It is not okay to shoot and kill someone to enforce marijuana prohibition. It does not matter that you are a cop. Your badge does not shield you from fundamental principles of morality. Law enforcement officers must understand this and stop killing people unjustly.
Levonia Riggins was ingloriously shot in his own home, suffering an undeserved gruesome early death. His family are now traumatized and grief stricken in a manner that you would never wish on anyone. They will never have true happiness for the rest of their lives. The deputies involved, especially Deputy Caleb Johnson who made the conscious decision to pull the trigger and end Levonia’s life, will never sleep soundly again.
The Tampa Bay Times dutifully printed an all too common boilerplate news report of the incident:
“A Hillsborough sheriff’s deputy fatally shot an unarmed man Tuesday morning as a SWAT team raided a Clair -Mel area home looking for illegal narcotics, the Sheriff’s Office reported. The raid yielded a small amount of marijuana, the agency said. “Levonia Riggins, 22, had been the subject of a monthlong drug investigation, sheriff’s Maj. Chad Chronister said at a news conference.
“When investigators arrived at the house at 1432 Longwood Loop with a search warrant about 8 a.m., everyone inside came out except for Riggins, the major said. Others who left the house told deputies Riggins was inside, most likely in the rear, sheriff’s spokeswoman Debbie Carter said in a news release. That’s when Deputy Caleb Johnson, 32, a seven-year veteran of the agency, entered the house with fellow SWAT members.
“‘After making numerous commands for Riggins to exit the residence, Deputy Johnson visually located Riggins in a bedroom, at which time Johnson perceived Riggins as an immediate threat and fired one shot, striking Riggins,’ Carter reported. “Riggins was taken to Tampa General Hospital, where he died.”
According to Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office undercover deputies allegedly bought marijuana (undoubtedly very small amounts) from Levonia twice in the prior month. That along with a year old report about a gun at the home was enough to trigger the deployment of Hillsborough’s SWAT team to “execute” a search warrant of the home shared by Levonia and his family on the early morning of August 30th — a search warrant for a plant which they falsely label a “narcotic” for additional fear effect. This bears repeating: it was a search warrant, not even an arrest warrant. The SWAT team used a loudspeaker to order the residents out of the home. Three adults and a child came out of the house. Levonia did not. Not based on any particular safety concern but a fear Levonia may be flushing his weed down the toilet, SWAT members escalated the situation by bashing in Levonia’s bedroom window. There they find him still in his bed, under his sheets. Not defiantly waiting to ambush them with an assault rifle, but merely waking up. Any mildly experienced policeman should expect this, even after their loudspeaker announcement. Reacting like you expect anyone who is woken up by his window being smashed and staring down the barrel of a weapon pointed at you by an angry gunman yelling something like:
Levonia gets out of bed and is promptly fatally shot by Deputy Johnson. Ostensibly because Levonia moved his hands towards his own waist.
Deputies search the home for several hours and find no gun and 2 grams of marijuana.
I’ll go ahead and agree to the stipulation that everything the Hillsborough SWAT team did that morning up to the shooting of Levonia was legal. Marijuana is illegal even if for totally unjustifiable reasons. They were acting on facts known to them. They got a search warrant from a judge. That search warrant is an actual order commanding them to execute the search. They surrounded Levonia’s house armed to the teeth like Delta Force and smashed their way in (speed, surprise, violence of action.) That is standard procedure. Not withstanding it is well known using militarized special forces tactics for little more than anything other than a hostage/active shooter is unnecessary and actually increases the chance for violent confrontation and harm for all involved. Levonia didn’t comply fast enough so they had to eliminate the threat. All done following Sheriff’s Office policy and procedure, Florida state law, U.S. federal law, and the Constitution of the United States of America as dutifully interpreted by The Supreme Court. Just because no gun and only enough weed for one joint were found in the home doesn’t mean Levonia had the right not to be killed. The continuing investigation, conducted by the very organization that murdered him, will likely conclude Levonia was up to some kind of no good. Even if it doesn’t, the deputies were still acting in good faith.
Interestingly, the Sheriffs Office isn’t even bothering to claim the deputy “thought he saw a gun,” or that the deputy’s own gun “went off” accidentally. Voulusa county deputies murdered Derek Cruice under exact same circumstances last year and got away with it, so why not?
So how can the deputy’s actions be legal yet still be murder? To focus on the few moments around the shooting or the “legality” of the raid blinds you to a larger fundamental issue.
The deputies failed to question the most important aspect of their actions before they even began.
When is it morally acceptable to use force against another man? It is never morally acceptable to initiate violence. Force can only be used as a response to violence (self-defense of yourself or others.) We all inherently know this from a very early age but unfortunately spend our lives unlearning it especially when it comes to “government” exceptions.
Conducting violent marijuana raids on an individual’s home is immoral. Hillsborough county deputies were the ones that initiated violence when they decided to bash Levonia’s window, enter his home while he was sleeping, take any of his possessions that interested them and shoot him dead because he gave the merest perception that he may resist. Levonia Riggins had not initiated violence against anyone. Possessing or participating in the voluntary exchange of goods (even if you think it is a generally harmful mood altering substance) is not a violent act.
If Hillsborough deputies were serving an arrest warrant on Levonia for say murder or armed robbery they would be justified in their presence at his home and use of force to arrest him. Even then, the actual shooting is unjustified.
To defend the deputies by saying they did not shoot until after Levonia resisted and threatened them is incorrect. Imagine an armed robber shoots and kills a jewelry shop owner and then claims self-defense because the store owner looked like he was going for his own gun. Police are on the same moral ground when conducting marijuana raids.
But marijuana is bad you say. If someone brings marijuana into your home or business against your will, you are welcome to drive them out with a whip. Getting cops to whip people on their own property for adult, consensual marijuana use or trade make you the criminal. Police involvement concerning harms associated with marijuana should be minimal at best and are already covered by other, just laws. I’m not asking you to support marijuana use, I’m asking you to end your support for violent prohibition enforcement.
You may believe government agents, unlike a common robber, had a lawful right to be in Levonia’s home and seize his belongings. Lawful right does not give you moral right. Morality trumps statutory law every time. Slavery, Japanese interment, forced segregation were just as immoral when they were legal. Do you really think out of the millennia of man’s existence that you just happen to live in an era where EVERY government law is moral? Keep in mind we have 99,999 laws on the books in America and the world’s highest rate of incarceration by total number and population percentage.
Even the deputies recognize another “drug dealer” or any other citizen, would not have the moral right to steal Levonia’s weed and shoot him if he resisted. If the deputy on his own time, neighbors, strangers from across town, myself, a minister, even a hundred pious ministers don’t have the moral right to violently invade someone’s home with the intent to rob or steal marijuana how did the police get it? Police claim that special right was given to them by “we the people.” But here’s the problem, people didn’t have that right in the first place so how are they able to confer it on the police. Answer: they can’t. Sir Robert Peele listed this as one of the 9 fundamental principles of policing.
“PRINCIPLE 7: Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.”
Your badge does not give you extra rights. In fact, if professionalism and honor means anything to you, men and women who swear to serve and protect should hold themselves to a much higher standard of conduct when using physical force against others (especially lethal force) than a very basic standard of morality and decency.
Martin Luther King Jr. articulates the difference between just and unjust laws:
“I would agree with St. Augustine that ‘an unjust law is no law at all.’ Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.”
King is only addressing the following of unjust laws. Actually enforcing an unjust law is much worse.
It is the individual police officer’s actions against his fellow man that actually brings the harm of unjust laws into physical manifestation. A government statute is only ink and paper. Individuals damage their own spirituality and moral fiber when they harm others unjustly. This is an inescapable fact inherent to our humanity. A tin badge, uniform, politician’s decrees, good intentions will not shield you from the consequences of violating morality. “Just following orders” or “It’s the law” is no excuse.
Just as he pulled that trigger and sent a bullet fatally piercing though Levonia’s flesh, Deputy Johnson dealt a mortal wound to his very own spirituality that only true repentance, undeserved forgiveness and God can heal.
Should he be charged and convicted? Of murder or manslaughter? Either would be appropriate. I truly hesitate to subject anyone to our legal system hoping to get justice. If he is charged, it will be for the wrong reasons. 1. Only because he didn’t see a gun on Levonia, not because he shouldn’t have been conducting the raid in the first place. 2. To cover for the Sheriff’s Office leadership. They will sacrifice him to the public to protect themselves. Every deputy in the raid and every member of the SO in the chain of command up to Sheriff David Gee are culpable. They will use the excuse: Yes we sent you on an impossible mission to enforce an unjust law, gave you terrible training and issued ignorant procedures that guarantee this type of outcome. But you pulled the trigger. 3. A perverse self-justification of a corrupt legal system led by a prosecutor blowing with the wind of public outcry. See… the system worked. Not withstanding that Levonia is still dead. And our militarized, fear-based, drug crazed Law Enforcement system will march on only with almost imperceptibly less vicious rules of engagement.
What would it accomplish to throw Deputy Johnson in prison even if he deserved it? He genuinely thought what he was doing was “good” and righteous consistent with the horribly wrong but popular conventions in America today. Restoration and rehabilitation is what is demanded here. Prison will produce neither. I would love for deputy Johnson and others to understand the unjust harm they caused and ask for genuine forgiveness, perform penance and restitution to the family. Go, and sin no more. Let me be the first to beg for mercy on his behalf. I have less sympathy for the Hillsborough Sheriff leadership, government prosecutors, judges and politicians that gave those orders to kill. Let them taste their own “justice.”
I am certain the deputies would receive infinitely more undeserved forgiveness and compassion from Levonia’s family than any Florida prosecutor would show a poor, black, nameless young man if the roles were reversed.
All of this is difficult for me to put into print. No cop, including myself, is any different than Deputy Johnson. It could have easily been me killing someone in a similar manner. I am a former police officer. I participated in several raids like this one and arrested scores of people on drug charges. Like most cops including the men in this incident, I always wanted to act with integrity, help others and “do the right thing,” I understand now by blindly following orders enforcing morally unjust “laws,” I unwittingly committed legal yet immoral acts of aggression against others in the performance of my duties. Even when no one is killed or injured, the mere act of seizing a person’s marijuana, cash, locking them in cages or forcing them to pay a fine is the same as theft, kidnapping and extortion. All of which are immoral acts.
Even if you don’t care about some drug dealing “thug” At least care about the men that are unwittingly destroying themselves morally and spiritually on your behalf.
Furthermore, this “Drug War” for practical purposes doesn’t even work, does not prevent crime or keep kids away from it, makes communities and police less safe, was racist in its inception, destroys liberty and ensures a police state.
Fellow cops, stand down, stand up, and speak out. How can you fear speaking out when a man is killed unjustly and a “good cop” just like you trying to “do the right thing” has his life destroyed as well.
End your participation in the enforcement of unjust marijuana laws, drug warrant SWAT raids, civil asset forfeiture and aggressive enforcement of other non-crimes.
Before YOU become a killer.