Over the decades, the U.S. Supreme Court has heard many cases stemming from police violence against Americans justified by the so-called "War on Drugs." Never once have the justices seized the opportunity to rule -- as they are obliged to rule by their oaths of office -- "Oh, and by the way, your so-called 'War on Drugs' is totally unconstitutional under the Ninth Amendment. So cut it out."
A constitutional amendment -- the 18th, since repealed -- was required to suspend Americans' Ninth Amendment right to buy, possess, and consume alcohol, after all. So when was the constitutional amendment that similarly authorizes any part of the current "War on Drugs" ratified?
This alone would justify laying at the feet of our high court the bodies of thousands of innocents slain in the government's ongoing "wars" against the American people over certain selected plant extracts, which the book of Genesis informs us were all -- all -- given by God to man "for his use."
But the high court didn't leave it at that. Oh, no.
On June 15 of this year, by a slim 5-4 majority (thanks to the replacement of Sandra Day O'Connor by Samuel Alito, almost certainly), the Supreme Court ruled that -- so long as they have a warrant -- police can now break into homes and seize evidence without even knocking.
"Dissenting justices warned Thursday that police will now feel free to ignore previous court rulings that officers with search warrants must knock and announce themselves -- giving residents at least 15 to 20 seconds to respond -- lest they run afoul of the Constitution's Fourth Amendment," I wrote at the time.
The four dissenting justices pointed out that the decision erases more than 90 years of Supreme Court precedent. "It weakens, perhaps destroys, much of the practical value of the Constitution's knock-and-announce protection," Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for himself and the other dissenters.
In fact, the Fourth Amendment contains no "knock-and-announce" language. The so-called "15-second rule" was already a dangerous infringement of that right.
"Would most of us manage to get on some proper clothing and make it to the front door in '15 or 20 seconds' if we heard a knock in the dead of night?" I asked, back in June. "Is it the common practice, today, of police SWAT teams dressed in helmets and bulletproof vests, with cocked shotguns at their shoulders ready to fire, to politely allow a homeowner time to fetch his bifocals and read their warrant - -- checking to make sure they have the proper name and address -- while they calmly await his grudging permission to enter?"
Of course not.
"Will anyone be surprised if some innocent parties, confronted by such a home invasion, reach for their own bedside shotguns, with loss of life resulting?" I asked back in June. "Or will we simply be told, 'They brought it on themselves, all they had to do was obey the orders .' of strange home invaders shouting at them in the dead of night?"
I don't always enjoy being right.
At about 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 22 -- after dark, when they should have been home helping plan their families' Thanksgiving dinner for the next day -- Atlanta narcotics officers clad in helmets, riot masks and bulletproof vests, shouted "Police!" (if they are to be believed) and, without giving the occupant even a few seconds to respond, broke down the door of a Neal Street home occupied only by 88-year-old Kathryn Johnston. (Her relatives still insist she was 92.)
In northwest Atlanta, Neal Street lies in one of the city's most dangerous neighborhoods. The area is notorious for its high crime rates and open drug-dealing and was recently shaken by the rape of an elderly woman.
The elderly Ms. Johnston, who never married, lived in such fear of the criminal element that she had steel burglar bars on all her doors and windows. She was reluctant even to allow neighbors and relatives into her home, her niece told the local press.
Ms. Johnston responded as would any self-respecting American to the stimulus of strangers breaking in her door after dark, unannounced. It doesn't do any good to think of your gun after you're pinned to the floor by a would-be rapist, after all. Almost certainly unaware of who was breaking in, she promptly opened fire at the home invaders with what appears to be the only weapon she had, "a rusty revolver."
She wasn't a bad shot. She hit all three of the officers, one in the chest and face -- though his mask and Kevlar vest saved his life.
Needless to say, the cops killed the old lady.
And where was "Sam," the drug dealer who police claimed had sold cocaine to a "confidential informant" from Ms. Johnston's home -- receiving $50 in city funds -- only hours before the raid?
No "Sam" was ever found. No cocaine either. Police claimed they found "a small quantity of marijuana" in the home.
Sarah Dozier, Johnston's 75-year-old niece, says her aunt lived alone. Police admit the old lady had no history of drug dealing. Ms. Dozier told WAGA-TV that there were never any drugs at the house.
In order to acquire their "no-knock" warrant, which allowed them to smash through the front door without announcing themselves, police also told a county magistrate that the drug dealer "Sam" monitored several surveillance cameras at the home.
This week, that same informant told WAGA-TV that he was never at the house, that police told him "You need to cover our [rear]. ... It's all on you, man. ... You need to tell them about this Sam dude." According to the WAGA report, the informant says "Sam" doesn't exist.
A.S. Jennings, who has lived on Johnston's block on Neal Street for 46 years, told Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporters she often spoke with Johnston.
"She didn't sell drugs," said Jennings, a retired teacher. "She didn't even take medicine. She was into her health."
Jennings also said there was no surveillance equipment at the house. "Camera? For what?"
Jennings, like others on the block, tells reporters she knew of no one named Sam. "The only one I know of is from Dr. Seuss -- 'Sam I Am,' " she said.
"If she thought somebody was coming into her house, she did what any one of us would have done," added another neighbor, Allen Pernel, 56.
Reached by phone Tuesday evening, Arthur Tesler, one of the officers who (according to the affidavit) worked with the informant, told the Atlanta daily, "We all have families. Our families are extremely upset. I respectfully decline to comment on anything until all this is completed."
The FBI, the Fulton County district attorney's office and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation are all investigating the case. Seven Atlanta narcotics officers and a supervisor have been put on administrative leave.
I called reporter Rhonda Cook of the Journal-Constitution. She did not know the caliber of Ms. Johnston's "rusty revolver," though from the fact that three police officers were treated and released from the hospital that very day, I'm going to conclude it was .32 caliber or smaller.
Police originally contended the old lady opened fire "as they approached the house." But it later turned out she opened fire only after they got through her barred steel burglar door.
"They said they yelled 'Police,' but I could yell 'Police,' " reporter Cook said. "I know I had a grandmother who was 90 years old, and she was pretty much oblivious to everything after she got past 85."
"I'm sure she panicked when they kicked that door down," Dozier said. "There was no reason they had to go in there and shoot her down like a dog."
What lessons can we draw from the death of 88-year-old Kathryn Johnston?
So long as we live under our current Supreme Court -- and so long as our local cops insist on playing soldier in pursuit of the hopeless and counterproductive "War on Drugs" -- innocent Americans should consider making Kevlar vests parts of their normal home lounging attire. And investing in larger-caliber home defense weapons.
In the past, I've advised against using combat rifles for home defense, because a rifle round can over-penetrate and kill someone a mile away.
However, if she'd had a .30-caliber rifle, the elderly Ms. Johnston would likely have taken at least one armed assailant with her (remember, she had no chance to learn who they were), and done a lot more damage to two more. In which case, I doubt Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington would be merely "reconsidering" his policy on Fun and Games with No-Knock Search Warrants.
If the courts will not defend the sanctity of our homes, Americans retain the right and duty to do so ourselves.
Back in June, the justices who told us armed goons breaking in our doors in the dark of night were just hunky-dory said we were not without remedies. Why, Justice Anthony Kennedy said our legislatures can intervene if police officers do not "act competently and lawfully."
Oh, sure. Think a single cop will go to jail for lying on this search warrant affidavit -- already a crime in every state?
Not only that (Justice Kennedy explained from his marble palace), people whose homes are wrongly searched can always file a civil rights lawsuit.
Oh, fine. Just tell that to Kathryn Johnston.
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