THE REVEREND ALBERT AYMER traveled from New Jersey to Boston last week and thundered over the coffin of the Reverend Accelyne Williams.
"I cannot understand for the life of me how anyone can . . . police a community in which they do not live," he declared. "When people who live in the suburbs police the city, they police with fear. . . . Police officers who live in the community would have known . . . the difference between decent, God-fearing people and the criminals."
Is this is the lesson to be learned from the manslaughter of an old preacher by a battalion of armed cops? That when the doors of people's homes are going to be smashed in during SWAT raids, the troops doing the smashing should be neighbors?
That is asinine. Reverend Williams did not die because Boston doesn't enforce a residency rule on its public safety departments. He was not a martyr in the cause of community policing. In fact, city records identify most of the cops who took part in the raid as residents of, yes, Boston.
The question at the core of this ghastly debacle is not why officers from the Drug Enforcement Unit burst into Apartment 2-L instead of Apartment 3-L at 118 Whitfield St., or whether officers who knew the neighborhood better would have avoided the mistake. It is: Why is the government smashing down the doors of people's homes in the first place?
Savage police attacks on individuals who are hurting and threatening no one have become terrifyingly routine.
This time it was the Boston Police Department killing an elderly minister. Last year in Texas it was the FBI triggering a massacre of 86 men, women and children in their home outside Waco. In Idaho a year earlier it was the US Marshals Service stalking the family of Randy Weaver, eventually murdering his wife and young son in a shootout.
This should be making our blood boil. It was comparable atrocities -- "works of death, desolation and tyranny," the Declaration of Independence called them -- that drove the founders of this nation to revolution. Americans who survived the struggle for independence were seared with the deep distrust of government power that is the very premise of the United States. It is the conviction pulsing at the heart of the America Idea -- and running through the Bill of Rights: Government is inherently dangerous and dictatorial and must be controlled.
Arbitrary searches, wrote Justice William Brennan in 1963, were "the single immediate cause of the American Revolution." Now such police state tactics occur all the time.
Government violence against individuals is at its rawest and nastiest in the War on Drugs. To enforce this modern Prohibition, police constantly invade the wrong homes, terrorize innocent families and kill blameless individuals. The Accelyne Williams horror is not a freak case. Newspaper databases are filled with similar outrages nationwide.
Malibu, Calif.: Donald Scott was shot to death during a raid on his property by 31 law enforcement agents. They were looking for marijuana; none was found.
Tyler, Texas: Annie Rae Dixon, a bedridden 84-year-old, was killed when drug raiders kicked down her bedroom door. No drugs were found.
Seattle: The wife of restaurateur Warren Chinn was attacked in her home, a gun held to her head, by agents looking for her husband's nonexistent drugs. The list goes on and on.
Drugs are poison; people who use them are fools -- agreed. But do we want our liberty ground up, our police officers trained to act like criminals, just to keep people from acting foolishly?
It isn't only drugs. In a wide array of areas the government now uses armed force against citizens who aren't threatening their neighbors or committing any violent act.
Owning illegal weapons was the excuse for the government's vicious attacks in the Waco and Weaver cases. Wetlands violations were the excuse in the case of John Poszgai of Morrisville, Pa. A refugee from Communist Hungary, Poszgai bought a piece of land, cleaned out a ditch that had been polluted with old tires and filled it with fresh topsoil. He was arrested, handcuffed, and jailed.
Blocking abortion clinics was the excuse for using obscenely brutal police tactics -- breaking bones, applying intensely painful holds, battering a pregnant woman until she hemmorhaged -- to crush prolife marchers in West Hartford.
"Insider trading" was the excuse for sending armed agents to invade the Wall Street offices of Kidder Peabody and Goldman Sachs, hauling off their top brokers in irons.
The more authority government is given, the more deadly, cruel and authoritarian it inevitably becomes. Government officials in America are empowered today as never before. As a result people are being destroyed and freedom is being erased -- just as the Founders predicted. Rev. Accelyne Williams was only the latest victim. He will not be the last.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe.)