The city of Minneapolis is once again at the center of controversy. A young Black man named Amir Locke was killed Feb. 2 by police who entered his home with a no-knock warrant. The shooting has placed another dark cloud over the city’s police department nearly two years after the murder of George Floyd. And almost a year since a jury found former police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering Floyd.
Locke’s death also comes on the heels of last week’s jury selection in the trial of a former Kentucky police officer who was part of the raid that killed Breonna Taylor in 2020. That was another no-knock warrant turned deadly.
What is a no-knock warrant?
A no-knock warrant is when a police officer enters property unannounced in what they deem a dangerous situation.
A New York Times investigation found at least 81 civilians and 13 law enforcement officers have died in no-knock and quick-knock raids between 2010 and 2016.
And Sharon Fairley, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, told us we can attribute some of those numbers to poor police planning. “When law enforcement is preparing for an operation like this, they're supposed to conduct enough investigation that they should have some understanding of what situation they're going to confront when they enter this home.”
No-knock warrants are supposed to be used sparingly, but some say they actually have become increasingly more common – especially in drug cases. Some estimates say around 20,000-80,000 no-knock warrants occur annually – up from just a few thousand in the 1980s.
No-knock warrants often escalate quickly into high-risk scenarios for property damage and death because they’re meant to give people less time to react. And these types of raids can even target the wrong people entirely.
Listen to the Skimm This team break down no-knock warrants below.
Why were the police at Amir Locke’s home in the first place?
They were looking for someone connected to a homicide in nearby St. Paul – which is how they got the no-knock warrant. But Locke wasn’t named on the warrant and didn’t even live in the apartment.
Police officers used a no-knock warrant to break into an apartment where Locke appeared to be sleeping on a couch. Officers say they opened fire after seeing Locke holding a gun, which Locke's family says he legally owned.
Officials later released documents detailing their reason for the warrant: officer and public safety. Police said Locke was not named in the warrant.
Can anything change how no-knock warrants are used currently?
Since Breonna Taylor’s death in 2020, at least a dozen cities have passed laws banning or limiting no-knock warrants, including St. Louis and Lexington, Kentucky, while no-knock warrants were already illegal in three states: Florida, Oregon, and Virginia.
And after Locke's death, the mayor of Minneapolis suspended the use of no-knock warrants there, too.
It's still TBD if more places will change how they execute no-knock warrants, but Fairley told us not to look to Congress to take the lead here. “When it comes to the possibility of federal legislation, I think, we can hope for it, but policing is highly local, right? It's really a local issue. And so I really believe that our best hope is in reform via state legislation, city ordinances, and then police department policies.”
Calls for police reform are happening all over the country, and they don’t just stop at banning no-knock warrants. For a safe future, advocates want much more.
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