Criminal justice reform is one of six key areas of focus for The Path Forward.
In our efforts to identify and present meaningful solutions in this area, TPF recently hosted a conversation with writer David French, who shared his view that failed policies — namely, no-knock warrants — led to a catastrophic (and preventable) chain of events in the Breonna Taylor tragedy.
We share the view that unless the policies that led to this chain of events are changed, there will continue to be tragedies similar to that which befell Breonna. And even when these policies do not lead to the death of an innocent person in her home, they create massive danger for all involved (especially law enforcement) and sew commensurate distrust between the police force and the citizenry.
Facts and doctrines:
The facts of the Breonna Taylor case, independent of any considerations of race, demonstrate how a perfectly legal process led to the tragic outcome. The police suspected that there was drug evidence in Breonna Taylor’s home. They obtained a “no-knock” warrant that enabled them to knock down her door and enter her home with the element of surprise. They entered the home late at night, either without a knock or with a perfunctory one. Her companion, exercising his right to carry a gun and to protect his premises (pursuant to the “castle doctrine,” which originated in England in 1604), heard that his home was being broken into. He presumably and understandably feared for his life and that of Breonna Taylor. He took out his weapon and shot at the intruders, without being able to realize that they were police officers. The police officers, being shot at, fired back and killed Breonna Taylor who was in the crossfire.
No-knock warrants: optional for police forces:
The single point of failure here was the no-knock warrant, used not to save a life (as in a kidnapping situation), but to accumulate evidence in a drug case. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees that, “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures cannot be violated.” The United States Supreme Court has determined that a no-knock warrant to accumulate drug evidence is not a violation of the Amendment. All this means is that local authorities (especially police chiefs) are permitted to conduct no-knock warrants. They are not required to. Numerous jurisdictions from Orlando to Louisville have banned or severely restricted them.
Guns are ubiquitous:
There are now more than 175 no-knock warrants executed in the United States every day. And there are more than 400 million guns in America. This means that every home must be presumed to house residents who might, lacking the knowledge that the sudden entrant is a police officer, respond to an officer with a no-knock warrant with a gun battle.
Danger for everyone:
As in the Breonna Taylor case, in which an officer was shot, no-knock warrants are extremely dangerous for civilians — and the police. A NY Times investigation in 2017 found that at least 81 civilians and 13 law enforcement officers were killed in these kinds of raids from 2010-2016 — with many more seriously injured.
No-knock warrants: use and misuse:
There is a place for no-knock warrants in cases of life and death — i.e. a kidnapping situation where the victim’s life depends upon law enforcement utilizing the element of surprise. But there is no use for no-knock warrants to collect evidence. Evidence can still be collected, and cases vigorously pursued. Suspects can be arrested pursuant to a warrant that requires announcement or out of their home.
Still, this will mean that some evidence will be lost or otherwise destroyed. But the existence of the Fourth Amendment acknowledges that due process, the safety of all involved, civilian-police relationships and a civilian’s right to be presumed secure in her home are benefits that are worth some evidence. Otherwise, we would not have warrants at all — and would allow the police to get evidence by any means necessary. But as double use of the word “justice” in the Biblical precept of, “Justice, Justice shall you pursue,” teaches us just ends require just means. The Constitution, particularly with the Fourth Amendment, embodies this Biblical wisdom — and it is our opportunity to apply this wisdom to ensure that civilians and officers do not suffer the inevitable consequences of no-knock warrants in an armed society.
The decision about whether to issue a no-knock warrant is formally made by a judge, but they effectively have to be requested by the police first. It is, therefore, really a police decision. We encourage Path Forward members to speak with police authorities about the rules governing no-knock warrants in their jurisdictions in an effort to carefully define, constrain and restrict their use.
About The Path Forward
The Path Forward is a diverse, inclusive coalition working to achieve measurable, transformational, positive outcomes for Black communities. TPF serves to identify, strengthen and socialize the most effective work being done around six core areas of focus: criminal justice reform, economic empowerment, education reform, sacred listening, anti-slavery and supporting Africa. Rooted in faith, TPF transcends political labels and rejects sloganeering in looking beyond the who, to the what in pursuit of truth — and measurable results. For more information, please visit thepathforwardusa.org.