Janesville family sees alarming link to police action in Ferguson

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Nick Crow
Thursday, August 21, 2014

JANESVILLE — A Janesville family watching protests in Ferguson, Missouri, said they know the feeling of fear after police used what they believe was excessive force against them in May.

The Phonesavanh family made national news after police May 28 raided the relative's home where they were sleeping in Cornelia, Georgia. Police wrongly believed a drug dealer was inside.

Police tossed a stun grenade that landed in the playpen of Phonesavanh's youngest son, Bounkham. The grenade exploded, cutting into the 1-year-old's face and chest. He was kept in a medically induced coma for days.

"The kids are still affected," Alecia Phonesavanh said. "They wake up at night screaming. They are still having nightmares. It's hard for them to get themselves occupied with other things other than being with mommy and daddy."

Recent events in Ferguson have fueled a national debate about the use of force by police.

Protests, sometimes violent, began Aug. 9 in the St. Louis suburb after a white police officer shot to death an unarmed black 18-year-old. The incident ignited racial tensions and, at times, aggressive police response to quell the upheaval.

Phonesavanh said she can barely watch television coverage of Ferguson because of what she has seen happening.

"I've been seeing it everywhere, and I don't understand how they (the police) can do this stuff," Phonesavanh said. "What is the reasoning for it."

Their 1-year-old, known by the family as "Bou Bou," is still undergoing surgeries. The next is scheduled for later this month, when doctors will remove scar tissue from the bones on his chest and face.

The American Civil Liberties Union released a document in June called "War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing." In it, it says "neighborhoods are not war zones, and our police officers should not be treating us like wartime enemies."

The Phonesavanh family's attorney, Mawuli Mel Davis, was in Ferguson on Wednesday and Thursday. He went after the National Conference of Black Lawyers requested attorneys from across the country to observe the scene and ensure constitutional rights.

During his time in Ferguson, he was in the streets both day and night and saw a brazen disregard for the protesters, he said.

"The constitution as we know it has been suspended in Ferguson," Davis said. "People were arrested without cause. The intimidation and antagonism towards protesters was really intentional. It was very disturbing."

Phonesavanh said the behavior of some police departments has become a national problem.

"Once again, the police are using military tactics in an unnecessary situation," Phonesavanh said. "It's the people behind the badge giving police a bad name."

Phonesavanh said her grandpa, aunt and uncle served in law enforcement and didn't act the way these police do.

"I hold very high respect for cops in general, just not the ones who think they are above the law or think that they are the law and can do what they want," Phonesavanh said. "You don't serve and protect by throwing your weight around."

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