Protests are continuing in Minneapolis after police fatally shot 22-year-old Amir Locke during an early-morning “no-knock” raid on February 2. Bodycam video shows that Locke appeared to be asleep on the couch and wrapped in a blanket when a SWAT team entered the apartment. Locke held a gun he was legally licensed to carry, and was not named in the warrant. Minneapolis interim city Police Chief Amelia Huffman claimed Locke pointed his weapon in the direction of the officers, and suggested he could have been connected to crime, despite not being a suspect in their investigation. “It was very jarring for many people in our community to see Amir painted almost like a criminal,” says attorney and police accountability activist Nekima Levy Armstrong. No-knock warrants, which Mayor Jacob Frey promised to eliminate but never did, “have deadly consequences for innocent Black people like Amir Locke and Breonna Taylor and so many others,” says civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, part of the legal team for Amir Locke’s family. This week the Biden administration responded to the raid saying it may consider a federal policy that limits the use of no-knock warrants.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
Before we begin our next segment, a warning: It includes graphic footage and descriptions of police violence.
Daily protests are underway in Minneapolis after police fatally shot 22-year-old Amir Locke during an early-morning “no-knock” raid last Wednesday. The Minneapolis Police Department released a video of the raid the next day that shows a SWAT team, wearing gloves and full tactical gear, use a key to enter his cousin’s apartment. Within seconds, they find and shoot Locke, who is not a suspect in their warrant. He’s asleep on the couch. In the 14 seconds of footage, an officer is seen kicking the couch, where Locke was laying on that couch, wrapped in a blanket, holding a gun he was licensed to carry. He appears to be woken up by the officers.
At a news conference Thursday, Minneapolis interim city Police Chief Amelia Huffman said the officer who shot Locke saw the barrel of his gun emerging from the blanket and pointed in the officer’s direction. Her comment outraged longtime police accountability activist, attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong, co-chair the city’s working group on community safety, who interrupted the news conference to speak out.
NEKIMA LEVY ARMSTRONG: I’m not a threat. I don’t have a gun. OK? Don’t treat me like I am a threat. This is what I would call the anatomy of a cover-up. This is unacceptable. I’m sorry, it is. When I agreed to work with you on the work group, we talked about the importance of transparency and accountability. And here what we are seeing is business as usual. And you know this, Amelia. You know this, Jacob. I don’t know how you guys slept that night. I couldn’t sleep that night — tears, from a mother’s perspective, thinking about what happened. I saw the picture of Amir. He looks like a boy. My son is 17 years old. He has slept on his friends’ couches for sleepovers. So we cannot sit here and whitewash this and pretend that it’s OK.
AMY GOODMAN: A memorial for Amir Locke has been set up in front of the interim police chief’s home. His parents have joined protests calling for justice in their son’s death. This is his mother and father, Karen and Andre Locke, speaking Friday.
ANDRE LOCKE: Man, I didn’t think my — my — my son — I’ve seen it happen. I’ve seen it happen too many times. Too many times. I have to think of my mother right now. I’m sorry. Let her rest. She’ll tell me to straighten it up and speak straight. But me being one of the stronger ones of the family, I have to get it together.
KAREN WELLS: At the end of the day, I believe that he was executed by the MPD, and I want the police officer that murdered my son to be prosecuted and fired.
AMY GOODMAN: The police killing of Amir Locke in Minneapolis comes less than two years after Minneapolis police murdered George Floyd. It’s renewed scrutiny on the use of no-knock raids. Louisville police killed Breonna Taylor in a similar raid. Now, back in Washington, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday President Biden may consider a federal policy that limits the use of no-knock warrants by certain federal agents.
PRESS SECRETARY JEN PSAKI: President Biden, the reason he has been such a strong supporter — one of the reasons — of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act is that it would further restrict the use of no-knock warrants across the country, incentivizing funding — by using funding as an incentive. We have been engaging with, as you know, civil rights groups, a number of law enforcement groups. All agree on the need to reform the use of no-knock warrants. That is — there’s a lot of agreement on that, to keep both citizens and law enforcement officers safe. And the president is examining the possibility of extending those restrictions to other federal agencies through actions, executive actions, that he would have the power to do.
AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go to Minneapolis to speak with Nekima Levy Armstrong, the Minneapolis-based civil rights attorney, activist, founder of Racial Justice Network and former president of the Minneapolis NAACP. Also with us, leading civil rights attorney Ben Crump, part of the Amir Locke family legal team.
Nekima, let’s begin with you. There you were, standing, interrupting the news conference of the police chief and the newly reelected Mayor Jacob Frey. Explain what it is you’re demanding right now. You said they were not telling the accurate story of what happened.
NEKIMA LEVY ARMSTRONG: Absolutely. I think it was very jarring for many people in our community to see Amir painted almost like a criminal, with a gun, you know, waiting on police, pointing a gun at police. That’s essentially what was alluded to by the statement that came forward from the Minneapolis Police Department.
It was Amir Locke’s family who reached out to let me know the truth, from their perspective, even giving us Amir Locke’s name, as well as the fact that he was a licensed gun owner, he was asleep on the couch, he wasn’t named in the warrant. That is information that might not have come forward for days, if it were not for the Locke family doing their own homework to find out the truth.
Now, in terms of our current demands, I think that it’s a no-brainer that the officer who shot and killed Amir Locke be fired, as well as prosecuted, and the interim Chief Amelia Huffman also should be fired or should resign for her role in what I would call a cover-up.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I wanted to ask attorney Ben Crump: What was the Minneapolis Police Department looking for when they came to that house? And could you talk about the no-knock warrant’s origins? For many Americans, it’s a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment, your right to be safe in your persons and property and your home, but yet it has spread over the past few decades across the country.
BENJAMIN CRUMP: Certainly. You’ve asked several questions that are profound, and I think each of them merit a response. But I want to say first, on behalf of Amir Locke’s family and many in the community, thank you to attorney advocate Nekima Levy, my sister who’s always on the frontline, whether it’s George Floyd, Daunte Wright, now Amir Locke, and so many other families. It’s because of people like her that we started to see some measure of accountability, some measure of justice.
And when we think about this injustice that happened here, you really think about it being Black History Month and the importance of history. Had we just studied our recent history, from Louisville, Kentucky, how Breonna Taylor, this innocent Black woman, was mutilated by nine bullets while she was practically naked in her own home, when the Louisville Metropolitan Police busted in her front door at 1:00 in the morning and caused literally her death, even though they lied to the police to get the probable cause affidavit — these no-knock warrants, if Minneapolis should have learned anything from studying recent history, is that they have deadly consequences for innocent Black people, like Amir Locke and Breonna Taylor and so many others that we don’t even talk about.
And you asked: What were they looking for? That is a perfect question, because the no-knock warrants are an extension of this war on drugs, that we know disproportionately targeted Black and Brown people, and the fact that St. Paul Police Department, who were having the warrant executed with the assistance of Minneapolis Police Department, did not ask for a no-knock warrant. The no-knock warrant was insisted upon by the Minneapolis Police Department, even though the mayor had said, after George Floyd, that they were not going to have no-knock warrants anymore. And as we understand it, it was a search for property related to a possible connection to a homicide. So, you scratch your head and say, “I mean, on a hunch, you just eviscerate our Fourth Amendment rights.” And you see them do this over and over again to marginalized people of color. They don’t do this to our white brothers and sisters, but they so flagrantly disregard the Fourth Amendment rights against unlawful search and seizure when it comes to Black people. And we see, over and over again, that this has devastating impacts on Black families.
AMY GOODMAN: Nekima Levy Armstrong, the significance of the White House weighing in at this point? They’re talking about federal agents. That wasn’t the case in this case, is that right? And again, I mean, just to show: What do they expect? And I want to show that video again, just at the beginning. We’re not showing the video of the execution, but just the gloved hand with a key in the door, opening this door. I think of Philando Castile, who also had legally had a weapon and even said to the police officer — who was killed in his car — “Sir, I have a legal weapon,” and then he is shot dead. And in the same way, you’ve got Amir Locke, who legally had a weapon. Within seconds, he is dead, arising from a — I’m horrified to say — dead sleep. But the significance of the White House — that’s federal agents — what it would mean here? Did you understand there was a stopping after the Breonna Taylor case of these no-knock warrants in Minneapolis?
NEKIMA LEVY ARMSTRONG: I’ll take that question first, Amy. Mayor Jacob Frey issued a statement, I believe in November of 2020, saying that he had essentially banned no-knock warrants. He also ran on that particular reform, announcing that he had banned no-knock warrants, when he ran for mayor. And that was a part of the reason why some people decided to vote for him for reelection.
And what we are seeing that happens in Minneapolis and in other jurisdictions is that sometimes in the rush to respond to what the community is asking for, you will have elected officials who will put out statements of a reform that they made, but that does not mean that there is proper implementation of a particular reform in those situations. So, in Minneapolis, someone was asleep behind the wheel, from my perspective, when they announced that they’ve ended no-knock warrants. And yet we see the evidence is not there that that is what they did.
Now, in terms of the White House weighing in on this current situation, it’s almost too little, too late. Although I am glad that Biden is weighing in, they have the power to ban no-knock warrants at the federal level, and I believe that many states would follow.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go —
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I’d like to —
AMY GOODMAN: Yes, Ben Crump — oh, Juan.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, to go back to Ben Crump. I wanted to ask you: Given the fact that this country has more legal gun owners than anyplace else in the world — forget about the illegally owned guns — here you have Mr. Locke sleeping in an apartment, a legal gun owner. People break down the door, come in, and he reaches for his gun. Have you heard anything from the National Rifle Association or any gun advocacy organization condemning the police and standing up for Amir Locke?
BENJAMIN CRUMP: Well, you know, you asked a question that paints the scenario, because a picture is worth a thousand words. And you imagine a lawful gun owner who’s exercising their Second Amendment rights, because Black people in America have a right to the Second Amendment just like any other citizen. And when you think about the fact, whether it’s Philando Castile in Minneapolis, whether it’s Corey Jones in Palm Beach, Florida, these lawful gun owners who were killed by police, you know, we often said, “Where are these gun lobby groups? Where are these NRA-type groups?”
And, you know, I had to take my foot out of my mouth on this here, because for the first time, the Minnesota gun caucus issued a statement, and they said Amir Locke did what any reasonable, law-abiding, licensed gun-permitted owner would have done, that you have somebody come into your home unannounced, and you are saying, “Are they burglarizing me?” You’re not knowing why somebody would break into your home. And the first thing you do is you get your weapon to try to defend your family and defend your castle. And so, I thought that was very, very profound that you had this gun lobby, finally, for the first time in my lifetime, speak up for the rights to Black people to be able to say the Second Amendment applies to us, too; the castle doctrine applies to us, too; self-defense applies to us, too, when the police break into our home.
I mean, and we have to remember that this no-knock warrant is disproportionately executed against Black and Brown people. Eighty-two percent of the people who have their houses broken into by the police, talking about a no-knock search warrant — in Louisville, prior to Breonna Taylor, two years prior, 82% were Black people. And you know 62% of them lived in one Black section of town. And it’s important to note that in most of these no-knock warrants, they found absolutely nothing.