Editor’s Note: Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in New York and author of the book “OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind.” Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely her own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
Want to see American over-policing in action? Watch Rebekah Jones’ home being invaded by Florida cops: They burst in, shouting orders and pointing guns, like it’s a military raid. It was a hyper-aggressive and totally unnecessary maneuver for carrying out a search warrant related to an alleged computer crime.
Jones is a Florida data scientist who created the state’s Covid-19 dashboard of case rates and infection maps. She was fired in May from her job at the state’s Department of Health. She says the dismissal was for refusing to manipulate the data to make the Covid risk look lower than it was, and for publicly questioning the transparency and accessibility of the data.
The state says it was for “insubordination,” for making unauthorized public remarks and “unilateral decisions to modify the Department’s COVID-19 dashboard without input or approval from the epidemiological team or her supervisors.”
Now Jones is under investigation for allegedly accessing a government messaging system after she was fired to send this message, according to an affidavit from an investigator for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, to state employees: “Speak up before another 17,000 people are dead. You know this is wrong. You don’t have to be a part of this. Be a hero. Speak out before it’s too late.”
Jones flatly denies the allegations, saying that she did not have access to the system, and that her comments about Florida’s Covid failures were made publicly – including in an op-ed she wrote for the Miami Herald in July.
Jones says the investigation is retaliation by Gov. Ron DeSantis, whom she has accused of politicizing the pandemic and pushing to reopen Florida too soon. DeSantis’s office denies any involvement with the investigation.
But whatever Jones did or didn’t do, the raid on her home was indefensible. Jones’s security cam shows the terrifying intrusion; she can be heard in the background crying out that her children are in the house as the police enter and point their guns up the stairs and shout for her family to come down. Jones says the officers pointed their guns at her children, which the police deny.
In a statement, police said Jones took 23 minutes to open the door after their repeated attempts to contact her, including by knocking and phoning. “Agents exercised tremendous restraint throughout the execution of the search warrant yesterday, especially considering the significant delay they faced in gaining entry and what that could represent to officer safety,” the statement said.
Again, I would refer you to the startling video and to the computer issue that drew authorities to investigate Jones. How in any rational scenario can police justify such a guns-drawn, hyper-aggressive entry to make a simple search in the home of a woman they have no reason to believe will react with violence?
After the killing of Breonna Taylor, fatally shot in her own bed at night when police burst through her front door, more attention has been focused on the dangerous and often deadly use of no-knock warrants. But it’s not just those extreme cases that are troubling.
American police are armed to the hilt. This is partly because our exceptionally lax gun laws mean there are an absurd number of armed people walking the streets, and partly because American policing has too often become a hyper-macho militaristic enterprise wherein some cops aren’t so much serving their communities as using the threat of force (and billions of dollars of military equipment straight from the Department of Defense) to dominate them.
In more than a dozen countries, including the United Kingdom, the police typically don’t carry guns. There’s little chance of that happening in the gun-happy United States anytime soon. But we should ask why the police need to send a heavily armed team, guns drawn, to execute a search warrant in the home of a person suspected of a nonviolent crime. Why risk escalating a simple search into something terrifying and potentially lethal?
These officers likely did nothing technically wrong; it very well may be department policy to carry out simple raids with this appalling level of aggression and intimidation. And as a White woman, Jones is statistically far less likely to be killed or injured by a cop than, say, a young black man, one in 1,000 of whom can expect to be killed by a police officer.
We should be asking why the police, whose salaries are paid with our tax dollars and who are tasked with protecting and serving our communities, behave with such hostility toward the people who are being policed – instead of treating them with dignity – and rely so heavily on lethal weapons to induce terror to get what they want.