The Guardian – 03/26/21
In the months after police officers in Louisville, Kentucky, burst into the home of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor, killing her as they conducted a botched narcotics raid, Lashrecse Aird knew that she wanted to take action.
“I’ve witnessed first-hand officers showing up at a home or family members being arrested,” she said. As a mother, and as a Black woman only a few years older than Taylor, the death of the young medical worker felt “deeply personal”.
Aird, a Democratic member of Virginia’s house of delegates, introduced legislation that would ban police officers in the state from using “no-knock” search warrants. The warrants, which have been explicitly legal in roughly a dozen states and allowed through courts in others, have long been controversial, with critics focused on how they allow police officers to initiate a surprise forced entry into a home.
The officers who conducted the raid at Taylor’s apartment had a no-knock warrant, but said that they announced their presence before entering, something that Taylor’s family and some of her neighbors have disputed.
In introducing the legislation last August, Aird joined a growing group of municipal and state politicians working to ban or restrict no-knock search warrants across the country in the wake of Taylor’s death. Calls for the bans, often called Breonna’s Law, increased last summer as a wave of protests for racial justice and against police violence swept American cities.
According to Campaign Zero, a group which promotes police reform policies, at least 23 cities and 27 states are now considering such legislation. But policing experts and activists argue that the bans must be accompanied by stronger police accountability measures to be effective.
Collectively, the effort is sparking a deeper discussion of militarized policing in the US and what must be done to address it. And as legislators continue to push for changes to no-knock warrants and forced entry police raids in general, they are finding that simple solutions won’t be enough.
At the beginning of 2020, a handful of cities and just two states, Oregon and Florida, had banned or otherwise restricted no-knock warrants.
Since Taylor’s death lawmakers have introduced or considered proposals in states such as Kentucky, New York, Nevada and Utah and cities like Cincinnati. In Chicago, city officials announced plans to sharply limit when no-knock warrants are allowed. A recent analysis by the Louisville Courier Journal found that about 84 proposals in 33 states “would monitor, curtail or ban no-knock warrants”.
At the federal level, two proposals seek to ban no-knock warrants. The Justice for Breonna Taylor Act, introduced by the Kentucky senator Rand Paul last June, would prohibit federal law enforcement and any local or state agency receiving money from the justice department from entering a home without first announcing themselves and their purpose for seeking entry. Paul has argued that his bill “will effectively end no-knock raids in the United States”.
A comprehensive policing proposal from congressional Democrats, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, would ban no-knock warrants in drug cases in addition to other policing reforms. The measure passed the House early in March, and now faces an unclear path in the Senate.
But demands for an end to no-knock warrants have often been best received at the local level where activists are able to directly point to incidents where surprise raids were used with disastrous consequences.
This was the case in Louisville, where activists and community members quickly rallied behind a Breonna’s Law measure in the city in the wake of Taylor’s death. Keturah Herron, a local activist and organizer, says that the city met those demands within weeks, passing an ordinance last June that banned no-knock search warrants and also required that police officers have body cameras turned on in the moments before, during and after executing a search warrant.
“When I think about policing, and how many tools officers have access to, I think that no-knock warrants are just a lazy tactic,” Herron, a policy strategist with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, told the Guardian. “I believe that there are ways to apprehend people without breaking into their homes, and terrorizing them, and catching them off-guard while they’re sleeping.”
In recent months, Herron has worked to increase support for a proposal that would enact a statewide version of Breonna’s Law, which was introduced by the Kentucky state representative Attica Scott in January after first being announced last August.
In Kentucky, Democratic legislators like Scott have attempted to couple bans on no-knock warrants with measures that would also change how officers conduct raids more broadly. That’s the sort of direction that Katie Ryan, a campaign manager for Campaign Zero’s #EndAllNoKnocks project, wants legislators to consider.
“Law enforcement agencies can obtain a ‘knock and announce’ search warrant, but completely execute it in the style of a no-knock warrant, using things like flash-bang grenades, battering rams, and be out of uniform at three in the morning, and there’s no oversight for that,” she said. “So when you remove a no-knock warrant, you don’t actually address the issue of a no-knock raid. You have to restrict all search warrants.”
Measuring progress is difficult because there’s little data on police raids and no-knock warrants to begin with. A 2014 ACLU analysis of more than 800 raids conducted by Swat teams in 20 states found that a clear majority, 79%, of the raids were conducted to serve search warrants, particularly in drug-related cases.