by Ted Miller
(originally published in Tumbleweird March 2022)
When is it acceptable to kill innocent people during a law enforcement action? What crimes are so egregious that the price of enforcement is the death of someone not even involved in the crime?
Imagine this: You are in bed asleep, your significant other at your side. You are suddenly jolted awake by what sounds like someone breaking down your front door, lots of indecipherable yelling, and the sound of several men in plain clothes screaming as they forcibly enter your home. You grab your gun, which you keep near you just in case something like this happens. You see shadows and weapons pointed at you and your significant other. Fearing for your life, you fire a warning shot. A rain of bullets erupts. Your significant other falls to your side and dies in your arms.
In the midst of your grief and confusion, a man claiming to be a police officer violently grabs you, handcuffs you, and drags you outside.
Later, you will be accused of resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer, and blamed for the death of your significant other.
Neither you nor your significant other was the person the police were looking for.
And all of this was completely legal.
The scenario I just described was what Kenneth Walker experienced on the morning of March 13, 2020 in Louisville, Kentucky. His girlfriend, who died in his arms, was Breonna Taylor, an EMT and Emergency Room technician.
The police were executing what is known as a no-knock warrant in search of evidence related to a drug crime Taylor and Walker were not connected to.
Breonna Taylor was killed in a search for evidence of a crime for which neither she nor her boyfriend was a suspect.
No-knock warrants are inherently dangerous for both the police and the occupants of the residence being raided. They are designed to create confusion and chaos. And in that confusion and chaos, innocent people too often get hurt.
No physical evidence is worth risking someone’s life to obtain.
On February 2, 2022 in Minneapolis, Amir Locke was asleep on the couch when police officers executed a no-knock entry. In the confusion and chaos, Locke jumped up with his legally owned gun in his hand.
Seven seconds after entering the apartment, Amir Locke was shot dead by police. Seven seconds. Not enough time to even say his name or understand what was happening. The officer that killed him made a snap decision and opened fire without asking questions.
Again, Locke was not the target of the raid. The police were looking for Locke’s cousin in connection with a recent homicide. The cousin was not present with Locke.
Was the killing of Amir Locke justified because his cousin was suspected of murder? Was his killing justified because he had a legally owned gun in his hand? Possessing a legally owned weapon in your own home is not a capital offense. Defending yourself from an intruder is often lauded in our country, but not if the intrusion is an unexpected violent entry by the police.
How could Amir Locke or Kenneth Walker have possibly known what was happening?
It’s past time to reassess police tactics that put both the police and innocent civilians at risk. In these two cases, and in hundreds of others around the country, intentionally creating a dangerous situation to serve a warrant was not worth the risk. These were not hostage situations, or cases where a violent individual was threatening to harm themselves or others.
There are other ways to execute a warrant, to find evidence, or to locate a suspect.
St. Paul, sister city to Minneapolis, hasn’t executed a no-knock warrant since 2016. The mayor of Minneapolis promised to reform the practice after the Breonna Taylor case and the murder of George Floyd by police. But that promise didn’t save Amir Locke.
Four states have banned the practice of no-knock warrants: Florida, Oregon, Connecticut, and Virginia. (Peter Nickeas, CNN, “There's a growing consensus in law enforcement over no-knock warrants: The risks outweigh the rewards,” February 12, 2022.) Other states have severely limited the practice to very narrow circumstances.
Too many people are killed at the hands of police, and many of them are not involved in a crime. Even one innocent life taken is unacceptable.
Data compiled by the Washington Post shows that police in the United States kill 1000 people every year. And, like Breonna Taylor and Amir Locke, those killed are disproportionately Black or Hispanic. (Washington Post, “Fatal Force” database, as of February 9, 2022.) Too many are innocent people.
The relationship between the police and the communities they serve needs to improve. There are ways to enforce the law and support the justice system with less risk and fewer collateral deaths.
We must demand police reforms that will reduce or eliminate collateral killings.
Let’s start by banning no-knock warrants.