It had just turned 3:00 A.M. the morning of May 28 when officers of the Habersham County Police Department broke down the door to a private home in Cornelia, Georgia, making sure to toss a “flash bang” grenade in ahead of them before commencing to enter the house. The operation was part of an alleged “drug sting” carried out by the department’s Special Response Team (SRT), though the only thing “special” about these operations is that they are especially cruel and intrusive. Sleeping inside the house at the time of the raid was an unsuspecting family; a husband and a wife, their three young daughters (aged 7, 5 and 3 respectively), and their 19-month old baby boy whom the family affectionately called “Bou Bou”. While brash and irresponsible decision-making on the part of police squads is certainly nothing new, this incident stands out as particularly destructive because of the age of its main victim, and it serves as a living testament to the absolute horror resulting from unchecked police militancy. The flash bang grenade which police so carelessly tossed into the front room of the home landed directly in the portable crib where baby Bou Bou was asleep, and now the young infant’s family is fighting day-in and day-out just to keep their beloved boy from dying.
Shortly after the house came under attack, mother of the family Alecia Phonesavanh awoke to “a big flash, a loud bang, and a bunch of yelling, and my son screaming. Two of my other girls were next to my husband. There was a member of the SWAT team pinning him [my husband] down, another man had my son who was screaming and crying. At the time I didn’t see his playpen, but I kept yelling at him to ‘Please just give him to me. He’s just scared.” The police officer who was holding the child apparently tried to reassure the mother through this frightful chaos that her baby was “okay, he’s just fine, there’s nothing wrong with him.” But that was not the case. An entire side of the boy’s playpen, which also acted as a portable crib for the infant to sleep in, was entirely blown out. “They lied to me,” recalled Mrs. Phonesavanh. “They kept telling me my son was okay. When I saw his playpen I just threw up. I got really sick, I was so scared. That picture is enough to traumatize anybody knowing that there was a baby lying there.” As her husband Bounkham “Bou” Phonesavanh was being pinned down by an officer and the couple’s daughters looked on in horror, police conducted a thoroughly extensive search of the house hoping to find illegal possessions they felt certain would be there. They claimed to be acting on intelligence provided them by an undercover informant who said he’d purchased illegal substances from the house before. But however much they were trying to locate them now, the search “unearthed no drugs, no weapons, no bundles of cash and not even the suspect drug dealer.“
In fact the Phonesavanh family had only been in the house, which belonged to a friend, since late April after their own house in Wisconsin burned to the ground. They were planning on leaving to find another location to stay the next morning, and for this reason some of the children’s belongings were outside on the front lawn to be either moved or throw away, including an older playpen that Bou Bou no longer used. This conflicts with police claims that there was absolutely no indication that children were inside the home. Habersham County Sheriff Joey Terrell insists the operation was “properly executed”, and that furthermore “There was no malicious act performed. It was a terrible accident that was never supposed to happen”, as if tossing a grenade into someone’s house isn’t in itself an act of maliciousness. District Attorney Brian Rickman showed he was just as incompetent as Terrell when he rather stupidly asked, “Did they [the police] have reasons to know there were children involved? Was there any criminal intent when the device was deployed?” The answer to that question, for the record, is an unequivocal “yes” based on the testimony given by Alecia Phonesavanh. Aside from the old playpen being clearly visible for anyone to see, “[The kids’] shoes were laying all over… They can’t tell me there was no signs of kids. My van sits right next to the door that they busted into. My van has family stickers on it, four car seats inside, right next to the door that they kicked in.” Even more detrimental to the police officers’ line of argument is what Mrs. Phonesavanh had to say regarding their alleged “undercover informant”. “If they had an informant in that house,” Phonesavanh reasoned, “they knew there were kids.” This much is irrefutable.
Now baby Bou Bou is in critical condition and fighting for his life as he is confined to a Burn Victims Unit in an Atlanta hospital where he has been put into a medically-induced coma. He is hooked up to a breathing respirator to keep him ventilating after the grenade blast “opened up a deep gash in his chest, rendering one lung inoperable.” Aside from the collapsing of his lung from the grenade blast burning through his chest, Bou Bou’s face has been severely burned and possibly disfigured as well. He is reportedly too sick at this point for surgery to be performed. According to doctors he has a 50% chance of living or dying. In the words of the child’s mother, “My baby is nowhere near recovering… I look at him lying in the bed, and I want to trade places with him, I don’t want him to go through this.” Meanwhile Bou Bou’s father Bounkham, with whom he shares his name, is equally devastated. With tears pouring from his eyes, the father Bounkham expressed how he would “hold his hand to comfort him. We’re close. That’s my boy, that’s my only son.”
This comes at a time when raids such as this one continue growing in number. They are the product of the misnamed “War on Drugs”, which in actuality has little if anything to do with eradicating drug usage at all. Part of the incentive for police departments to take up arms (literally) in this domestic affront to American citizens has always been the promise of material benefits, such as an seemingly endless supply of arms and money provided by the federal government at no expense to the departments. Aside from the massive amount of federal grant and bonus money that is paid out on the basis of meeting or exceeding drug quotas and drug arrests, there’s a huge amount of advanced weaponry and artillery making its way back from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which is funneled to both state and local police departments directly from the Department of Defense. These include “Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles… missiles and tanks” as well as “tens of thousands of machine guns and 200,000 ammunition magazines since 2009.” What could be the purpose for all this if not for providing police with the ability to wreak the same kind of havoc here that the U.S. Armed Forces have wreaked on Iraq and Afghanistan? All the more telling is the fact that the vast majority of police departments now resort to these SWAT team operations to carry out drug raids and arrests. (In fact, a mere 7% of SWAT deployments are used for hostage crises or barricade situations.) These are essentially akin to a Navy SEALS operation overseas, only this is happening on our own shores. These unannounced, intrusive raids often lead to disaster or worse, death. Such was the case in 2006 when an early morning raid on the home of an elderly 92 year-old woman named Kathryn Johnson in Georgia ended with police firing 39 shoots at the old woman and killing her. In May of 2010 police officers in Detroit conducted a similar raid in which one of them shot and murdered a 7 year-old girl, Aiyana Stanley-Jones.
As horrific and heinous as the crime committed against the Phonesavanh family is, especially what’s been done to baby Bou Bou, it cannot be said with any certainty that any of the officers involved in the raid will ever be prosecuted or even charged with a crime for what they’ve done. It appears unlikely, at least on the local level, that they will considering how District Attorney Brian Rickman has decided to allow the Habersham Police Department conduct the investigation against itself through its “internal affairs” committee, which is universally just a front for police departments to cover up their crimes by simply declaring them to be “justifiable” while giving the pretense of conducting a “full investigation”. The larger problem, however, than whether or not these officers in particular are charged or convicted is how long the entire system that encourages and orchestrates these so-called “drugs raids” on the homes of American people is allowed to stand. If baby Bou Bou’s assailants are not brought to justice, it will be yet another wound left open to expose just how wickedly cruel and inhumane the American version of “justice” is.
- For information on how you can offer your support to the Phonesavanh family and baby Bou Bou in these tremulousness times, please visit JusticeAndPrayersForBouBou.org.
- UPDATE: As of the time of this writing, it appears baby Bou Bou’s situation is improving, though there is still a ways to go. Thankfully he is conscious and even walking! The resilient little boy is returning along with his family to Wisconsin during the Independence Day weekend. As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports:
“Surgeons repaired the boy’s lung so he no longer needs a ventilator and patched and re-attached his nose that had been detached by the explosion as well as repaired injuries to his lips and mouth, [Mawuli] Davis (the family’s attorney) said.”
“His face still has significant scarring, and there will be some need in the future for more plastic surgery” Davis said.