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‘Breonna’s Law’ bans on no-knock warrants are growing – but they’re just one step | Breonna Taylor

Voice Of EU



In the months after police officers in Louisville, Kentucky, burst into the home of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor, killing her as they conducted a botched narcotics raid, Lashrecse Aird knew that she wanted to take action.

“I’ve witnessed first-hand officers showing up at a home or family members being arrested,” she said. As a mother, and as a Black woman only a few years older than Taylor, the death of the young medical worker felt “deeply personal”.

Aird, a Democratic member of Virginia’s house of delegates, introduced legislation that would ban police officers in the state from using “no-knock” search warrants. The warrants, which have been explicitly legal in roughly a dozen states and allowed through courts in others, have long been controversial, with critics focused on how they allow police officers to initiate a surprise forced entry into a home.

The officers who conducted the raid at Taylor’s apartment had a no-knock warrant, but said that they announced their presence before entering, something that Taylor’s family and some of her neighbors have disputed.


What is the Overpoliced, underprotected series?


Overpoliced, underprotected is a series focused on police violence in the US following one of the largest-scale uprisings in history. 

A year on from the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, there are demands both inside the government and from grassroots movements to end the systemic racism and lethal force that has been embedded in police culture for centuries. 

But with stark differences in approaches to reform and revolution, and the continued power of police unions, achieving sweeping change faces more obstacles than ever.

In introducing the legislation last August, Aird joined a growing group of municipal and state politicians working to ban or restrict no-knock search warrants across the country in the wake of Taylor’s death. Calls for the bans, often called Breonna’s Law, increased last summer as a wave of protests for racial justice and against police violence swept American cities.

According to Campaign Zero, a group which promotes police reform policies, at least 23 cities and 27 states are now considering such legislation. But policing experts and activists argue that the bans must be accompanied by stronger police accountability measures to be effective.

Collectively, the effort is sparking a deeper discussion of militarized policing in the US and what must be done to address it. And as legislators continue to push for changes to no-knock warrants and forced entry police raids in general, they are finding that simple solutions won’t be enough.

At the beginning of 2020, a handful of cities and just two states, Oregon and Florida, had banned or otherwise restricted no-knock warrants.

Since Taylor’s death lawmakers have introduced or considered proposals in states such as Kentucky, New York, Nevada and Utah and cities like Cincinnati. In Chicago, city officials announced plans to sharply limit when no-knock warrants are allowed. A recent analysis by the Louisville Courier Journal found that about 84 proposals in 33 states “would monitor, curtail or ban no-knock warrants”.

At the federal level, two proposals seek to ban no-knock warrants. The Justice for Breonna Taylor Act, introduced by the Kentucky senator Rand Paul last June, would prohibit federal law enforcement and any local or state agency receiving money from the justice department from entering a home without first announcing themselves and their purpose for seeking entry. Paul has argued that his bill “will effectively end no-knock raids in the United States”.

A comprehensive policing proposal from congressional Democrats, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, would ban no-knock warrants in drug cases in addition to other policing reforms. The measure passed the House early in March, and now faces an unclear path in the Senate.

But demands for an end to no-knock warrants have often been best received at the local level where activists are able to directly point to incidents where surprise raids were used with disastrous consequences.

This was the case in Louisville, where activists and community members quickly rallied behind a Breonna’s Law measure in the city in the wake of Taylor’s death. Keturah Herron, a local activist and organizer, says that the city met those demands within weeks, passing an ordinance last June that banned no-knock search warrants and also required that police officers have body cameras turned on in the moments before, during and after executing a search warrant.

“When I think about policing, and how many tools officers have access to, I think that no-knock warrants are just a lazy tactic,” Herron, a policy strategist with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, told the Guardian. “I believe that there are ways to apprehend people without breaking into their homes, and terrorizing them, and catching them off-guard while they’re sleeping.”

In recent months, Herron has worked to increase support for a proposal that would enact a statewide version of Breonna’s Law, which was introduced by the Kentucky state representative Attica Scott in January after first being announced last August.

In Kentucky, Democratic legislators like Scott have attempted to couple bans on no-knock warrants with measures that would also change how officers conduct raids more broadly. That’s the sort of direction that Katie Ryan, a campaign manager for Campaign Zero’s #EndAllNoKnocks project, wants legislators to consider.

“Law enforcement agencies can obtain a ‘knock and announce’ search warrant, but completely execute it in the style of a no-knock warrant, using things like flash-bang grenades, battering rams, and be out of uniform at 3 in the morning, and there’s no oversight for that,” she said. “So when you remove a no-knock warrant, you don’t actually address the issue of a no-knock raid. You have to restrict all search warrants.”

Measuring progress is difficult because there’s little data on police raids and no-knock warrants to begin with. A 2014 ACLU analysis of more than 800 raids conducted by Swat teams in 20 states found that a clear majority, 79%, of the raids were conducted to serve search warrants, particularly in drug-related cases.

A 2017 investigation from the New York Times found that from 2010 to 2016, at least 81 civilians and 13 law enforcement officers died in raids, and that far more people reported injuries from flash-bang grenades, shattered doors or windows, or physical confrontations with officers. In one high-profile incident, a Habersham county, Georgia, Swat team using a no-knock warrant threw a flash-bang grenade into the playpen of an 18-month-old toddler.

Looking at the data that does exist, it is clear that police raids are disproportionately likely to affect Black and brown communities, exposing them to an inherently violent practice that experts say frequently culminates in physical and emotional injury.

According to a December 2020 report from the Louisville Courier Journal, which analyzed 27 court-approved no-knock raids conducted before last year’s no-knock warrant ban took effect, the majority of warrants in Louisville targeted Black people suspected of low-level drug offenses and were concentrated in the city’s majority Black West End neighborhood.

As activists and politicians call for banning no-knock warrants, they often cite the Taylor case. But a closer look makes it clear that while a ban might have affected the warrant application officers used to approach Taylor’s apartment, it wouldn’t have entirely changed the ways they entered the residence.

Taylor was home with her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, last 13 March when officers used a battering ram to burst into her Louisville apartment after midnight as part of a drug investigation into two men, one of whom had once dated Taylor. According to Walker, he and Taylor were in bed when they heard banging at the door, and, fearful that someone was breaking in, left the bedroom and called out to see who it was.

When officers broke down the door, Walker, a registered gun owner, fired one shot from his weapon towards the entryway, striking an officer in the thigh. Three officers fired their weapons in response, shooting more than two dozen rounds into the apartment and fatally striking Taylor.

One scrutinized aspect of the case has been the fact that officers had a court-approved no-knock warrant to enter and search Taylor’s apartment. The officers have also maintained that they knocked at Taylor’s door and identified themselves before entering with the battering ram.

Even if police did “knock and announce” their presence, activists and policing experts say the case highlights the ways that even raids where police give a verbal warning before forcing entry can quickly turn into dangerous encounters.

“It doesn’t matter what piece of paper you have in your hands, whether you walk up to a door and you hit it with a battering ram and yell ‘police’ [or don’t],” says Peter Kraska, a police militarization expert and professor at Eastern Kentucky University’s School of Justice Studies. “Both methods are a forced surprise dynamic entry based on the Navy Seals model of hostage rescue protocol.”

Kraska has been researching the increasingly militarized nature of policing and the growing use of surprise raids by American law enforcement since the 1980s. He traces the issue of no-knock warrants and raids back to the “war on drugs”, which was launched in the 1970s by the Nixon administration.

No-knock raids quickly became a contentious practice, with civil rights groups arguing that surprise entries violated the fourth amendment’s protection from unreasonable searches and seizures. But a series of court rulings affirmed the power of law enforcement to conduct the raids, adding that surprise entries were warranted if there was “reasonable suspicion”.

The practice has been more frequently used in the decades since it was first introduced, with Kraska estimating that the number of no-knock and quick-knock police raids conducted each year has jumped from 1,500 annually in the early 1980s to between 60,000 and 70,000 a year by 2010. He said the 2010 figure, which largely comprises raids used for suspected low-level drug offenses, is an “extremely conservative number”.

And that work is often having disastrous results in communities, particularly communities of color. “The issue isn’t just people being killed, it’s the terrorizing of neighborhoods and communities,” he says.

“Surprise dynamic entry raids by paramilitary teams is an extreme form of violence whether someone is shot or not.”

Because ending no-knock warrants is unlikely to fully end the use of surprise raids, advocates argue broader reforms are needed.

Campaign Zero has proposed a legislative model that they say would effectively end not only no-knock warrants, but also surprise police raids. It includes provisions like banning nighttime raids, ending civil asset forfeiture and requiring more detailed information on search warrant applications. The group is currently working with 46 cities and states according to Ryan.

The New York state senator James Sanders Jr agrees that change starts with revising the broader search warrant process. In December, Sanders joined with other legislators to announce a bill that would limit the use of no-knock warrants in the state to cases where a person’s life is in immediate jeopardy.

The measure, created in collaboration with Campaign Zero and Kraska, would also increase the amount of information officers have to report on a warrant application, requires officers to clearly identify themselves and wait at least 30 seconds before attempting to enter a residence, mandates that police departments pay restitution for property damaged during a raid, and makes evidence obtained during a raid inadmissible in court if police violate those provisions.

“We tried to get rid of no-knocks, but also slow knocks where officers go to a door, announce and then immediately press it in,” Sanders says of the legislation, which is an updated version of a bill that has been repeatedly introduced, but never passed in the state. It is currently the one of the most comprehensive warrant proposals introduced since Taylor’s death.

In Louisville, Scott, a Democrat, is fighting to get the larger ban passed at the state level. However, the legislation has stalled, with the state senate voting in February to support a different Republican-sponsored bill.

Scott argues that her legislation was especially important for her constituents living in the city’s predominantly Black neighborhoods. “We know that there is a disproportionate impact with no-knock warrants, that Black people are more often the target of these raids,” she said.

But the argument that police raids as a whole need to be reduced drastically or eliminated have elicited a range of reactions from police officers and prosecutors.

“We don’t want to lose options,” Thor Eells, a former Colorado Springs Swat commander and current executive director of the National Tactical Officers Association, told NPR in November, adding that his group now tells officers that no-knocks should be seen as a “last resort”.

Their main concern – that ending no-knock warrants and raids would compromise the safety of people involved in violent scenarios – is being overstated, according to supporters of reform. “If police are going after an active shooter in a neighborhood and someone holes themselves up in a house, police don’t need a no-knock warrant to go inside that house,” Kraska says.

The aforementioned 2014 ACLU report found that just 7% of the Swat raids it studied were conducted to resolve violent situations like that of an active shooter, or hostage situation, while a far larger number of raids, more than 50%, were used in connection to drug-related offenses.

One year after Taylor’s death, it is possible that the coming months will see a number of proposals banning or limiting no-knock warrants become law.

In Virginia, a version of Aird’s Breonna’s Law legislation officially took effect on 1 March.

But the delegate was unable to push through other reforms that she thought were crucial, such as a proposed 30-second waiting period before officers could attempt forcing entry. And Aird and other legislators have already faced efforts to amend the law.

While police reform advocates have largely supported bills that would ban no-knock warrants, some measures have been criticized by activists worried that lawmakers are focusing too much on reactive, incremental reforms rather than addressing the root causes of police violence against Black Americans.

“A no-knock warrant ban would not have saved Breonna Taylor’s life, just like a ban on chokeholds did not save Eric Garner’s life,” the Movement for Black Lives, a coalition of 150 racial justice organizations, wrote in a recent letter announcing its opposition to the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. The collective has backed alternative legislation.

Other police reform advocates argue that the movement to end surprise police raids should be seen as just one part of a much larger effort to drastically change policing and reimagine public safety.

“I feel like banning no-knock warrants is low-hanging fruit,” Herron says. “When we’re talking about ensuring that another Breonna Taylor doesn’t occur, I think that it only makes sense to pass Breonna’s Law.

“But the bigger issue is police accountability.”

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Build Back Better: Friendly fire aimed at Joe Biden | USA

Voice Of EU



In early October, a group of activists kayaked to the houseboat belonging to US Senator Joe Manchin in Washington to protest his opposition to the Democratic Party’s €3.5-trillion Reconciliation bill, which is a star policy of the Joe Biden administration. This came just days after Senator Kyrsten Sinema was ambushed by protesters during her trip back to Washington.

But neither Manchin nor Sinema are part of the Republican Party’s offense against the bill: they are two moderates in the Democratic Party who are forcing the president to reconsider the reforms. In the meantime, Biden is facing both pressure and disillusionment as his popularity in the polls plummets.

The Democratic Party’s ambitious spending plan, called Build Back Better, involves the largest extension of social-welfare coverage in the United States since the 1970s when Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson was in power. The bill includes a tax credit for children and other dependent family members, extends aid to the elderly and disadvantaged people, and in its current form, funds a raft of sweeping measures aimed at fighting climate change and promoting renewable energy. But it is the environmental side of the plan that Biden is now considering changing due to the complete opposition from Senator Manchin, whose state – the conservative West Virginia – relies heavily on coal mining for employment. The plan is estimated to cost $3.5 trillion (around €3 trillion), but it is likely that it will be cut back to less than $2.5 million.

This is because, unlike former president Lyndon B. Johnson, Biden only has a narrow majority in Congress. In 1965, when Johnson signed the Medicare bill – which established a health-insurance program for the elderly – the Democratic Party had an overwhelming majority in Congress and held control of two-thirds of the Senate. But even then it was difficult to convince the moderate sector to approve the bill. Fifty years later, in 2011, when former president Barack Obama put forward his healthcare reforms, he also had a stronger position than Biden in both legislative chambers: 57 democrats and two independents in the Senate.

Senator Manchin’s opposition to the social-welfare plan is based on fears over rising inflation in the US, an increase of public debt and – something more abstract – concern that it will turn the country “into an entitlement society,” as he stated at the beginning of October. The statement came after he published an opinion poll in The Wall Street Journal called “Why I Won’t Support Spending Another $3.5 Trillion.” In the article, he argues: “Establishing an artificial $3.5 trillion spending number and then reverse-engineering the partisan social priorities that should be funded isn’t how you make good policy.”

Since becoming a senator after the 2020 election, Kyrsten Sinema has defended a bipartisan approach to legislating – a position she has also taken with the Biden administration’s infrastructure bill, which is still awaiting ratification. “The American people are asking for us to take action. What they don’t want to see is us sit on our hands, waiting until we get every single thing that we want,” she said in a radio interview with NPR in August. “That all-or-nothing approach usually leaves you with nothing,” added Sinema, who is the first Democratic senator in the state of Arizona in 30 years.

Both senators raised record sums of money in the third quarter of the year, thanks to large contributions from the oil and gas, pharmaceutical and financial services sectors, according to filings recorded and published by the Financial Times. Manchin raised $1.6 million (€1.38 million), up from $1.5 million ( €1.29 million) in the second quarter and just $175,000 (€150,000) in the first. Meanwhile, Sinema received €1.1 million (€950,000) in donations in the third quarter, a figure narrowly outstripping the second and far from the $375,000 (€322,000) in the first. This is despite the fact that neither of the politicians face reelection until 2024.

Two Senators cannot be allowed to defeat what 48 senators and 210 House members want

Senator for Vermont, Bernie Sanders

In the meantime, the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is starting to lose patience and is also pressuring the White House. “Two senators cannot be allowed to defeat what 48 senators and 210 House members want,” Bernie Sanders, senator for Vermont, wrote in a message on Twitter. “Poll after poll shows overwhelming support for the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better legislation,” he added in a separate tweet. In a similar vein, Pramila Jayapal, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said: “Four percent of Democrats are opposing passing the president’s agenda.”

Democrat veteran Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, has begun to try to solve the conflict and is preparing lawmakers to accept cuts to the reconciliation bill. “I’m very disappointed that we’re not going with the original $3.5 trillion,” she admitted on October 12. “But whatever we do, we will make decisions that will continue to be transformative.”

The greater debate with respect to the spending plan is over the size of public spending and to what extent the state should intervene in the economy. Biden came to the White House with the message that a monumental crisis required a strong and broad government. The Biden administration has been able to pass new legislation on voting rights at a time when Republican-led states are pushing for restrictions, which in practice, hinder access to minority groups and the disadvantaged. But there are more projects in limbo. The reason is that it is not enough to have a simple majority in the Senate; the Democratic Party needs 60 votes in the 100-seat chamber, but only has 50, plus the casting vote of Deputy President Kamala Harris.

Meanwhile, Biden’s popularity has taken a nosedive. He entered the White House on January 20 with a 57% approval rating, according to respected pollster Gallup. But in August, after six months in power, the figure had fallen below 50%, and in September, the last month for which there is available data, it was down to 43%. This is higher than the approval rating of former US president Donald Trump, which came in at 37% after the same period of time, but is nine points lower than the same figure for Obama. The fall is largely due to the drop in support among independent voters: before the election, 61% of them approved of Biden, compared to 37% now.

Economic uncertainty, an uptick of the coronavirus pandemic over summer and stalled reforms are among the reasons Biden’s popularity is waning. Other factors include the administration’s migration policy, which has maintained some of the most restrictive elements of the Trump era, and the upheaval following the US army’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. With the anniversary of the November 2020 election fast approaching, Biden is hoping that he will be able to pass his star legislation, despite the internal opposition.

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Global Affairs

Too hot to handle: can our bodies withstand global heating?

Voice Of EU



Extreme heat can kill or cause long-term health problems – but for many unendurable temperatures are the new normal

The impact of extreme heat on the human body is not unlike what happens when a car overheats. Failure starts in one or two systems, and eventually it takes over the whole engine until the car stops.

That’s according to Mike McGeehin, environmental health epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “When the body can no longer cool itself it immediately impacts the circulatory system. The heart, the kidneys, and the body become more and more heated and eventually our cognitive abilities begin to desert us – and that’s when people begin fainting, eventually going into a coma and dying.”

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Global Affairs

Polish TV sabotages Tusk press briefing

Voice Of EU



Polish opposition leader Donald Tusk clashed with Polish propaganda outlet TVP in Warsaw Tuesday. A TVP reporter asked him why Tusk’s party wanted Poland to leave the EU. “This is beyond imagination … I won’t answer such absurdities,” Tusk, whose Civic Platform party is pro-EU, said, before a prickly exchange ensued. TVP also muted MEPs who said Poland should face EU rule-of-law sanctions in its coverage of a Strasbourg debate.

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