POLITICS
03/20/2013 01:01 pm ET | Updated May 20, 2013

Raid Of The Day: "Operation Ready-Rock"

As the drug war escalated in the late 1980s and early 1990s with the crack epidemic, police in some cities began raiding entire neighborhoods. The raids were authorized by constitutionally-suspect search warrants giving them permission to raid multiple residences at once. One example came in November 1990, when 45 police officers dressed in camouflage and black hoods raided an entire block of homes in North Carolina. They were from the Chapel Hill and Carrboro police departments, the Orange County Sheriff's Department, and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation. The raids, part of an investigation dubbed "Operation Ready-Rock," went on for four hours. According to the subsequent lawsuit, everyone raided and apprehended was black. The astonishing search warrant affidavit condemned an entire street of people. The officer asserted, "[W]e believe there are no 'innocent' people at this place . . . Only drug sellers and drug buyers are on the described premises."

Journalist Christian Parenti describes what happened next.

The assault force--dressed in combat boots, green camo' battle dress uniforms, body armor, hoods, masks, goggles, and kevlar helmets--armed itself with the usual array of "tactical" gadgetry: less-than-lethal "blunt trauma impact ordnances," chemical sprays, and [Heckler & Koch] MP-5s, MP-54s and Colt AR-15s. For maximum results, the the operation was launched on a Friday night with teams of officers storming the block from all directions, cutting off every path of escape and then combing the area with drug-sniffing dogs. Even amidst the military frenzy the courtesy of the old South prevailed: whites were allowed to leave the area, while more than a hundred African-Americans were searched. The warrant also included the search of a pool hall called the Village Connection. In typically "proactive" fashion SWAT commandos made a "dynamic entrance," smashing in the front door and forcing the occupants to the floor at gunpoint. While the captives were searched and interrogated, the bar was ransacked for contraband. The commotion left one elderly man trembling on the floor in a pool of his own urine.

Despite the affiant's statements, the raids netted just 13 arrests. Meanwhile, three dozen of the citizens who were raided but not arrested brought lawsuits alleging civil rights violations. In 1993, Orange County Superior Court Judge Knox Jenkins berated the raiding officers in a three-page statement that he read in front of a crowded courtroom. In 1996 the city and county governments settled for $200,000.

Just a year after the settlement, the same four police agencies sent 37 officers to raid the same area of the county. The Village Connection pool hall had shut down, so young people were congregating on nearby Broad Street In Carrboro. That led to neighbor complaints of noise, drinking, and drug use. So backed by a National Guard helicopter circling over head, police raided a house they claimed was being used for drug distribution. This time, a crowd gathered near the raid site to jeer the police officers. The police found no drugs in the home.

(The "Raid of the Day" features accounts of police raids I've found, researched, and reported while writing my forthcoming book Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces. It's due out in July, but you can pre-order it here.)

Sources: Christian Parenti, Lockdown America, Verso (2000), pp. 124-125; "Cops Survive Lawsuit, Get Judge's Reprimand," Associated Press, May 26, 1993; Joyce Clark, "Suit over drug raid settled for $ 200,000," Raleigh News and Observer, February 22, 1996; Beth Velliquette, "Failed raid draws jeers from crowd; Helicopter part of operation to clear street," Chapel Hill Herald, August 13, 1997.