A judge awarded $3 million last week to the family of an 18-year-old honor student who was shot to death by undercover Drug Enforcement Agency officers in a Los Angeles shopping center parking garage. Just a few days earlier, another police officer was sentenced to four years in prison after pleading guilty in the manslaughter of a 20-year-old during a 2012 New Orleans raid for marijuana.
The deaths of Zachary Champommier and Wendell Allen sparked outrage in their communities. Champommier was shot after he saw the plainclothes officers detaining his friend and did not know whether they were attacking him. He struck one deputy with his car, and when the deputy rolled off the hood, he and another struck fatal shots at Champommier, who friends described as a “band geek” and the last person they would ever expect to get into a confrontation with law enforcement.
Allen was shot after an officer busted into his home on a marijuana warrant. Five other children were home at the time. In an incident that has not been described in detail, Officer Joshua Colclough said he made a split-second decision to shoot Allen, who was shirtless and unarmed. At the time, it was the second fatal shooting by New Orleans police in less than a week. Colclough apologized to Allen’s parents on the day of the sentencing, saying he has cried every day since it happened. His grandmother said he was the first child to have graduated and gone to college.
These are just the most recent examples of U.S. fatalities emerging from the War on Drugs. Several outrageous deaths compiled recently by AlterNet’s Alex Henderson tell similar stories about tragedy arising from the liberal use of guns as officers bust into homes, and pursue suspects out of uniform. In 2006, a 92-year-old who fired at officers who busted into her Atlanta house on a bad drug warrant in self-defense. The officers reciprocated with 39 shots, several of which hit her, and they handcuffed Kathryn Johnson while she lay on floor dying, according to AlterNet. Officers later attempted a cover-up by planting drugs at the home. In 2008, the girlfriend of a drug suspect was killed, and her one-year-old son injured, when officers blindly fired shots into a bedroom during a drug bust in Lina, Ohio (the suspect was not home). And in 2009, officers following a 28-year-old Baptist minister they suspected because he gave a woman they had been monitoring $23 to pay her rent shot him after he tried to escape the plainclothes officers pursuing him at a gas station in northern Georgia.
A poll out this month found that only four percent of Americans now believe the United States is winning the War on Drugs. Political will to roll back drug prohibition is moving slowly, as Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D) announced this week he would hold a hearing on marijuana laws in September.