MINNEAPOLIS – Chanting the name of Amir Locke, a large crowd of protesters marched in freezing weather Saturday through downtown Minneapolis to express their exasperation and anger at the conduct of law enforcement, nearly two years after the murder of George Floyd.
Mr Locke, 22, was fatally shot in an early morning raid on an apartment complex on Wednesday when a Minneapolis Police Department SWAT team executed a search warrant involving a homicide for police close to St. Paul.
Mr. Locke was not named as a suspect in the warrant, authorities said. Nor was he a resident of the flat, according to Jeff Storms, a lawyer representing Mr Locke’s family, who said Mr Locke was staying there with a cousin.
“Say his name!” shouted protesters who, marching together, crossed more than a city block as they made their way to the First District police station. Some carried signs reading “Justice for Amir Locke and all stolen lives” and “Stop the war on black America!”
Tensions over racial justice and police brutality were already high in the Twin Cities before the death of Mr Locke, who was black. The federal trial against the three former Minneapolis police officers who stood there as Derek Chauvin, their superior officer, knelt on Mr. Floyd’s neck has been ongoing since January 24.
Saturday’s protest, which was peaceful, followed a car protest in downtown Minneapolis on Friday night in which a caravan of vehicles blocked traffic.
Brief, graphic body camera video of the raid involving Mr. Locke released by the Minneapolis Police Department on Thursday night shows an officer quietly turning a key in the apartment door before officers entered the apartment and start screaming.
“Police! Search Warrant!” they shout.
An officer kicked the back of the sofa, where Mr. Locke was curled up under a blanket, shaking Mr. Locke and exposing a gun. Police fired at least three times in response.
Mr. Locke died of multiple gunshot wounds, according to the Hennepin County Medical Examiner.
Jeanelle Austin attended the protest draped in a white duvet much like the blanket Mr Locke had on him when he was killed.
“I don’t know what today is going to bring,” she said. “But we need something different. We can’t go on with more of the same. We die.
Many attendees on Saturday said they had been actively involved in racial justice protests in the Twin Cities following the killing of Mr Floyd. Joseph Kebbekus and Sam Foerderer, both 23, said they took part in protests in 2020.
“We were hoping for things to change,” Mr. Kebbekus said. “But clearly nothing was done, and so we wanted to make sure we kept coming out.”
Speaking at the protest, Andre Locke, Mr Locke’s father, called for peace as he mourned his son. “He was responsible. He didn’t deserve to have his life taken away like it was,” he said. “Why couldn’t my son bury me?
The murder of Amir Locke has heightened scrutiny of police use of so-called no-knock warrants and efforts in Minneapolis to restrict the use of such raids. No-knock warrants allow police to enter a property without first announcing their presence and are used primarily when there is concern that evidence may be destroyed or officers may be endangered.
The police department had obtained both knock and no-knock warrants for searches of three units in the apartment complex so officers could decide what was appropriate at this time, said Chief Amelia Huffman. of the Acting Police Department in Minneapolis, during a press conference Thursday. .
An officer shot Mr Locke, according to the police department, which released officer Mark Hanneman’s personnel file.
Mr Hanneman joined the department in 2015 and the SWAT team in 2020, according to department records. He had three previous complaints on his file, all of which were closed without discipline.
Following national outcry over the killing of Mr. Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, Mayor Jacob Frey issued a new policy in 2020 requiring officers executing no-knock warrants to announce their presence and purpose before to enter, except in extreme circumstances. Prior to the policy, the department was executing 139 no-knock warrants a year, according to the mayor’s office.
This year, the number of no-knock warrants is already on track to reach roughly the same number: 11 have been issued so far this year.
“It has become clear that no-knock warrants continue to be over-requested by the Minneapolis Police Department and over-granted,” Mr. Storms said in an interview.
He went on to add that “the whole country learned the lessons of the danger of no-knock warrants via the tragic death of Breonna Taylor,” referring to the black medical worker who was fatally shot by police in Louisville, Ky., in 2020 during a hitless search. “Minneapolis was lucky to learn from that.”
Mr Storms also said the video shows Mr Locke’s finger was not on the trigger when he was shot, but rather on the barrel, and the gun was pointed downward. At Thursday’s press conference, Ms Huffman said the officer who shot Mr Locke was outside the frame of the video but in the ‘direction of that gun coming out of cover’.
“It’s very clear that when Amir grabbed the gun, he grabbed it in such a way that he didn’t know whether he would shoot or not,” Mr Storms said. “Amir used good trigger discipline and the officer didn’t.”
The shooting prompted Mr. Frey to announce a moratorium on no-knock warrants in the city on Friday. During the moratorium, the city will work with DeRay Mckesson, a racial justice activist, and Dr. Pete Kraska, a criminal justice expert at Eastern Kentucky University, to review and suggest revisions to the department’s policy.
Stacey Burns, who protested on Saturday, said she was frustrated with the lack of action on police reform in Minneapolis.
“It’s just trimming around the edges – we’re going to make that adjustment, we’re going to make that reformation – and then they don’t even do it,” Ms Burns said. “And then this is what happens. Another young black man with his whole future ahead of him is dead.