February 10, 2022 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Amir Locke deserved the dignity of a knock

To the police, however, his dignity was their disadvantage.

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Another week, another state crime. Amir Locke, a 22-year-old Black man, was killed by police in a Minneapolis apartment building. 

Shortly before 7 in the morning, a SWAT team approached the apartment door where Locke was staying. According to Interim Minneapolis Police Chief Amelia Huffman, it was assisting the city’s homicide unit as a part of a murder investigation. As is common practice, it executed a warrant when a search might turn violent.

The SWAT team had a “no-knock” search warrant. That’s a warrant authorizing law enforcement officers to enter without saying who they are and why they are there, if they believe these actions would create a dangerous situation or result in evidence being destroyed. Huffman said the SWAT team announced their entry “loudly and repeatedly” before forcibly entering the apartment Locke was staying in. 


When executing a search warrant, police must not forcibly enter without announcing who they are and their purpose for being at the citizen’s residence. They must also wait for a reasonable amount of time. Basically, “we are the police, and we have a warrant to search your premises.” They then wait for the resident to open the door. 


However, the body-worn camera footage tells a slightly different story. The footage shows an officer quietly turning a key to Locke’s apartment, and then the police yelling “Police! Search warrant!” Officers approached Locke lying on a couch, who was wrapped in a blanket. The officers kicked the back of the couch, waking Locke. Locke sat up and turned toward the officer. The footage shows Locke holding a handgun. Officer Mark Hanneman fired three shots into Locke – two into his chest and one into his wrist. Locke was treated on the scene, transported to a hospital and pronounced dead. 

The search warrant did not name Locke. His cousin has been apprehended in suspicion of the homicide that justified the raid. 

Amir Locke died senselessly. 

Concerns about no-knock search warrants have been around for some time. Critics see them as yet another example of over-militarized hyper-aggressive law enforcement. Calls to ban them intensified after the death of Breonna Taylor in 2020, who died, like Amir Locke, from police gunfire during the execution of a no-knock warrant. 

Minnesota has issued a moratorium on their use. Three states have banned them. However, these types of warrants are still legal in 47 states. Conservatives are reluctant to embrace reforms to police. 

I see a blind spot in the debate. 

Concentrating only on cases in which an innocent person is killed by police may actually minimize damage caused by no-knock warrants in this country. This damage is best understood as so many moments during which the dignity of everyday citizens has been stripped away. 


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Knock and announce
The historical approach to executing search warrants, adopted by the framers of the US Constitution, is the knock-and-announce rule. 

When executing a search warrant, police must not forcibly enter without announcing who they are and their purpose for being at the citizen’s residence. They must also wait for a reasonable amount of time. Basically, “we are the police, and we have a warrant to search your premises.” They then wait for the resident to open the door. 

To the police, this can seem like a disadvantage. 

Most of us have watched police procedural dramas during which the police come to the door and the bad guys say, “quick, shred those documents” or “flush the drugs down the toilet!” Well, maybe. 

If your focus is on apprehension regardless of collateral damage, you may see a no-knock as a necessary tool in law enforcement’s toolkit. 

But the knock-and-announce rule protects everyone involved.

It protects the police. Forcefully entering with little or no announcement is a recipe for retaliatory violence. If a resident has a firearm on hand, they may understandably want to use it. Yes, the knock-and-announce rule might put evidence at risk, but it doesn’t heighten the tension of an already tense situation. Let the drugs go down the drain. 

Police don’t need such protection, though. They are shielded from the violence inherent in no-knock warrants by modern technology. 


The true value of the knock-and-announce rule is how it protects citizens. In legalese, these protections are couched in the language of safeguarding privacy and property. I want to think of it differently. The knock-and-announce rule protects a person’s dignity. A no-knock search is an abrogation of that dignity, a violation of human rights.


When a SWAT team executes a no-knock search warrant, it maximizes the element of surprise by hurling in a flashbang (a stun grenade that unleashes bright light and loud sound) to disorient residents. They barge in wearing kevlar helmets, bulletproof armor and shields. 

Citizens don’t have this advantage. 

Citizens absorb the costs of tense situations.

Dignity
Protecting police is important, but they are civil servants whose occupation is to protect and serve. Some risk is to be expected. 

The true value of the knock-and-announce rule is how it protects citizens. In legalese, these protections are couched in the words of safeguarding privacy and property. But I think of it differently. 

The knock-and-announce rule protects a person’s dignity. A no-knock search is an abrogation of that dignity, a violation of human rights.  

Can you imagine being in your home and hearing “police!” Now suppose you are not connected to a crime. Maybe a family member is suspect. Do you get up and go to the door? Or do you wonder what is happening, imagining your friend is playing some prank? 

Well, what you think doesn’t matter. Your door will be kicked in.

Once a judge signs off on a no-knock warrant, you lose the right of consequence. You lose the right of free speech to explain that this is the wrong address or that this is a case of mistaken identity. 

You don’t have the right to protect your body or your personal space. Failure to comply may get you killed. So you submit to having orders yelled at you, like a dog, while you are being cuffed and searched. 

If you happen to be in a compromised position, say in the bathroom or the bedroom, it doesn’t matter. You are told to get on the ground even if you are stark naked or trying to pull your pants up. 


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That trinket your mother got from her mother that she gave to you? It’s smashed in the storm of chaos. That favorite stuffed animal of your child’s? Stepped on, muddied. And speaking of children, you are powerless as they break into tears and call for your protection.

60,000 state crimes
No-knock warrants are a part of the legal apparatus permitting police to commit state crimes – violations of human rights by a government. They give police the legal justification for stripping citizens of dignity.  

How many citizens? 

Exact data on the number of issued no-knock warrants is hard to come by. However, Peter Kraska, a professor in the School of Justice Studies at Eastern Kentucky University, testified before Congress in 2014. He said a conservative estimate for yearly no-knock warrants is 60,000. 

60,000? 

If a fraction of those search warrants executed by police produce traumatic events like those above, we should be ashamed of ourselves. 


Rod Graham is the Editorial Board's neighborhood sociologist. A professor at Virginia's Old Dominion University, he researches and teaches courses in the areas of cyber-crime and racial inequality. His work can be found at roderickgraham.com. Follow him @roderickgraham.

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