Image of an Invasion


By Adam J. Smith,
Associate Director


One photo, one image, captured the nation's attention in April. The picture, of course, is the one of Elian Gonzalez in a closet in the arms of the man who saved him from drowning, face to face with the barrel of an automatic weapon in the hands of an agent of the federal government in full body armor.

Whatever one's opinion of the merits of the custody battle, it is an image that shakes the conscience and focuses our attention on the issue of the government's willingness to show and use force against individuals in their homes.

That the photo is somewhat unique should not hide the fact that across the nation people's homes are violated every day. Their safety and the safety of their children are compromised. Physical and psychic harms are perpetrated by government agents dressed in the same body armor, with the same automatic weapons, but in the name of the drug war. The difference, of course, is that the victims of such raids, or at least the intended victims, are not so cute, nor is there generally an AP photographer on hand.

But the truth is that our societal response to the issues of substance use and abuse has become so militarized - and the rhetoric so reinforcing - that home invasions are now routine. Often, there are children present in the home and just as often, the inhabitants are completely innocent of any wrongdoing.

The justification for such raids-the premise upon which warrants are often obtained-is often no more substantial than the word of a "confidential informant." Moreover, these informants are often people who are trading a list of names for a reduction in sentence, or for money, or both.

Sometimes, agents storm the wrong house, as was the case in Massachusetts several years ago when a 75 year-old retired minister died of a heart attack, handcuffed, face down in a pool of his own vomit. Or in Houston where 22 year-old Pedro Navarro was shot twelve times in his bedroom. No drugs or weapons were found.

William Pitt put into words a sentiment once considered an underlying principle of our nation's founding when he said, "The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the force of the Crown. It may be frail-its roof may shake-the wind may blow through it-the storm may enter-the rain may enter-but the King of England cannot enter-all his force dares not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement."

That our government now views the sovereignty of the home as a quaint anachronism should trouble us all. It should raise serious questions about the huge loss of freedom occasioned by the enforcement of prohibition. It should make us consider our own children, or our children's children, and the threat that the government now poses to their health and safety. It should give us pause when yet another politician promises a "real drug war" and a "zero-tolerance" approach. The costs in this case, the violation of the sanctity of the home, are borne by us all. Not just by the cute little Cuban boy with the photographer in his bedroom and the gun in his face.

The above picture was painted by H.D. Potwin, donated to
The November Coalition and is displayed in the main office.