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Georgia police threw a stun grenade in a 19-month-old's crib

Dylan Matthews is a senior correspondent and head writer for Vox's Future Perfect section and has worked at Vox since 2014. He is particularly interested in global health and pandemic prevention, anti-poverty efforts, economic policy and theory, and conflicts about the right way to do philanthropy.

A SWAT team raiding a home in Habersham County, Georgia at around 3 am Thursday, May 29th, threw a stun grenade into the crib of a 19-month-old toddler, Bounkham Phonesavanh, critically injuring him. His mother, Alecia Phonesavanh, told the Atlanta ABC affiliate WSB-TV that the grenade exploded on Bounkham's pillow, right next to his face. "He's in the burn unit. We go up to see him and his whole face is ripped open. He has a big cut on his chest," she continued.

The family says they have no health insurance, and have set up a GoFundMe page to pay for Bounkham's treatment. Police state that the raid was executing a no-knock warrant obtained after deputies bought drugs from someone at the house. They claim they saw "no clothes, no toys, nothing to indicate that there was children present in the home." Wanis Thometheva, 30, was arrested during the raid.

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WSB-TV screenshot

We don't know all the facts of the case yet, but they fit with a growing trend of police using SWAT teams and military tactics for cases that never would have warranted that treatment before. Eastern Kentucky University's Peter Kraska estimated that there were about 3,000 SWAT raids a year in the early 1980s, 30,000 by 1996, and 40,000 by 2001.

Radley Balko, now of the Washington Post, has detailed in his reporting and his book Rise of the Warrior Cop dozens of abuses this trend has wrought. An FBI SWAT team conducted a raid in Buffalo on suspicion of child porn possession, only to find out that the resident was totally innocent; the suspect in question had merely borrowed the place's WiFi connection. A SWAT team raided a DJ in Atlanta on suspicion of copyright violations. A Gibson Guitar factory in Tennessee was raided with a SWAT team on suspicion that the wood they imported for their guitars wasn't treated properly. Plenty of innocent people, from 80-year-old Isaac Singletary to 11-year-old Alberto Sepulveda to 88-year-old Kathryn Johnston, have been killed in SWAT raids. "In drug raids," Balko writes, "killing the dogs in the targeted house is almost perfunctory."

This is a particularly horrifying case, but it's the inevitable consequence of an escalation in police tactics that's been decades in the making.

Hat-tip to Eli Dourado.