Denver Post Defends Innocent SWAT Victim

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Denver Post Defends Innocent SWAT Victim

by Ari Armstrong, December 30, 1999

Credit When Credit is Due

I recently blasted the Denver Post for its front-page editorializing that assaults the right to bear arms. (See Post Assaults Civil Rights.) But the Post isn't all bad, and sometimes it publishes some pretty good material.

For instance, today (December 30) the Post printed an article written by Dave Kopel and me that criticizes the September 29 killing of Ismael Mena by a Denver SWAT team. Obviously I'm somewhat biased, but I thought the article turned out rather well. In general, both the Post and The Rocky Mountain News have done a good job covering the Mena story.

On December 1, the Post published two articles on the front page of their Denver and the West section. One is an (intentional) editorial by Chuck Green, who has earned fans from the libertarian camp. Green's article is titled, "It's time for judges to just say 'No'," a sentiment echoed in the article I wrote with Kopel. The other is a news story by Carlos Illescas and Marilyn Robinson.

At the News, Hector Gutierrez has done an outstanding job keeping up with the story. One of Gutierrez's particularly good pieces is from December 19, titled, "Immigrant thought cops were robbers." Mena's roommate is there quoted as saying about the SWAT invasion, "I was ready to tell them, 'Take my television; take my watch. I got $100 in my wallet. Take that, too. Just please let me live.'"

Sad, depressing stuff, but it's news that absolutely needs to be covered.

Reification

My header in the present article is potentially misleading, though. My two recent titles claim the Denver Post has alternately attacked civil rights (in the case of gun owners) and defended them (in Mena's case). My titles are accurate, so long as author and readers alike take care not to commit the logical fallacy of reification.

At the bottom of its editorial page, the Post writes, "In this column alone is The Denver Post's opinion expressed." This statement conveys something meaningful so long as we realize that "The Denver Post" is not itself a self-autonomous entity capable of having opinions. Instead, the line is meant to indicate that the columns convey the opinions of whoever is in charge of writing and approving them.

The term "The Denver Post" refers to a complicated arrangement of paper and ink, internet and computer machinery, and people cooperating with one another to produce the paper. Many of those who work on the Post share similar viewpoints, but many disagree on a host of issues. My titles, then, must be taken as short-hand to indicate the specific people involved with particular articles.

The Gun War

In general, the News, which means the people who work on the paper, tends to be somewhat more conservative or free-market oriented than the Post. (This is my personal opinion and one that seems to be widely shared, and probably one self-consciously adopted by the papers.) The Post tends to be "liberal" in the modern American meaning of that term.

Unfortunately, modern "liberals" have adopted a most illiberal cause: the destruction of the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms. Sometimes I can hardly bear to hear people who are supposed to stand up for American Civil Liberties instead denounce them.

The Post has been fairly eager to point out instances of police brutality and abuse, such as the killing of Ismael Mena. But several writers at the Post have been falling all over themselves in the race to see who can most effectively destroy the right to bear arms.

My hope is that the Post -- those who write and edit for the Post who oppose the right to bear arms -- will come to see the hypocrisy of their ways and support all civil rights.

The title I originally chose for the article about Mena is, "In the drug war, do the ends justify the means?" I believe it was the Post's editors who chose the title, "The drug war kills innocent people."

There seems to be universal sympathy for Ismael Mena, and rightly so. Mena was a hard-working immigrant who supported his wife and nine children. The Denver police busted down his door, awaking him, and shot him dead. All over some unsubstantiated report that there might be drugs at his apartment. It brings me to tears every time I review the details. What a horrible, disgusting abuse of power.

What the Post doesn't seem to get is that Kopel or I could just as easily have written an article titled, "The gun war kills innocent people."

Both Ruby Ridge and Waco were initiated by alleged violations of the 1934 National Firearms Act. Randy Weaver was entrapped by federal agents into violating a technicality of that law. The ATF started the Waco fiasco, based on alleged violations of the NFA which have since been proven unfounded. Any time the State gives its police agents such arbitrary, militaristic powers, tragedy is the inevitable result. Tragedy in terms of human life, and tragedy in terms of human freedom.

In fact, Kopel has already detailed many of the lethal abuses of power by the ATF in the gun war in his No More Wacos : What's Wrong With Federal Law Enforcement and How to Fix It. Kopel and co-author Paul Blackman write:

A lying informant played a central role in the first of BATF's notorious raids, when on June 7, 1971, BATF agents broke into the Maryland home of Kenyon Ballew. A burglar had told the police that Ballew owned grenades. Ballew did own empty grenade hulls, which are entirely legal and unregulated. Wearing ski masks and displaying no identification, BATF agents broke down Ballew's door with a battering ram. Responding to his girlfriend's screams, Ballew took out an antique blackpowder pistol, and was promptly shot by the BATF. Nothing illegal was found. He remains confined to a wheelchair as a result of the shooting, and now subsists on welfare.

Even by 1979, the ATF had killed, maimed, and terrorized enough innocent people to fill a book, which was written by David Hardy (The B.A.T.F.'s War on Civil Liberties).

When left-wingers call for more government restrictions of gun ownership, restrictions which inevitably confer upon police agents vicious arbitrary powers, the first casualty is civil liberties. So stop calling America's left-wing apologists "liberals." They don't deserve the title.

The real liberals -- modern-day libertarians -- defend all civil liberties for all people.

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