It must be terrifying to wake up in your own home in the early hours of the morning to a military-style weapon pointing in your face, with armed men shouting at you in a language you don’t understand. It’s got to be particularly terrifying when you haven’t done anything to warrant this type of over the top police action. It appears as if that’s exactly what happened this weekend in Revere. The early morning SWAT raid on a Revere home on Sunday raises serious questions and brings to the fore the problem of police militarization in the Commonwealth. Among the critical questions law enforcement officials must answer about this raid are the following:
- Did officials even try to confirm the anonymous tip of a supposed (but reportedly nonexistent) shooting at the premises before donning SWAT gear and executing their raid?
- Did law enforcement officers have probable cause to raid the home?
- Was the level of force deployed reasonable in proportion to the possible threat?
- Why did officers destroy property at the home? And does the Revere Police Department plan on fixing the damage it caused?
- What policies and procedures will the Revere PD implement to make sure nothing like this ever happens again?
The constitution protects against unreasonable search and seizure. From what we know, it does not seem as if this raid or the particulars of its execution were reasonable. As a result of this terrifying display of police power, reports suggest a home has been damaged, residents have been traumatized, and at least one person lost his job through no fault of his own. All of the men present were thrust into the spotlight and made to appear somehow dangerous to their own neighbors and community—a problem no doubt exacerbated by the climate of hostility towards Muslims in the United States.
One of the men targeted by the SWAT raid told the Boston Globe he was afraid the police were going to shoot him. That was a reasonable fear, given that an officer reportedly pointed his gun at the man. It is unlawful for a law enforcement official to point a weapon at a person absent limited exigent circumstances. As the First Circuit Court of a Appeals ruled in February 2016, a police officer is not immune from liability if he points his weapon at a non-threatening person and accidentally fires. Everyone involved in this Revere debacle is lucky no one was hurt. But we shouldn’t have to rely on luck in these situations.
SWAT teams are typically justified on the basis that law enforcement needs to have militarized units capable of responding to public safety emergencies where there’s an immediate threat of death. But as the ACLU of Massachusetts observed in a 2014 report on police militarization in the Commonwealth, too often these units are deployed to serve routine search warrants, or otherwise without due cause—as appears to be the case here. Sometimes, like when the Framingham SWAT team killed elderly grandfather Eurie Stamps in his own home, these showings of extreme force have tragic, irreversible consequences.
Police departments across the state should view this horrible incident as a wake-up call, and initiate a process to review and if necessary modify their policies and procedures pertaining to SWAT deployments.