killing both individuals.

Meanwhile, the epidemic of police violence continues to escalate while fear of the police increases and the police state, with all its surveillance gear and military weaponry, expands around us.

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. He is the author of A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State and The Change Manifesto.





  1. Looks like the Government is trying to turn it’s citizens into Domestic Terrorists.
    That is what they will be called if they ever should decide to fight back against these offenses.

  2. Like Dennis Marx yesterday, he was going down on over 11 unconstitutional charges. Swat happened to just be in route 30 seconds away? Police admitted right after this happened that he had not been in his home for the last 10 days. He was being watched to the end, especially being over an hour late.
    No accidents where gov’t is involved, I believe one founding father stated.

  3. There are exceptions.

    I’m in a mid-sized city in the US and, while the police department is as brutal as others haved described, especially to minorities, the sheriff’s department continues to behave like PEACE OFFICERS.

    A Peace Officer is an archaic term describing the street cop as one who settles disputes, assists with citizen problems, and otherwise by simple talk and negotiation between two disagreeing parties arrives at a fair and equitable solution. In three disagreements, all involving a minority or minority group. a deputy has presided and brought all parties to an agreeable solution. No violence, no arrestss, no major upset, just a quiet peaceful resolution.

    A Peace Officer is an honorable title for these people.

    I strongly support my local sheriff’s department where Peace Officer seems to be part of the department protocol.


  4. What it comes down to is do YOU believe in our Constitutional Republic, the US Constitution and each state’s Constitution?

    If YOU do, then you have to;

    1) Know it, what it ALLOWS those who serve within our governments to do per the contract – and personal guarantee that they will keep that contract as written (Oath) – they agreed to in order to occupy the position or office they are in – elected, paid, training, contractual; PT, FT, or flextime as all are REQUIRED to take AND KEEP that Oath and the contract.

    2) Enforce it as the US Constitution REQUIRES of us – Militia of the several states.

    3) Teach those who are LE’s, etc that they have no legitimate authority once that Oath & contract is broken.

    4) Call, and make known when things are corrupt and Ex post facto is used against the people. Example, New York when they changed the gun laws and then went out and punished (or tried to) those who had done or owned things lawfully from before (Not that it was ever lawful to modify in ANY way the 2nd amendment protections FROM those who serve within government.

    Ex post facto: Latin for “from a thing done afterward.” Ex post facto is most typically used to refer to a criminal law that applies retroactively, thereby criminalizing conduct that was legal when originally performed. Two clauses in the US Constitution prohibit ex post facto laws: Art 1, § 9 and Art. 1 § 10. see, e.g. Collins v. Youngblood, 497 US 37 (1990) and California Dep’t of Corrections v. Morales, 514 US 499 (1995).
    [Latin, “After-the-fact” laws.] Laws that provide for the infliction of punishment upon a person for some prior act that, at the time it was committed, was not illegal.
    Ex post facto laws retroactively change the rules of evidence in a criminal case, retroactively alter the definition of a crime, retroactively increase the punishment for a criminal act, or punish conduct that was legal when committed. They are prohibited by Article I, Section 10, Clause 1, of the U.S. Constitution. An ex post facto law is considered a hallmark of tyranny because it deprives people of a sense of what behavior will or will not be punished and allows for random punishment at the whim of those in power.

    The desire to thwart abuses of power before they came up is why the Framers of the Constitution prohibited bills of attainder (laws that inflict punishment on named individuals or on easily ascertainable members of a group without the benefit of a trial). Both ex post facto laws and bills of attainder deprive those subject to them of due process of law; of being notified of, and given an opportunity to be heard before being deprived of life, liberty, or property (guns are also property, as is your car, etc).

    Alexander Hamilton observed, “It is easy for men… to be zealous advocates for the rights of the citizens when they are invaded by others, and as soon as they have it in their power, to become the invaders themselves.”

    Alexander Hamilton, New York convention: “I maintain that the word supreme imports no more than this – that the Constitution, and laws made in pursuance thereof, cannot be controlled or defeated by any other law. The acts of the United States, therefore, will be absolutely obligatory as to all the proper objects and powers of the general government…but the laws of Congress are restricted to a certain sphere, and when they depart from this sphere, they are no longer supreme or binding”.

    Federalist 33, Hamilton additionally pointed out: “It will not, I presume, have escaped observation that it expressly confines this supremacy to laws made pursuant to the Constitution….”.

    Thomas McKean, Pennsylvania convention: “The meaning [of the Supremacy Clause] which appears to be plain and well expressed is simply this, that Congress have the power of making laws upon any subject over which the proposed plan gives them a jurisdiction, and that those laws, thus made in pursuance of the Constitution, shall be binding upon the states”.

    James Iredell, 1st North Carolina convention: “When Congress passes a law consistent with the Constitution, it is to be binding on the people. If Congress, under pretense of executing one power, should, in fact, usurp another, they will violate the Constitution.”

    A motion of no confidence (alternatively vote of no confidence, censure motion, no-confidence motion, or (unsuccessful) confidence motion) is a statement or vote which states that a person in a superior position – be it government, managerial, etc. – is no longer deemed fit to hold that position. This may be based on said person falling short in some respect, failing to carry out obligations, or making choices that other members feel are detrimental. As a parliamentary motion, it demonstrates to the head of state that the elected parliament no longer has confidence in (one or more members of) the appointed government.  Time to replace them all!

    What about putting Ron Paul in a presidential position, with 547 others all for a time period to get our new elections WITHOUT machines and voting done – hand counted, VERIFIABLE by the people. Who else can be trusted with that extremely temporary positions – say 6 months plus or so while this is done.

    Those that are currently serving cannot UNLESS they can show that they have stood for the US Constitution EVERY time – 97% of the time.

    Those who are in that “changeover” period may run to be a replacement within our federal government ONLY if they follow the US Constitution completely while in a temp changeover position, take no bribes, etc.

    Set up classes teaching our true government and the people who are wanting to be citizens what THEIR responsibilities are.

    Any other ideas? Because this one does not exist, it is a “LEGAL FICTION”

    Dr. Edwin Vieira: “This has nothing to do with personalities or subjective ideas. It’s a matter of what the Constitution provides…
    The government of the United States has never violated anyone’s constitutional rights…
    The government of the United States will never violate anyone constitutional rights, because it cannot violate anyone’s constitutional rights. The reason for that is: The government of the United States is that set of actions by public officials that are consistent with the Constitution. Outside of its constitutional powers, the government of the United States has no legitimacy. It has no authority; and, it really even has no existence. It is what lawyers call a legal fiction.

    … the famous case Norton v. Shelby County… The Court said: “An unconstitutional act is not a law; it confers no rights; it imposes no duties. It is, in legal contemplation, as inoperative as though it had never been passed.”
    And that applies to any (and all) governmental action outside of the Constitution…” What are the defining characteristics of a limited government? They are its disabilities; what it does not have legal authority to do. Look at the First Amendment… What does it do? It guarantees freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of religion. But how does it do that? I quote: “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press” etcetera. “Congress shall make no law;” that’s a statement of an absence of power. That’s a statement of a disability.”

    They failed, it is past time to FIRE THEM!

  5. I cannot and will not in good faith support the actions of ANY law enforcement agency which has accepted any federal money from DHS and adopted the curriculum from the federal academies for their own academies to brainwash their recruits with this evil and insane mindset. I’ve had relatives in law enforcement who were “OLD SCHOOL” cops who were the exact opposite of today’s breed. Today’s cops remind me of the federal cops who killed innocent people at Ruby Ridge and Waco. today’s breed of cops are GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, NOT PUBLIC SERVANTS, ACCORDDING TO FEDERAL AND STATE SUPREME COURT RULINGS. THEY HAVE NO OBLIGATIONS TO THE PUBLIC, PERIOD. THEY ‘PROTECT AND SERVE’ AND RISK THEIR LIVES FOR THE GOVERNMENT, NOT THE PUBLIC. WHEN THE PUBLIC HAS TO LIVE IN FEAR OF LAW ENFORCMENT AND REAL CRIMINALS BOTH AT THE SAME TIME, YOU HAVE TO ASK YOURSELF WHAT IS WRONG IN OUR COUNTRY TODAY. When I get into an encounter with anyone who has bad intentions toward me, I already know that I will be on my own and have to handle it myself. I will do whatever I consider necessary to get out of such a situation alive and I won’t care about what anyone’s law says about it, etc. Anyone who comes to my home with bad intentions toward me, REGARDLESS OF WHO YOU ARE OR WHAT YOU’RE WEARING; IF YOU FORCE YOUR WAY INTO MY HOME, [Two words deleted by Elias Alias, editor]. I’LL BE ACTING IN MY OWN SELF-DEFENSE AND THAT IS MY RIGHT. It’s time to say “ENOUGH” and start resisting unjustifiable police violence. Everyone has the natural right to self-defense and it doesn’t matter what you’ve been told by anyone else. These SWAT teams think they’re invincible because no one has put up any resistance to them. [Three sentences deleted by Elias Alias, editor] I never thought I would find myself saying such things, but it’s going to take extreme measures to get all of this unjustifiable police violence stopped.

  6. We gotta stop reacting this way to our brother and sister officers, they took the same oath we did. How can we judge 780,000 officer by the actions of a few/

  7. Authorative Terrorism? Nothing new. Has always existed to a certain extent. Most common though, through-out history previous to an Empirical/Governmental and Societal collapse. Indicating a Political, Spiritual, Moral, Mental decay of Individual quality of character,thought and creativity As usual, various incidents will increase. It also, ‘ALWAYS’, precedes complete Authoritarianism and Dictatorships. It goes hand in hand with the intentional dropping of our Fiat Currency (Federal Reserve Note, aka US Dollar) as the reserve currency and the forced dependency on Big Government via laws, permits, licenses, taxes, fees, rules, regulations and whatever.

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