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After Amir Locke Killing, Is Police Reform Even the Solution?

The definition of insanity is repeating the same act and expecting a different result. Right now, continuing the failed efforts to “fix” policing in America feels insane, what’s needed is radical and systemic change

More than 1,000 people march through downtown Minneapolis on Saturday, Feb. 5, 2022 in response to the police killing of Amir Locke three days earlier.,Nicole Neri for MPR News

In 2020, police reformers had many believing that Minneapolis was headed in the right direction.

After Black Lives Matter protests demanded accountability following the murder of George Floyd, a Black man who was murdered by a white officer, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey proposed a series of reforms to address the unrest.

One of the major proposals was to also restrict the use of unannounced raids known as “no-knock warrants” — a controversial practice that allows police to enter a property without announcing their presence beforehand — at one point, there were more than 20,000 raids of this kind happening a year. Several prominent police-reform organizations, such as Campaign Zero, led by Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson, called for such changes because they believed it would prevent police from using excessive force.

At the time, Frey consistently told the public that he banned no-knock warrants for “all but exigent circumstances.”

Nearly two years later, we now know that was a lie.

Last week, Amir Locke, a 22-year-old Black man, was fatally shot by Minneapolis police while executing a no-knock warrant. According to body-cam footage, Locke was asleep in the early hours of the morning before the police SWAT team busted in — in violation of state law — and shot him as he picked up a gun in self-defense. Attorneys representing Locke’s family told the press that he was not the suspect in question, and that he obtained the gun legally. On Tuesday, Locke’s 17-year-old cousin, Mekhi C. Speed, was charged with second-degree murder in connection with a shooting death that led to the Minneapolis police raid.

As a result, activists are once again calling on the city of Minneapolis to act. Mayor Frey has now placed a moratorium on no-knock warrants — something the public thought he had already done.

The definition of insanity is repeating the same act multiple times and expecting a different result. Right now, police reform in America has lost its damn mind.

According to a review of available court records from The Star Tribune, the Minneapolis Police Department filed more applications for no-knock warrants (13) than standard search warrants (12) since the start of 2022. These 13 no-knock warrants could be even higher given that some warrant applications are confidentially sealed.

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Translation: It’s impossible to reform a system that is set up to lie to you.

Based on the rhetoric of reformists and politicians during the racial uprisings, such measures were supposed to be a reassurance that history wouldn’t repeat itself — especially by the same evils that provoked the change. But bans on no-knock policies have only proven to be watered down. Too many well-meaning civilians and advocates put their trust in the system only to see that trust betrayed.

Take for example the Kentucky bill signed into law in April 2021 that was inspired by the extrajudicial no-knock warrant killing of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black EMT who was shot by police during a botched raid. Kentucky State Rep. Attica Scott worked with community members to create House Bill 21, which was named “Breonna’s Law.” This bill completely banned no-knock warrants — something that activists called for. The legislation went on to mandate alcohol and drug testing of officers who are involved in deadly incidents, such as Taylor’s killing.

But the bill that made it to the Kentucky Senate floor — and what got signed by Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear — was Senate Bill 4, which restricts, not bans, the use of no-knock warrants in certain situations. It also doesn’t mandate alcohol and drug testing, and does not reference Taylor — the slain Black woman who inspired it — at all. The GOP-controlled Senate voted the weakened bill into law, while Beshear, a Democrat, went on to sign the bill with Taylor’s family beside him.

“It falls short of the people’s demands and is another example of performative politics,” Scott, the primary sponsor of the House bill, told the press at the time. “It gets us closer to justice, but this ain’t it. I voted yes because daughters like mine deserve a chance to live without wondering if they will be next.”

At this point, it’s hard to say if such a chance is even possible under this type of reform.

And how can reform work when you have politicians on both sides of the political aisle being cowards to the police and their unions? While public perception is that elected conservatives are super law-and-order and pro-police, Democrats in office aren’t that far away from Republican lawmakers in backing the blue. The Fraternal Order of the Police, the nation’s top police union, often funds the campaigns of members from both political parties. In both 2016 and 2020, they endorsed Donald Trump for president. In 2019, the Kentucky FOP endorsed Beshear in his gubernatorial race.

“I’m grateful to have the trust and support of Kentucky’s Fraternal Order of Police. It’s been an honor to serve as attorney general and partner with our law-enforcement community to combat child abuse and human trafficking, battle the opioid epidemic, stop scammers, and clear Kentucky’s rape-kit backlog,” said Beshear at the time.

I wonder if Beshear felt the same way when the FOP would later file a lawsuit in July 2021 against the city of Lexington, Kentucky’s second-largest city, over its ban on no-knock warrants. It’s hard not to find the hypocrisy between both politicians and the police when they actively engage with each other in counterproductivity. Politicians propose police reform, the cops lobby their unions to try to kill it — and the community suffers as a result. And to add insult to injury, the FOP will continue to offer money to elected officials to buy their complicity — while said politicians will continue to seek their problematic backing.

This sure doesn’t seem like progress.

And what happened in Minneapolis is all too familiar and painful:

  1. The police tragically kill someone in a manner that sparks instant public outcry and protest.
  2. City officials then claim they will look into the matter, which leads to them bringing outside reformers into the mix. (Cue the “spoke with civil rights leaders” PR plug.)
  3. This inspires a policy proposal that eventually gets watered down due to politics.
  4. The weak tea unfortunately helps the bill get approved and implemented so that reformists, politicians, and their ilk can call it a victory.
  5. That is, until the loophole built into the toothless policy gets taken advantage of by the police — causing this cycle to repeat itself yet again.

That’s how we got back here in Minneapolis, and sadly, will continue to.

History is continuing to show us that you can’t reform a system that doesn’t want to reform itself. In June 2020, disgraced New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo proudly announced the passing of a new state law banning police use of chokeholds — even though the NYC police department outlawed the brutal practice way back in 1993, and the prohibition didn’t save Eric Garner from a fatal chokehold by cops in 2014. Research has been mixed on whether diversifying the police force has made a significant difference in preventing harm (just look at Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore as examples). Corruption within police departments that try to tout themselves as being progressive has only damaged the public’s trust (side-eying Seattle and Richmond, California).

Traditional policy and politics can’t reform a corrupt institution when the exchange of money is involved. As long as politicians continue to get campaign contributions and seek endorsements from cop unions like the Fraternal Order of the Police, we can forget about any radical change. Police have already proven themselves to constantly lie, cheat, and steal to protect their own — guilty or not — regardless of the facts of the case (let the Chicago Police Department stand as a blatant example). As long as national, state, and city governments and politicians continue to fund police departments by the millions — they will remain in a codependent relationship that entrenches the worst practices, leads to violence, and prevents meaningful change.

Reformers are often well-meaning. But reform is politics, and politics is dirty. If, after two years of protests and promises, an innocent young Black man can’t sleep in peace without cops choosing to bust in his house and kill him, how can we believe the police will ever change for the better?

The truth is they won’t. Endless calls for police reform are simply not enough. Now is the perfect time for different voices to enter the room to be able to reimagine a new system that isn’t working with the police but working to disempower them. One that is focused on restorative methods that doesn’t put the people’s trust and taxpayer dollars into the same cycle of death, discrimination, and deception.