In the first stage of what is known as general adaptation syndrome, a recognized natural response among all vertebrates and many other organisms is hyperarousal or acute stress response. In its more recognizable name, the “fight or flight” response is a natural physiological reaction to a perceived harmful event, attack, or a threat to one’s survival. Without delving into the actual hormonal secretions involved, animals’ sympathetic nervous systems react to a chemical discharge that primes them to either run away or stand and face a threat. Human beings experience the fight or flight response to their safety, but when they are denied egress from danger, their only option is to stand and fight.
Regardless of what one thinks of the obscene NRA and ALEC “stand your ground laws,” most Americans would support its original iteration known as the “Castle Doctrine.” The principle that every American has the right to defend their family from armed intruders breaking into their home should be universally applied to all Americans, but it appears to be reserved solely for white people, at least in Texas.
First, in Somerville Texas in mid-December, a white man, Henry Goedrich Magee, was awoken before 6 a.m. to intruders breaking into his mobile home. Fearing for his and his pregnant girlfriend’s safety, Magee grabbed a firearm and opened fire on the intruders killing a Burleson County law enforcement officer. Sgt. Adam Sowers was fatally wounded by Magee while leading an armed team during an early morning unannounced “no-knock” marijuana raid. A couple of months later a Texas grand jury rightfully refused to indict Mr. Magee citing his sincere belief that he feared for his and his pregnant girlfriend’s life. The grand jury cleared him of any wrongdoing “as a completely reasonable act of self-defense.”
It is tragic a law enforcement officer lost his life, and that Magee was so rightfully terrified he had no flight option available and with a team of armed men breaking into his home exercised the natural response of fighting for survival. That is a result of a growing law enforcement practice across America of heavily-armed SWAT teams breaking into private homes without identifying themselves are police. A reasonable person might think that law enforcement officials in Texas would rethink the “army-style” incursions into private citizens’ homes, especially with the preponderance of gun advocates in the state, but the concepts of “reasonable, Texas, and law enforcement” in the same sentence is alien.
Reasonable law enforcement practice is so alien, in fact, that armed teams breaking into Americans’ homes unannounced while residents are sleeping resulted in another law enforcement officer’s death less than six months after the Magee incident where the events were nearly identical. In fact, the events were exactly identical except for the prosecutor’s outrageous response.
In May, at about 5:30 a.m. in Killeen Texas, a SWAT team looking for marijuana broke into a home occupied by Marvin Louis Guy and his wife. The SWAT team was acting on a bogus, and unverified, tip off that drugs were on the premises and being dealt from the home. A subsequent search found no drugs or nothing indicating drug dealing. In fact, it is a real travesty that there was nothing whatsoever to indicate to a reasonable person that there was any reason a gang of armed men should have been breaking into one’s home that makes the circumstances of the officer’s death all the more tragic.
Subsequently, upon hearing the armed men breaking into his home at the crack of dawn, Mr. Guy feared for his and his wife’s life and sought to protect themselves and their property from what they thought were armed intruders. The SWAT team attempting to breach Mr. Guy’s home were implementing another “no-knock” raid, and a Detective Dinwiddie and three other SWAT members were shot while breaking into Mr. Guy’s home. Detective Dinwiddie died, one officer was wounded, and two others were saved by body armor. The police press release admitted Dinwiddie and the three other officers were shot while breaking into Mr. Guy’s home without identifying themselves as law enforcement; “The TRU was breaching the windows when the 49 year old male inside opened fire striking four officers.”
One might think that after the previous incident in December, a reasonable prosecutor would assume that since the shooting occurred during an early-morning break-in by armed men without identifying themselves as police officers, it would be a case of self-defense; but there is one major difference in the case. Mr. Guy is African American, he lives in Texas, and despite fearing for his and his wife’s life, he should have known that there are different standards according to race in America. As a Black man he had no right to defend himself according to the local prosecutor, and no grand jury cleared him of wrongdoing “as a completely reasonable act of self-defense.”
The prosecutor, while announcing in open court that Governor Rick Perry had just awarded the slain police officer’s family with the Star of Texas award, promptly charged Mr. Guy with capital murder and is seeking the death penalty in Dinwiddie’s death. He also charged Guy with three counts of attempted capital murder for firing at the other officers while they were breaking in his home. The Star of Texas prize is given out each year to police and first responders killed or injured in the line of duty; even when they break into a private citizens home without identifying themselves as law enforcement or find no evidence of contraband.
The idea of self-defense, particularly in one’s private residence, should not be up for discussion, controversial, or an issue involving law enforcement officers as victims of armed break-ins. There has been an explosion of military-style SWAT raids known as “no-knock” incursions that have resulted in death and injuries to people’s pets, children, entire communities, and law enforcement officers as well. Most are for non-violent, and often non-existent, misdemeanor drug offenses that are in most cases a result of the ridiculous and failed war on marijuana use; not drug cartels or major drug traffickers. The number of SWAT deployments, with military hardware and vehicles, across the nation has ballooned from a few hundred annually in the 1970s, to a few thousand during the 1980s, to over 50,000 per year in 2010. Subsequently, many of the “military raids” are botched besides the two recent officer deaths in Texas as well as an 18-month old baby in Georgia being injured by a SWAT grenade. Most of the botched raids and subsequent law enforcement mistakes resulting in death never actually make the news.
The Texas cases are telling in that there are two dead police officers as a result of not identifying themselves as law enforcement while breaking into private residences in the early morning hours. It is also revealing that a grand jury found that a white man who shot and killed what he thought was an armed intruder acted in self-defense, while a Black man in identical circumstances is charged by a prosecutor with capital murder and faces the death penalty. Self-defense is supposed to be a right for all Americans, regardless of race, and if lawmakers would comprehend that using marijuana should also be a right, regardless of race, at least two Texas cops would be alive and a Black man would not be facing the death penalty for “a completely reasonable act of self-defense.”
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.