On January 7, 1973 a young man named Mark Essex, who had shot and killed a police officer a week earlier, walked into a Howard Johnson's hotel in downtown New Orleans and went on a shooting rampage. By the end of the day he had killed 9 people (including 5 police officers) and wounded 13 more. Police from surrounding jurisdictions flooded into New Orleans during the long siege around the hotel. At one point a New Orleans police commander noted a group of cops from a small, rural town repeatedly firing their weapons toward the building from a few hundred feet away. "What are you shooting at?", the commander asked them. Their response: "The hotel." The incident ended with Essex going out action movie style, dying in a hail of bullets as he made a defiant charge at dozens of police. The coroner noted over 200 distinct bullet wounds during his autopsy.

These anecdotes illustrate a sociological phenomenon called contagious shooting. Each individual starts shooting because everyone else is shooting, irrespective of necessity and often without even knowing why. It tends to be a problem with police and less so in the military. Soldiers are trained extensively to combat this natural human tendency in a dangerous situation: identify the target, assess the threat, don't waste ammunition, and so on. Police, for reasons about which we could speculate all day, tend to be less judicious and more easily influenced by group dynamics.

On May 5 of this year, police from four different agencies participating in a raid of a home in Pima County, Arizona on a search warrant regarding a marijuana trafficking ring. They entered the home of 26 year old Jose Guerena, a two-tour Iraq War veteran. As people tend to do when armed home invaders burst through the doors and windows out of the blue, Guerena went for his personal firearm. Despite the fact that he did not fire, an officer fired at him. A half-dozen others joined in, firing more than 75 rounds in 7 seconds at one suspect from 10 feet away. He was hit 60 times. The police are now going to extensive, questionably constitutional lengths to seal the search warrants and nail down a story that keeps changing by the minute. By the time they finish they'll have turned Guerena into a terrifying mixture of Tony Montana, Lee Harvey Oswald, and the Hillside Strangler.

No, this does not happen every day. Many police manage to work for decades without unloading on a suspect. But in the highly militarized, War on Drugs, no-knock warrant era of law enforcement it happens alarmingly often. Some cases are high profile: the fifty rounds fired at Sean Bell (including one officer who stopped to reload and emptied an entire second magazine), 41 at an unarmed food delivery man who reached for his wallet, and an 88 year old woman shot 39 times during a high-larious "Whoops! Wrong house!" no-knock warrant incident.

The War on Drugs has changed law enforcement in this country so fundamentally that there is no clear way to reverse the damage. Police recruits now enter a culture that has been highly militarized since the late 1970s; even the longest-serving veterans still at work today have never known any other way of doing things. Armored vehicles, military rifles, armor-piercing ammunition, no-knock warrants, tactical gear…it's just the way things are done. You blaze away at suspects like Bruce Willis in Die Hard because, well, everyone else is doing it and that's what being a cop is all about – breaking down doors, smashing through windows, and unloading your firearm at the Scum of the Earth on the other side. Sure, innocent people get gunned down every once in a while, but isn't that a risk we have to take if we have unsubstantiated tips from paid informants suggesting that there might be marijuana in a home?

On the plus side, maybe they'll start using less forceful methods now that we can't resist unlawful police entry into our homes. If it's wearing a badge, obey it.

I feel safer already.

42 thoughts on “HURRY! IT'S CONTAGIOUS!”

  • You would think judges would be a little less flippant about overturning rights that have been in place since the goddamn Magna Carta. What the hell is wrong with the Indiana Supreme Court?

    This story, coupled with the recent arrests of a dozen police officers in my hometown, San Diego, for crimes including rape and sexual assault, has made me really hate cops lately… When did America become a police state?

  • Wow. This made me really depressed.

    While I'm sure that it's not much better there, this is just going onto my list of reasons to move to Canada. If enough shit hits the fan, I'm sure I'll work up the courage to move away.

  • By the way, can anyone explain to me how exactly a neighborhood-wide search warrant is constitutional? When did this become standard? And how do the police legally justify preventing paramedics from entering to tend to the victim?

  • Glad I moved to Aus. we don't have a Bill of Rights, yet search and seizure and right to silence are in Common Law. The down-side is though a judge can make you testify, cops can't but a judge can.
    You were asking "Why Obama?" this is why. Hopefully one of the right-winger Justices will retire. If not, I think someone here suggested Fiengold should run. 2016 would be best for him as he'd definitely have a shot of replacing some of the Justices.

  • Police here in the USA are in the opinion of this "lone shut-in" scary as anything. They all wear these silly sunglasses to scare us, drive in big fast cars all day long, and the only time I ever see them is when I speed or some other "reason" to pull over incompetent motorists like me. Would it kill them to walk around neighborhoods again and talk to us in non law enforcement contexts? Hi how are you? Did you read the newspaper today? How is that cup of coffee? Is it a simple matter of arresting everyone?

  • It seems like most American cops are usually big gun-rights fans/pro-NRA types, which blows my mind.

    They're claiming the right to — the need for — military grade weapons, vests, helmets, and transportation, but they still believe deeply in the 2nd Amendment as a right for a private citizen to own anything short of a bazooka.

    Somehow they don't seem to care that the 4th Amendment has been absolutely gutted.

  • Like you, Ed, I don't yet know enough about the background and causalities to this particular incident, but how is it different from the incident at Abbottabad? Or is this yet another example of "a sociological phenomenon called contagious shooting" (read: blogging) in which your contribution is a quick salvo of prejudice?

    Just asking ….

  • The CYA process is in full swing, so we'll hear about the results of the investigations as soon as the appropriate officers figure out who to blame. It will be easy, as the suspect/victim/perp/innocent bystander had a gun. And the gun was of a type I wouldn't want in the hands of anyone.

    Including the police.

    Somehow, as a citizen, my opinion doesn't matter in this regard. If we really need an infiltration squad in our police services, we need it to be professional. Maybe we do, but for some reason the scariest part of the story is that the police were from multiple agencies. They have officers doing dangerous things, someone tripping over himself leads to a death, and these guys don't even work together? I'm not sure which is worse: that the police play army or that they do it badly. I wish I could point to examples of agencies that do this better, but I can't point to any. And based on the war statistics, even those Special Forces guys only get good because of countless months of training combined with field work that involves lots of deaths of others. Maybe there's no good model for how this should be done. So maybe this kind of thing shouldn't be done.

    Fucking drug laws. Fucked up the border, turned Mexico into a failed state, turned our civil liberties into legal fictions, make us unsafe, overcrowd our prisons, target blacks and hispanics, make it hard to beat sniffles, lead to more petty theft than alcohol and nicotine addiction ever could, and have completely failed in changing our attitude toward getting high. We as a nation still want to, so fucking what? For every death caused by drugs, I can point to dozens of deaths caused by black markets, police actions, and the enforcement of lawlessness. Fuck drug laws. They don't work, don't make anything better, and don't help those who even want to get help. It's all arrest statistics, results, and enforcement to the test. Disgusting.

  • @wetcasements:
    What good does all that namby-pamby "4th Amendment" crap do except shelter the guilty? Haven't you seen The Dark Knight? Or 24? On the other hand, if every upstanding American were REQUIRED to own and use a rocket launcher, we'd be rid of these spic… these drug dealers by now.

    Aside from sustaining the prison business, I can't think of a single rationale for continuing the War on Some Drugs in its present catastrophic form. And yet, I can't think of one mainstream politician, aside from Ron "LULZ" Paul, who'll even discuss it.

    I wonder how long the GOP will retain its hard-on for cops when it's time to break up police unions?

  • The War on Drugs is not the primary reason for this militarization of domestic law enforcement. The primary reason for this militarization of domestic law enforcement is the same reason our foreign policy has become militarized. The South, a marshal culture, since the 50-60s liberal movement, has been on a policy rampage to reverse course or stem the tide of opposing progressive initiatives. Let's not forget that the War on Drugs was a Reagan policy plan. And, let's not also forget that it was Reagan who consolidated the southern base within the GOP. We need to be two countries. United we will fall.

  • @Da Moose:
    Last time I checked, Chicago was chock full of NIMBY racists, awesomely corrupt law 'n' order officials and militarized, unaccountable police. But who wants to pay import prices for deep dish?

  • The war on drugs goes back to Richard Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover, who wanted it for leverage against Viet Nam war protesters, and seems to continue because judges want to vigorously punish law-breakers, even if the law is senseless. Myself, I'm not so keen on sharing the road with someone who's high, but it's preferable to the prospect of annoying a DEA informant, who then names you as a drug dealer.

  • anotherbozo says:

    Here in Noo Yawk, some of us still remember Amadou Diallo. The hail-of-bullets police panic aspect, at least, is old news. But the raid-the-wrong-address part is a new twist.

    Updated for the Patriot Act Era, I guess.

  • Jared Lessl says:

    > The war on drugs goes back to Richard Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover, who wanted it for leverage against Viet Nam war protesters

    Strictly speaking, it goes back to the decade following the Civil War. San Francisco passed a city ordinance in 1875 against smoked opium, which gave the cops carte blanch to start hassling chinese immigrants. Liquid opium, the kind preferred by whites at the time, wasn't addressed.

  • Mr. Prosser says:

    It would be so easy to set some one up for at least a seige if not a no-knock, ie. "Mr. Prosser is barricaded in his house." (The door is locked) "Mr. Prosser has a cache of arms." (An antique shotgun and a black powder pistol) Mr. Prosser acts furtively and might be a perv." (Mr. Prosser ignores me.) "I hear screaming from his house." (Mr. Prosser is watching the Sunday AM political shows.)

  • @acer

    Valid point but that is a sub-trend to the larger southern militarization trend. Most of the guns used by law enforcement are manufactured in the South or areas of the country culturally affiliated with the South. Trust me. You extract the malignant cultural tumor from the Union that is the South and everyone, including the anti-evolution southerners, will be happier.
    It's time to start thinking about the future of this country post-union. It's gonna happen anyway. I'd be amazed if this Union is still in it's current state by 2100 no matter how wrong or right I am on this point.

  • @ Conni

    Sorry you don't agree but those are the facts man. Guess who's responsible for the militarization of your government? The South. Come to DC sometime. Let me give you a tour of the Capitol. Guess who staffs the rank-in-file in the Capitol? Southerners. Guess who dominates the Pentagon? Southerners. Guess who dominsates K Street? You got it. Southerners. Not everything about the South is bad of course. I just don't want to share a country with it or them. It's not personal, it's political. Don't worry. When we do split, you guys can have the Pentagon. I won't begrudge you that trophy.

    1. Worst 19th policy fail of the federal government: Fighting the Civil War
    2. Worst 20th policy fail of the federal government: Immediate diplomatic recognition of Israel
    3. Worst 21st policy fail of the federal government: ?

  • Mr Ed:

    The Libertarian Right is on board here wif ya. And a lot of us are South of that ol' Mason-Dixon Mr Moose.


  • Seriously, though, the South doesn't have a monopoly on asshole behavior. That pool in Pennsylvania that wouldn't let the black kids swim isn't somehow mysteriously in the South. The cop who arrested Gates in Boston wasn't mystically transported to the South. Those Californians who voted to outlaw gay marriage aren't magically Southern.

    And those "southerners" who run the Pentagon et al: I believe they could be designated better by their party affiliation, no? Because Democrats exist in the South, and Republicans exist outside it.

  • Look, the reality is that there are plenty of people in the South who are good people, but the people who dominate the policies of this government are assholes who happen to have southern roots. My stating this fact does not change the fact itself. During the Civil War, there were plenty of southerners who didn't agree with the official Confederate line. It didn't mean that it sill wasn't strategically correct for Sherman to campaign deep into the South towards Savannah. All that I am saying is that, recognizing our history since the country's inception, there has always been a push-pull between two distinct cultural forces. Right now, the one I don't like is winning in my opinion and winning to the long term detriment of the entire country.

  • Moose:

    "Most of the guns used by law enforcement are manufactured in the South or areas of the country culturally affiliated with the South. Trust me."

    Remington Arms Co. Inc
    Originated in upstate NY – longtime at Bridgeport, CT
    now Madison, NC

    Colt Firearms
    Hartford, CT

    Winchester Repeating Arms
    orig New Haven, CT
    now Morgan, UT

    Taurus Firearms

    Henry Repeating Rifles
    New Jersey

    Kimber Mfg
    Clackamas, OR

    there's more and more…

    Take it back large animal, take it back!


  • I take it back, this big animal does. I shoul have qualifed it by gun ownership. And, yes it is a right wing versus left wing thing but, from an electorate and gerrymandering standpoint, that makes it also a red state versus blue state thing as well. Hence, a geographic connection with political ideaogy…IN GENERAL:

  • Strangepork says:

    It's right-wing vs left-wing, not "good" North vs "bad" South.

    I thought it was thin crust vs. deep-dish.

  • Cackalacka says:

    I know you issued a mea culpa, but as a life-long resident of the south, a vehement anti-Southern-nationalist, and one with plenty of racist New Englander relatives who don't know the word 'sundown-town' (yet prefer to point fingers at my mixed-race community while living in their Yankee Apartheid,)

    – I must encourage you, the next time you feel entitled to cast aspersions on an entire region, please reach for a bag of salted dicks, Moose.

    I'd rather share a country with every troglodite hick I've ever come across than a single self-righteous enlightened asshole who likes the idea of minorities but prefers to keep them outside their township and school district. I might find some of the red-necks morally repugnant, but at least they're consistent and you know where they stand.

  • Pablothemule says:

    I think this speaks volumes about your gun laws. In Britain (where I live) regular policemen do not carry guns and as we have extremely strict gun laws, very few citizens have guns as well. Because the police are not worried about being fired upon, they are less likely to fire upon a suspect. Lives on both sides of the law are more likely to make it through alive if neither are carrying guns!

  • Jared L: San Fransisco passed a city ordinance…

    But Richard Nixon turned the whole drug enforcement thing into the FEDERAL government's business (for political reasons, of course). Crime used to be a local matter, and properly so.

    Da Moose:
    First it was "young" versus "geezer", now its South versus North. Repeat after me: its conservative versus progressive, right wing v. left wing, workers v. oligarchs. Lets stop ripping each other on matters we actually agree on.

  • The Republicans started the whole mess due to Vietnam and tricky Dickie. so what else is new.
    living in New Orleans, watching Mark Essex that Sunday morning, who knew the Government would be doing it the whole country.

    how things works, goodbye to freedom and liberty. Gods, Guns and Gays.
    the Southern way.

    we are seriously F**ked due to the Southern Strategy.

  • Two points about the southern strategy, it pandered to the worst of the south, and it looks to be blowing up in the GOP's face.

  • Monkey Business says:

    The Southern Strategy itself was not the death blow of American politics. Yes, it wedded anti-Civil Rights Southern Democrats to the Republican party. However, it wasn't until Reagan wedded the Evangelicals to the Republican party that shit really hit the fan.

    You started with your pro-business crowd, then added a bunch of racists, and threw in the firebreathing evangelicals. Suddenly, you have this three headed monster where the pro-business crowd moves the legs, and the racist and evangelical wings control one arm each.

  • While I agree to most of the findings in this article, the vehement hatred for police and blaming them for shooting armed, non-compliant suspects is a little hard for me to swallow.

    As the son of a former police officer, i can attest to the dangers of police work and that even simple traffic stops can and often do end up with a dead cop.

    Take a look at these videos to see how being a nice guy cop can end up getting you killed:

    I prefer to be treated with respect by police officers but I make every effort to be as non-threatening as I can to guarantee it. Both hands on the wheel and visible, direct eye contact and understanding that I can argue the facts with the judge later if necessary, not with the cop on the street.

  • Major Kong says:

    All well and good Nunya, but if I'm awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of somebody kicking my front door in, my first thought probably isn't –

    "Oh, it's probably just the police executing a warrant. They must have accidentally mistaken me for a drug dealer."

  • So maybe some law enforcement types could have a little heart to heart talk with state legislators about the joys of going into harm's way to enforce morals? Though I suspect if the departments didn't get to seize property, that might cut down on busts too.

  • @Cackalacka



    You are right of course. Best to focus on the progresive v. conservative dynamic….

  • Jared Lessl says:

    > But Richard Nixon turned the whole drug enforcement thing into the FEDERAL government's business

    Nope. The Marijuana Tax Act in 1937 was a federal law, a blatant catch-22 piece of bullshit, and passed over the objections of the AMA.

  • Look into the history of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and one Henry J Anslinger. It was a complete political crony ego trip to turn Henry J into the analog of J Edgar of the Narcs.

    Guess who mostly smoked weed back in the day? Their skin color rhymes with Jack.


  • @Da Moose

    MLK was from 'the South.' I'd bet a lot of the black folks living in 'the South' have different politics than your stereotype of the region. New Orleans is in 'the South.'

    Seriously, merely the blunderous size of your argument should have been a sign to re-examine your a priori assumptions in making it. 'The South' is also the poorest part of the country, I think, don't quote me – if that disparity was eliminated would some of the things you accuse the region of change? Ah, but 'its their fault that they're poor.' What does that argument remind me of?

    What about all the ultra-conservative Northern nationalists? Were they infected by the South? Will they disappear upon a Southern secession? What about the West? Focus on the Family is based in Colo Springs, via Souther California.

  • @bb – Darn tootin'. The book I mentioned earlier makes the case that the WoD is basically Prohibition rebooted, and ol' Harry was at the helm of both movements.

    @zeroref – stop beating that dead moose. And not to re-open that whole thing, but I do not recall reading "Yankees is awesum! Everyone from the South IS TEH SUX!" in any of his comments.

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