Over a three-day period in June 2007, heavily armed SWAT teams, supported by tanks and helicopters, descended on Detroit’s Eight Mile Road. The massive operation involved police and agents from 21 different local, state and federal branches of law enforcement, and was intended to rid the notoriously crime-ridden area of drug houses, prostitutes and wanted fugitives.
After conducting hundreds of raids, the authorities made 122 arrests, according to The Detroit News, and seized about 50 ounces of marijuana, 6.5 ounces of cocaine and 19 guns.
When Caroline Burley, now 51, first heard the boom around 5:30 on the evening of June 13, it sounded like it had come from outside her bedroom window. She rushed to investigate, and as she came out of the room, a man with a gun confronted her, threw her into a wall and then hurled her to the floor. A SWAT team had burst through her front door. Wearing only her nightgown, she asked for mercy. She recently had back surgery, she explained. Instead, one officer, then another kept her close to the floor by putting a boot in her back, according to court filings.
Caroline’s mother, Geraldine Burley, was sitting at her computer in the basement when she heard a loud thud overhead, followed by a scream from her daughter and a man’s voice ordering Caroline Burley to the floor. When she ascended the stairs, she too found a gun pointed at her head, and a man ordered her to get on the floor as well. She thought at first that she was being robbed.
Geraldine, now 70, pleaded with the man to let her move to the floor slowly, explaining to him that she’d had both of her knees replaced. Instead, another officer approached, grabbed her by the face, demanded that she “get the fuck on the floor,” then threw her into a table. She tumbled to the ground. At that point, she said later in a deposition, everything turned to “a fire, white and ringing in my ear.” Another officer came up from the basement with her grandson, stepping on her knees in the process. She cried out again in pain.
The officers searched the home but found no drugs, weapons or any other contraband. (They arrested Geraldine’s grandson on an unrelated misdemeanor warrant.)
Since the 1980s, SWAT teams have become an increasingly common tool in the war on crime. By one estimate, more than 100 times per day in America, police teams break down doors to serve search warrants on people suspected of drug crimes. Innocent citizens like the Burleys often become the victims of violent law enforcement tactics.