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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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Russia to lose Swift access, pipeline if it invades Ukraine

Voice Of EU



“Work is already underway for … disconnection of Russia from the Swift banking system, sanctions on the Russian gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 [to Germany],” if it invades Ukraine, Latvian foreign minister Edgars Rinkēvičs said in The Guardian Tuesday. “If [Russian president] Vladimir Putin wants to see gas flow through that pipeline, he may not want to take the risk of invading Ukraine,” US national-security adviser Jake Sullivan told Reuters.

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Can artistic freedom survive in Sudan? The writing’s on the wall… | Global development

Voice Of EU



In the new dawn of a heady post-revolutionary era, Suzannah Mirghani returned in 2019 to the country of her birth for the first time in years. Her mission was to shoot a short film on Sudanese soil. It proved unexpectedly straightforward.

“When the revolution happened, there was this exuberance,” she says, from her Qatari home. “When we came to make our film, we were given the green light. We were told: ‘Anything you want’.

“Nobody harassed us. Nobody told us what to do. Nobody asked us for the script. I call this time in the history of Sudan ‘the honeymoon’,” says Mirghani.

Sudanese director Suzannah Mirghani at this year’s Tribeca film festival in New York.
The Sudanese director Suzannah Mirghani at this year’s Tribeca film festival in New York. Photograph: Michael Loccisano/Getty

More than two and a half years after the toppling of the longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir, Mirghani fears the honeymoon is over, at least for her. The turmoil into which Sudan has again been plunged means she feels unable to return safely.

On 31 October, as her film, Al-Sit, won the latest of many awards, Mirghani had to give an acceptance speech that was anything but celebratory.

Six days before, the military had seized power in a coup, detaining the civilian prime minister and bringing the country’s fragile transition to democracy to an abrupt halt.

In a video address from Qatar to the Africa in Motion film festival in Scotland, Mirghani said “the only reason” she and her crew had been able to make Al-Sit was the active encouragement given by the civilian-military partnership government. “Now,” she added, “we’re in very serious danger of going back to the bad old days of military rule and stifling creative expression.”

Since the coup, a lot has happened: huge pro-democracy protests thronged through Khartoum and other cities, with at least 40 demonstrators killed.

After almost a month, the prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok, was released as part of a deal struck with the coup leader, Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.

A still from a film, with a young girl talking to her grandmother as they sit next to a lamp at night
A still from Mirghani’s film, Al-Sit, about a young girl’s arranged marriage in Sudan. Photograph: Courtesy FilmFreeway

But the protesters, who want the military out of politics for good, are not convinced, and even less so as security forces fire teargas into the crowds that continue to gather despite Hamdok’s return. With the creative gains made after the revolution now hanging in the balance, Sudanese artists feel they have to speak out.

“We artists will be the first to be targeted if the military government continues in power,” writes Aamira*, a painter, in an email from Khartoum. “We are demonstrating in the streets, facing guns, unarmed. There is nothing to fear any more.”

In an interview with the Financial Times last week, Hamdok defended his decision to strike a deal with the military, saying it was essential to stop the bloodshed and “preserve the achievements of the last few years”.

It may not have been uppermost in his mind, but one of those achievements was the flowering of an artistic community that had long been harassed, censored and forced into the shadows. Assil Diab, a street artist, says: “I painted Omar al-Bashir as the [face of] coronavirus in a stadium in Bahri during the daytime, which would have been just impossible; my whole family could have been killed two years ago.”

Street artist Assil Diab’s depiction of former dictator Omar al-Bashir as the face of coronavirus on a stadium wall in Bahri, Khartoum.
The street artist Assil Diab’s depiction of the former dictator Omar al-Bashir as the face of coronavirus on a stadium wall in Bahri, Khartoum. Photograph: Assil Diab

Feeling compelled to return amid the revolutionary fervour, Diab returned to Sudan in 2019 and made her name painting the faces of the revolution’s “martyrs” on the outside of their families’ homes, with a getaway car close by in case the notorious paramilitary Rapid Support Forces saw her.

For Mirghani, the “absolute elation” of the revolution yielded creative results. Al-Sit is the beautifully observed story of a Sudanese village girl whose parents want her to marry the sharp-suited son of a wealthy cotton trader in Qatar. “To finally be able to express yourself, to say what you had wanted to say to these people for 30 years: it’s amazing.

“My film is about women’s rights. It’s social commentary on arranged marriage. I don’t think we could have said that a few years ago,” says Mirghani.

The “honeymoon” was not without its challenges. The dictator was gone, but social and religious conservatism – and a reluctance to champion the arts – remained. Artistic freedom was patchy: in 2020, the renowned film-maker Hajooj Kuka and several others were detained during a theatre workshop.

Asim*, a documentary film-maker in Khartoum, says that, although in the capital the “direct censorship” of the Bashir era has eased, the rest of Sudan is not as relaxed. “It’s partially freedom and partially censorship,” he says. “It is a battle about 10% won.”

Khalid Albaih, a political cartoonist based in Qatar, returned after the revolution to launch the Sudan Artist Fund (SAF), to provide budding creatives with money and mentors, and with an ambitious plan to create a public art and design library. He says: “I thought: this is it. All doors were open and this is what we were going to do.

a cartoon of a protester draped in Sudan's flag painting a red line through a street sign showing a U-turn
The political cartoonist Khalid Albaih makes his point about the recent coup attempt. Photograph: Khalid Albaih

“I took all my papers, and for the first time in 10 years I’m in Sudan walking around, not scared of any police, or secret police, or anything. I went to every business owner in Sudan and everyone that can donate money to these causes. And I got nothing but rejection – for a library and for an artists’ fund.”

Finally, Albaih secured $7,000 (£5,300) from CultuRunners, a cultural exchange organisation, and the SAF awarded its first grant of $500 in October – just before the coup. “It was incredible because the internet cut out [after the coup leaders imposed a nationwide online blackout] so the artist didn’t even know he had won. We had to call him. It took two or three weeks to send the money to him,” says Albaih.

The cartoonist knows there will not be any more funding for a while. “Now everything is rocky. No one knows how things will go. It’s going to be really hard for artists and these kinds of initiatives to move forward.

Women walk past a hoarding with graffiti of silhouetted protesters
Women walk past graffiti reading in Arabic: ‘Freedom, peace, justice and civilian’ in the Burri district of Khartoum in 2019. Photograph: Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/Reuters

The coup, says Diab, left the creative community feeling “disappointed and just broken down … because we finally thought we were free and then this happened.” She intends to apply for political asylum in the US, where she is studying, feeling she “can be of better use to Sudan” from overseas.

Those in the thick of it cannot afford to give up hope. Asim was at a protest in Khartoum against the post-coup deal last week and was “teargassed the entire afternoon” amid chants of “no partnership, no negotiation, no legitimacy”. He is realistic about future challenges but knows that people have made up their minds.

“I feel like there is a grip on power and it will not end today; it will not end tomorrow. Whether those power-hungry authoritarians will roll with democratic transition and allow people to express their freedoms, allow journalists and film-makers to operate or not, that is something that is still [up in] the air, because you never know with the ever-changing dynamic of power in this country,” he says.

The momentum towards democracy is undeniable, he says. “I believe that is possible and I believe there is hope. The people will not stop asking for what they really want. [Will] that future come tomorrow? The day after? In two years? In five? We never know. But it seems like the consensus is that people agree it has to happen.”

*Names have been changed to protect their identity

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EU agrees to sanction Russian mercenaries

Voice Of EU



EU diplomats have provisionally agreed to blacklist three Russian nationals and one entity, the ‘Wagner Group’ mercenary outfit, on grounds of human rights abuses in Africa and the Middle East, diplomatic sources said. The decision will be formalised by foreign ministers next Monday. The move comes amid Wagner’s increasing presence in Mali, threatening French interests in the region. Europe earlier sanctioned a Russian oligarch, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said to fund Wagner.

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