On May 27th of this year, a Tampa Bay SWAT team shot Jason Westcott to death inside of his home. Mr. Westcott was hit by two shotgun slugs and a pistol round in his bedroom, and later died at St. Joseph’s Hospital. The raid was prompted by information from a confidential informant who stated he had seen Mr. Westcott in possession of a firearm on multiple occasions.
This past Friday, the Tampa Bay Times reported that an internal review by the Tampa Bay Police Department found that the shooting was justified since Mr. Westcott did have a weapon and allegedly began to raise it when the officers entered the room:
During the raid, according to the internal investigation, officers opened the door to Westcott’s bedroom and found him on the other side with a loaded, 9mm Taurus Slim pistol. Wasierski and Perez said they immediately shot him because he began to raise the weapon…
The Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office had concluded in June that the police officers were justified in shooting Westcott. (Source)
So what was the reason a SWAT team kicked in the door of the residence and ultimately found it necessary to fatally shoot one of the occupants? Domestic violence? Maybe he was a bank robbery suspect or wanted for murder? Actually, it was all based on the word of a confidential informant who had allegedly purchased marijuana from Jason Westcott on multiple occasions.
In February, according to police records, an informer began buying marijuana from Westcott on behalf of narcotics detectives, purchasing $160 of pot over about four months.
Detectives said they learned from the confidential source that Westcott had a gun with him during the drug deals, and so enlisted a tactical response team to take him into custody. (Source)
I’m not sure of the going rate for marijuana in Tampa, or anywhere else for that matter, since I don’t smoke it. However, I’m pretty sure $160 worth, especially over a four month period, probably isn’t very much. Oh, and how much pot was found during the raid? A whopping two dollars worth – that’s it. Were the police justified in shooting someone who was raising a weapon at them? I’d say so, but the overall raid, simply for allegedly selling marijuana, is absolutely absurd.
This raid is not an isolated incident and it highlights the current problem of police using excessive force in response to petty “crimes,” such as Mr. Westcott being accused of selling pot or Michael Brown blocking traffic in Ferguson, Missouri. In both cases, contact with the police escalated from what should have at most been a simple citation, to two young men needlessly dead at the hands of law enforcement.
Senator Rand Paul, in response to the shooting in Ferguson, stated the following:
Most police officers are good cops and good people. It is an unquestionably difficult job, especially in the current circumstances.
There is a systemic problem with today’s law enforcement.
Not surprisingly, big government has been at the heart of the problem. Washington has incentivized the militarization of local police precincts by using federal dollars to help municipal governments build what are essentially small armies—where police departments compete to acquire military gear that goes far beyond what most of Americans think of as law enforcement. (Source)
To some extent, he’s right. Not necessarily on the part about “big government” which is always a favorite pejorative used by conservatives, libertarians, and pseudo-libertarians like Rand Paul. However, there is a very real problem when you have local law enforcement using military-style tactics to deal with infractions as minor as selling marijuana.
I have no problem with SWAT teams serving warrants to violent gang members or cracking down on international drug cartels. However, regardless of your political affiliation, I think that we can agree that shooting someone to death over $2 worth of pot or walking down the street is ridiculous. It is proof that law enforcement is addressing simple issues with the amount of force that should be used on Al-Qaeda or ISIS, not American citizens.
The approximately $4 billion in military equipment that has been sold to law enforcement agencies is overkill and it has taught local agencies to use an overwhelming amount of force in situations like in Tampa and Ferguson – or even in Waco or Ruby Ridge if you want to go back to the 1990s when this trend began.
In closing, when you have both the extremely conservative Gun Owners of America group (which is to the right of the NRA, if you can believe that) and the ACLU both agreeing that local police “look more like special forces units than normal police officers,” then it is indeed, time to put our differences aside and work on the demilitarization of law enforcement.
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