Once again, police have killed a Black citizen, Amir Locke, while executing a no-knock warrant. One of the things that makes this story so tragic is that it is not new. Countless no-knock raids that have resulted in civilians who’ve been terrorized, injured, and even killed by police in no-knock raids—from 26 year-old Breonna Taylor to 19 month-old Bounkham Phonesavanh—it is outstandingly clear that no one is safe, even in their own homes, as long as these sorts of warrants are requested by police and approved by judges and unchallenged by politicians. But this story’s roots go deeper than the republic itself.
The history of the Fourth Amendment is rooted in the Founders’ experiences with the arbitrary and oppressive tactics the British Crown used to enforce its anti-smuggling laws. As helpfully and somewhat ironically highlighted by a .gov website:
Few provisions of the Bill of Rights grew so directly out of the experience of the colonials as the Fourth Amendment, embodying as it did the protection against the use of the “writs of assistance.”
Armed with muskets and these “writs of assistance”, agents of the Crown would break down doors and interrogate residents, day or night, in an overzealous attempt to crack down on smuggling of tea and sugar. These abuses led twelve of the original thirteen states, and the First Congress, to ban nighttime searches. In the early Republic, therefore, a warrant to enter a house in the hours of darkness would have been considered unreasonable on its face.
The history and the plain language of the Fourth Amendment should make it clear that no-knock warrants are gross abuses of state power. But even if we set aside the history and plain language, the current reality of no knock warrants should make it readily apparent why this practice is unconscionable.
Frey has repeatedly claimed he banned no-knock warrants for “all but exigent circumstances.”
But court records suggest the practice continued.
A Star Tribune review of available court records found that MPD personnel have filed for, and obtained, at least 13 applications for no-knock or nighttime warrants since the start of the year — more than the 12 standard search warrants sought in that same span. At least another seven no-knock warrants have been carried out at Minneapolis addresses by other law enforcement agencies, notably the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office. Those figures are almost certainly an undercount, because some warrant applications are filed under seal for various reasons — including the warrants that were filed in connection with the St. Paul homicide investigation. In the past, MPD executed an average of 139 no-knock warrants a year.
Minneapolis police carried out a similar surprise raid the day before Locke’s killing, during the arrest of two teenagers wanted in a shooting outside a Richfield school that left one student dead and another seriously injured.
Time and time again it has been shown that no-knock warrants are ineffective. They do not increase our crime clearance rates, they do not ensure officers’ safety, and they cause more harm than they prevent. People—primarily communities of color that already experience disproportionate policing—are dying, needlessly, at the hands of those who took an oath to protect them. Between 2010 and 2016 “at least 81 civilians and 13 police officers” were killed in no-knock raids. But we believe even one life is an entirely unacceptable loss of life for a policing practice that has been shown to be entirely ineffective and is primarily used against low-level drug offenses. No-knock warrants should be banned.
Judges like Judge Cahill—who approved the warrant that lead to the death of Amir Locke—have a key role here. Their constitutional duty is to exercise care in scrutinizing police demands for search warrants, not to play along with every law enforcement request. If they cannot keep up with the current known reality of the dangers of no-knock warrants and exercise the ability to say “no” to police, we’d suggest that maybe it’s time for them to no longer be in charge of these sorts of things.
And as a volunteer organization dedicated to the protection and restoration of Fourth Amendment rights, we will be watching to see whether or not judges and legislators are taking their roles under the Constitution seriously. Only then will Minnesotans be, as the Fourth Amendment puts it, “secure in their persons” as they get their well-earned rest. The days of Minnesotans passively waving electeds through to re-election are over. We hope this message is resoundingly clear for those judges and legislators—including Mayor Frey and Judge Cahill—who choose to enable dangerous and constitutionally unsound policing practices like no-knock warrants.