ALEXANDRIA, VA — A man was awoken to intruders pointing guns at him while he slept in his apartment. It was the police who barged in, because they suspected that he might be a squatter in his own home.
What makes this all-too-common occurrence more notable is that the man on the receiving end of the raid is an Iraq War veteran and author, 30-year-old Alex Horton. He is now a public affairs specialist who writes for the Department of Veterans Affairs, and has written articles for the New York Times, the Guardian, the Atlantic, and more.
“My situation was terrifying,” Horton wrote of his experience in a Washington Post article. “Lying facedown in bed, I knew that any move I made could be viewed as a threat. Instinct told me to get up and protect myself. Training told me that if I did, these officers would shoot me dead.”
Mr. Horton admitted to having come home late the previous evening from a bar and neglected to close his apartment door fully. The cracked door alarmed neighbors who called for a police response, which arrived around 9:00 a.m. the following morning.
“Three police officers barged into my apartment, barking their presence at my door,” Horton wrote. “They sped down the hallway to my bedroom, their service pistols drawn and leveled at me.”
Mr. Horton, who ordinarily writes about veterans’ issues, now wrote that the treatment he received by local police reminded him of the military operations he used to be involved in while serving in Iraq. He wrote:
In the shouting and commotion, I felt an instant familiarity. I’d been here before. This was a raid.
I had done this a few dozen times myself, 6,000 miles away from my Alexandria, Va., apartment. As an Army infantryman in Iraq, I’d always been on the trigger side of the weapon. Now that I was on the barrel side, I recalled basic training’s most important firearm rule: Aim only at something you intend to kill.
I had conducted the same kind of raid on suspected bombmakers and high-value insurgents. But the Fairfax County officers in my apartment were aiming their weapons at a target whose rap sheet consisted only of parking tickets and an overdue library book.
Horton said he later visited the Fairfax County police station to gather details about how he had been subject to such an aggressive raid after no crimes had been committed, and was told that the officers’ actions were “on point” and that it was not typical to investigate matters before charging in because it delays the apprehension of suspects.
“My only mistake had been failing to make sure the apartment door was completely closed before I threw myself into bed the night before,” Horton said in his Washington Post exposé.
The veteran argued that U.S. police would benefit in mimicking the strategies his Army infantry unit learned when dealing with the Iraqi population amidst violent insurgency.
“Instead of relying on aggression, they [police] should rely more on relationships,” Horton concluded. “Rather than responding to a squatter call with guns raised, they should knock on the door and extend a hand. But unfortunately, my encounter with officers is just one in a stream of recent examples of police placing their own safety ahead of those they’re sworn to serve and protect.”