Amir Locke, 22, was fast asleep on a couch in a Minneapolis apartment this past Wednesday morning when police barged inside and executed him. He was not even suspected of committing a crime. But he was a Black man in America in legal possession of a handgun, and that, as we know all too well, can be a capital offense.
So here we are again, nearly two years after George Floyd’s murder, having to summon the energy and the outrage to engage once more in the Sisyphean quest for some semblance of racial justice in this country. How many times have we rolled this damn rock up the hill? And how many times has it rolled right back down, snuffing out the life of yet another innocent Black victim?
There are two infuriating issues in this latest unjustified police killing. As in the case of Breonna Taylor in 2020, the officers who fatally shot Locke were carrying out a no-knock warrant that allowed them to force their way into the premises first and ask questions later. And as in the case of Philando Castile in 2016, the Second Amendment’s guarantee of the right to keep and bear arms clearly does not, in practice, apply to African Americans.
Once again, as is increasingly common in these atrocities, there is police body-camera footage of the killing. It is sickening to watch.
The warrant that police were acting on involved a homicide in neighboring St. Paul but did not name Locke, who reportedly had no criminal record and was not being sought for any alleged offense in the entire Twin Cities metropolitan area. Police have declined to say whom they were looking for or why that particular apartment in downtown Minneapolis was targeted.
The warrant itself remains under seal, but local news outlets reported that it was signed by Hennepin County Judge Peter A. Cahill. If that name rings a bell, it’s because Cahill presided over the epic trial last year in which former officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering Floyd by kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes.
In the Locke case, body-cam video shows police officers using a key to unlock the apartment door and rushing inside, shouting at the top of their lungs. Locke is startled awake and appears to reach for his handgun — not an unreasonable response for someone trying to make sense of what appears to be a violent home invasion. Minneapolis police officer Mark Hanneman fires three shots at Locke, killing him.
Locke’s family has said that he owned the gun legally, having bought it for protection because he works as a DoorDash driver. His parents, Karen Wells and Andre Locke, have tried to make clear that they are not in any way anti-police and said that one of their son’s mentors was a family member who works in law enforcement. They just want to know why their son is dead, and they want accountability for his killing.
In the wake of Locke’s death, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey belatedly declared a moratorium on no-knock warrants. Mayors, police chiefs and judges nationwide should follow his lead. Ending no-knock warrants as a common practice should be a no-brainer.
I understand that there might be rare circumstances when such a raid could be justified, such as when a suspect poses imminent danger to human life. But to arrest someone wanted for alleged drug dealing, or even someone suspected of a violent offense, there is no good reason to routinely use SWAT-style tactics rather than to, say, ring the doorbell — especially if police have no idea who might be behind the door.
In Taylor’s killing, the suspect whom police wanted to arrest was not even in the apartment that was raided. Likewise, it is unclear whether the person Minneapolis police were trying to arrest this past week was anywhere near the apartment where Locke lay sleeping on the couch — but tragically clear that they had no idea Locke would be there.
On the other big issue, gun ownership, the Supreme Court has unwisely ruled that the Second Amendment condemns our nation to a perpetual bloodbath of gun violence. I wish this were not the case, but here we are. So there is nothing illogical about someone such as Castile legally carrying a firearm for protection — yet he was shot and killed by a police officer in a Twin Cities suburb during a routine traffic stop, as he tried to explain to the officer that he had a weapon. And there is nothing illogical about Locke’s reflex to reach for his gun — yet he too, is dead.
“Black men, like all citizens, have a right to keep and bear arms,” said Bryan Strawser, chairman of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus. Fact check: false.