the dark side of no-knock warrants

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Breonna Taylor (1993-2020), a medical tech at a university hospital in the middle of a pandemic, was killed by police officers in her home in Louisville, Kentucky on March 13th 2020. She was Black American, they were White American.

At least eight bullets hit Breonna Taylor, killing her in the hallway.

As it stands, the officer who killed her has been fired but not charged.

After reading about Breonna Taylor’s unfortunate and untimely passing at the hands of the Louisville police, I did some reading up on no-knock warrants and I was alarmed to see the somewhat similar case of Kathryn Johnston, a 92 year old black woman killed 14 years ago in Atlanta.

Kathryn Johnston (June 26, 1914 – November 21, 2006) was an elderly Atlanta, Georgia, woman who was killed by undercover police officers in her home on Neal Street in northwest Atlanta on November 21, 2006, where she had lived for 17 years. Three officers had entered her home in what was later described as a ‘botched’ drug raid. Officers cut off burglar bars and broke down her door using a no-knock warrant. Police said Johnston fired at them and they fired in response; she fired one shot out the door over the officers’ heads and they fired 39 shots, five or six of which hit her. None of the officers were injured by her gunfire, but Johnston was killed by the officers. Police injuries were later attributed to friendly fire from each other’s weapon

….39 shots. Against one extremely elderly woman.

To make matters worse…

One of the officers planted marijuana in Johnston’s house after the shooting

To make matters even worse, they handcuffed her while she was dying and she died before they could remove her from the scene.

Apparently, an informant testified that he’d bought drugs from her house – but denied it after the fact.

Eventually, the officers involved were arrested and charged, and served time in prison.

One thing that stood out to me was their testimony.

The officers involved in the shooting testified that they had been under pressure to meet performance requirements of the APD, which led them to lie and falsify evidence, and that they had been inadequately trained. Police Chief Pennington denied the existence of quotas in the APD, but acknowledged the existence of “performance measures because if we don’t have them, the officers would come in every day with nothing on their sheets.”

Quite why a 92 year old woman was their target is a mystery, but chances are they were looking for someone else. Still, it makes me wonder just how often the police have planted evidence.

I also think it’s highly likely that these ‘performance measures’ are still in place. Whenever I’m talking to someone about how police target black people, the word quota comes up. It’s much easier to justify arresting a black person. We fit the profile. On a less dangerous level, security guards are told the same thing, but that’s a post for another time.

Typically, no-knock warrants are supposedly issued for residences where police believe criminal activity is taking place. The idea is that, not knocking will prevent the occupant from hiding or destroying evidence…but…even if they did knock, would occupants have time to do all of that? At best, it’s an unnecessarily aggressive intimidation tactic that results in serious injuries or the loss of life – almost like, the police aren’t interested in doing any policing at all?

From an incident in Little Rock, Arkansas two years ago:

On Feb. 2, 2018, officers told a judge that a confidential informant had purchased $60 worth of methamphetamine from a man inside a home on Labette Drive and they needed a no-knock warrant.

Two weeks later, officers broke open the front door of the Labette Drive home of Candice Caldwell and threw a flash-bang grenade inside, which burned a portion of the carpet. Another officer used a ladder he found on the property to climb onto the roof and break into the home through a second floor window. Officers also fired shots through the ceiling and caused more than $7,800 in damage.

But as was the case with the Davis raid, officers came up empty. All that was recovered was a home surveillance system that apparently recorded the incident and a glass smoking device

The entire concept of no-knock warrants becomes even more warped in the cases of Breonna Taylor and Kathryn Johnston – if occupants have guns, what happens when they shoot back? Absolute carnage, but…what else can happen when people are targeted in such a violent manner? In the case of Breonna, her partner Kenneth Walker shot and wounded an officer because he thought it was a home invasion.

Initially, he was charged with attempted murder – despite the fact that it’s legal to defend yourself against a home invasion.

Kathryn Johnston fired a shot that didn’t hit any of the officers who targeted her, yet they fired 39 shots back at her.

There is no justice being served here.

Instead the police are creating situations where there’s loss of life – sometimes their own (which would be a pretty good reason to abolish the practise all together, but apparently not).

Naturally, there’s even disparity in the way deaths of officers due to no-knock warrants are handled.

From this 2014 Vox article:

A pair of cases in Texas are an example of how wrong no-knock raids can go, for both police and civilians, and how dangerously subjective the SWAT raid process can be. In December 2013, Henry Magee shot and killed a police officer during a pre-dawn, no-knock drug raid on his home. He was initially charged with capital murder, but he argued that he shot the police officer, who he thought was an intruder, to protect his pregnant girlfriend. In February 2014, a grand jury declined to indict him, and charges were dropped.

In May, a Texas man named Marvin Guy also killed a police officer during a pre-dawn, no-knock raid on his home. Guy, too, was charged with capital murder. Unlike Magee’s grand jury, a grand jury in September 2014 allowed the capital murder charge against Guy to stand. His trial is likely to happen in 2016.

Guy, who is black, now faces the death penalty. Magee is white.

Marvin Guy’s trial hasn’t happened yet. He’s STILL (paywall) in jail.

Marvin Louis Guy, 55, is held in jail for five felony charges: capital murder of a peace officer, capital murder by terror or threat, and three charges of attempted capital murder of a peace officer. Guy has been in police custody since 2014.

There are too many stories online about no-knock warrants and the dangers they pose. Enough that they should have been banned before Breonna Taylor was shot dead. As of writing, the officer who killed her hasn’t been charged, but even if he is…I won’t be surprised if he doesn’t see a day in jail.

Aiyana Jones was seven years old when she was killed in a botched raid in 2010.

Aiyana Stanley-Jones was sleeping in her home on the east side of Detroit on the night of May 16, 2010, when officers barged into the house. They were conducting a police raid in search of a murder suspect who lived at that address — and being filmed for a reality TV show in the process — when Officer Joseph Weekley accidentally fired his gun. What exactly caused him to fire is still a matter of dispute. But the shot killed Aiyana.

That’s tragic enough on its own, but what struck me as particularly silly was Weekley’s assertion that he was blinded by the flash grenade that he threw.

According to Weekley, a fellow officer threw a flash-bang grenade through the window, temporarily blinding him. When Weekley regained sight, he realized there was a person on the couch instead of what he’d originally thought was a pile of clothes.

…?!

Was he not trained on how to use one of those things without impairing his own vision? Is it any wonder that these raids turn into pandemonium when the police don’t seem to have a single iota of intelligence?

Not that it even matters.

They do this shit on purpose.

“These raids, at their essence, are really a tool designed to keep black folks and poor folks in their place. To keep them scared, to keep them on their heels. It’s unconscionable.” — Michael Laux, Civil Rights attorney.

I feel like these raids are normalised by how we see them on television. The epic part of the movie where the Badass Cop™ kicks down the door. The juicy part of the reality show where they burst into people’s houses. Do we every really think about the real consequences of these raids?

Some of the stuff I’ve read has been nothing short of horrifying and I really do hope that everything that’s been said and done this past month actually inspires real change, both in the US and wherever people are being mistreated in this way.


 

Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shooting_of_Kathryn_Johnston

https://theappeal.org/no-knock-warrants-arkansas/

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.pbs.org/newshour/amp/politics/the-war-on-drugs-gave-rise-to-no-knock-warrants-breonna-taylors-death-could-end-them

https://text.npr.org/s.php?sId=876293168

https://theappeal.org/how-a-no-knock-raid-in-austin-turned-into-a-lethal-shootout

https://arktimes.com/arkansas-blog/2019/08/08/civil-rights-attorneys-prepare-four-new-lawsuits-against-lrpd-and-city-for-no-knock-warrant-raids

How A Police Officer Shot A Sleeping 7-Year-Old To Death

Six Years Later Still No Justice For Aiyana Jones

https://abagond.wordpress.com/2020/05/20/breonna-taylor/

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