To a hammer, everything resembles a nail. SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) teams were once used only in emergencies such as riots or robberies where hostages were taken. But today there are more than 50,000 “no-knock raids” a year.
It’s not because crime got worse. There is less crime today. Crime peaked around 1990 and is now at a 40-year low. But as politicians keep passing new criminal laws, police find new reasons to deploy their heavy equipment.
Washington Post reporter Radley Balko points out that they’ve used SWAT teams to raid such threatening haunts as truck stops with video poker machines, unlicensed barber shops and a frat house where underage drinking was reported.
In New York City, these men in black raided standup comedian Joe Lipari’s apartment.
“I had bad customer service at the Apple Store,” Lipari told me in an interview for my upcoming TV special “Policing America.” “So I bitched about it on Facebook. I thought I was funny. I quoted ‘Fight Club,’” the 1999 movie about bored yuppies who attack parts of consumer culture they hate.
“People (on Facebook) were immediately responding that it was obviously from ‘Fight Club,’” says Lipari. “It was a good time, until 90 minutes later, a SWAT team knocked on my door. Everyone’s got their guns drawn.”
It took only that long for authorities to deem Lipari a threat and authorize a raid by a dozen armed men. Yet, says Lipari, “if they took 90 seconds to Google me, they would have seen I’m teaching a yoga class in an hour, that I had a comedy show.”
Lipari has no police record. If he is a threat, so are you.