It is past time to end the harmful and racist practice of no-knock warrants
Systemic racism is often invisible to me and it shouldn’t be. It is time for that to stop, too.
Sometimes I just ignore the news. As a white man in rural Wisconsin, most of the time there is no penalty to ignoring the news. Little of the local, national, or international news has an immediate effect on my life. That deliberate ignorance is a sort of privilege. It is also an unsustainable lie.
I can’t look away from racial injustice.
This past week I was driving in my car and a reporter came on NPR to say that Minneapolis Police had killed a man during a “no-knock” warrant. The story mentioned that there was body camera footage verifying that the man had reached for a gun. In my white guy head, as I was driving, I was upset that it had ended that way, but it seemed that the police had likely acted in self-defense.
In the following days, we learned that the man’s name is Amir Locke, and that he was 22 years old and sleeping on a couch when the no-knock warrant was served at 6 in the morning. Amir was a heavy sleeper, and body camera footage showed he was completely asleep with a blanket over his head when the officer kicked the couch to wake him up. Amir reached for his gun, which he was licensed to carry, and the officer shot him three times, killing him on the spot. Amir did not have a criminal record, nor was he the subject of the warrant. It was nine seconds from when the police entered the apartment until when he was killed and two seconds from the moment he was woken up.
After I heard the details, I revised my opinion. I see that this killing is yet another tragic example of both personal and systemic racism. I’m ashamed to say this, because I should have seen it from the beginning.
I encourage you to check out activist Shaun King’s Facebook page, where he is sharing photos and stories of Amir as a boy and young man, provided by Amir’s family.
I can’t look away and pretend I do not see.
When I say “This has to stop,” part of what I am referring to is the dehumanization and terror inherent in a no-knock warrant. The no-knock is a presumption of guilt, and it leads to situations just like the one that led to Amir Locke’s death. It is dangerous for the police, for the people being served the warrant, and, of course, bystanders like Amir Locke.
These warrants are disproportionately used against Black and Brown people. Breonna Taylor was killed in a no-knock warrant. Her family is still waiting for justice. In Louisville, the city banned no-knock warrants in a law aptly titled Breonna’s Law, and there is a national push to end all no-knocks. Minnesota discussed bans on no-knock warrants as part of proposed police reforms which were on the table after the killing of George Floyd. Nothing happened. Any ban will not come soon enough for Amir Locke.
The other part of what I am referring to when I say “This has to stop,” is my own initial reaction to the first report. I assumed that when the police report said that the person was armed that the police were acting in self-defense. I assumed that Amir did not have a right to defend himself. I unconsciously took the side of the police. And then I looked away. I did not put any more attention there until other people started talking about Amir on social media. This is my white privilege and my own racism showing, and this has to stop.
I can’t look away anymore when I see racial injustice.
As a white man living in rural Wisconsin, I could just say that I am not affected by systemic racism and police violence. That is simply not true. This is too close. I can’t look away. Amir Locke deserved better as a human being. He could have been one of my students or the son of one of my friends. Amir’s family and every other Black person in America are in physical danger.
My friend Sam shared this quote from Black author Scott Woods on social media. Woods sums it up:
“The problem is that white people see racism as conscious hate, when racism is bigger than that. Racism is a complex system of social and political levers and pulleys set up generations ago to continue working on the behalf of whites at other people’s expense, whether whites know/like it or not. Racism is an insidious cultural disease. It is so insidious that it doesn’t care if you are a white person who likes black people; it’s still going to find a way to infect how you deal with people who don’t look like you. Yes, racism looks like hate, but hate is just one manifestation. Privilege is another. Access is another. Ignorance is another. Apathy is another. And so on. So while I agree with people who say no one is born racist, it remains a powerful system that we’re immediately born into. It’s like being born into air: you take it in as soon as you breathe. It’s not a cold that you can get over. There is no anti-racist certification class. It’s a set of socioeconomic traps and cultural values that are fired up every time we interact with the world. It is a thing you have to keep scooping out of the boat of your life to keep from drowning in it. I know it’s hard work, but it’s the price you pay for owning everything.”
Systemic racism is invisible to me and it shouldn’t be. I won’t look away.
When I don’t look away, I find I am motivated to action. I want to be part of collective action. When Minnesota failed to pass sweeping police reform after the death of George Floyd, it was Republican legislators who blocked the bills. They dug in their feet and doubled down on fighting any changes to policing at all costs. It was part of Trump’s reelection strategy to paint the Democrats as anti-police and anti-public safety. What is not discussed is that rational changes to policing could result in safer communities both for police officers and the people they purportedly serve. The collective action that I pledge to focus on is working to elect Democrats in the upcoming elections in Wisconsin, and then holding those Democrats accountable for addressing systemic racism in policing.
Here is what Thom Hartmann has to say about no-knock warrants: