No-knock warrants exist for a reason and it is a good reason.
Much of American law was based on English Common Law and in that knock-and-announce was the standard for warrants. Exceptions came about due to Supreme Court Rulings. A warrant must be issued as a no-knock warrant and a reason must be articulated. For example that destruction of evidence is likely. I think that anyone can see that this is a valid and good reason. If so – then why all the fuss? I will tell you my opinion.
Though it is a good reason I do not think it is a good enough reason.
I have frequently said that I would rather a guilty man go free than an innocent man be punished, harmed, or have his or her liberty violated. Evil and crime will always exist – liberty on the other hand – must be sustained. In the case of no-knock warrants the innocent have suffered. Innocent police officers have been shot by homeowners who had no warning it was the police busting in their door and innocent homeowners have been shot by those same cops who find a gun pointing at them.
Breonna Taylor is the latest person to die as a result. Breonna wasn’t even the target of the warrant but her drug-selling boyfriend and his companion were. So not only was she killed it was for a crime that was not a violent crime. Her boyfriend fired on police – ostensibly in self-defense and she was caught in the crossfire. Because of the no-knock warrant police never identified themselves to the occupants of the home.
No-knock warrants are not a failure of policing.
They are a tool the police use and as explained for which they have a valid reason to use. They are a failure of the courts that let them happen and a failure of lawmakers not to stop them, and a failure of citizens who desire drug criminals arrested more than they desire liberty be protected. The police fall into this latter category when we explore their culpability in this. But for the part of the police they are using a tool in a fight they have been told is of primary importance. They have been taught this since their youth.
No-knock warrants are also a failure of the war on drugs.
The war on drugs has waged our entire lives. Even if, at this point, you are quite old. Though the term itself is from the 1970’s the fight itself has waged much longer. Drugs can be very bad. That is a true and simple statement. It is also a statement that – due to the war on drugs – has been expanded so that people were taught that drugs are always bad. Worse than that though people were taught that people on drugs always did bad things to other people. This is not an exaggeration. The destruction of evidence spoken of in most (perhaps all) no-knock warrants is drug evidence.
President Nixon was one of the first presidents to really hit hard against drugs in 1968. His aide, John Ehrlichman had some interesting comments about the strategy Nixon was employing against drugs. We may never know if Ehrlichman is telling the truth about this, but it does make one wonder. He said, “You want to know what this was really all about. The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying. We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” Again, maybe that is true, maybe it is revisionist history. Politicians often “mis-remember” things for their own benefit. But even if we assume is isn’t telling the truth about this it is difficult not to see that the result he speaks of did happen in the late 1960’s and that the war on drugs has hit minority communities especially hard.
We often lament the loss of fathers in black homes. That loss has many causes, slavery among them, but in our more modern era the war on drugs is a prime cause of it. Now, sadly, it has passed into black culture to some degree. That community is striving hard to dig out of it and to remember the importance of fathers in the home. Letting those fathers out of prison is a good first step. Not putting them there in the first place an even better step.
I will always think drugs are bad and dangerous. Not because of the war on drugs, but because of my experiences in life. Even so, I have come to a point in my pondering where I realize more harm is done than good in the current fight against them.
Now is the time to move away from this useful, but simultaneously wicked tool.
Senator Rand Paul has introduced a bill that would do away with no-knock warrants in the United States titled “Justice for Breonna Taylor Act”. I wish it were titled something else to be honest. The naming of bills should not be like the naming of novels or TV shows. Giving it a name though is designed to connect it to an emotion, that emotion felt at the needless death of someone. Not just this someone, but others as well. At least 31 citizens and 13 officers have died during execution of no-knock warrants.