Police in Louisville, Kentucky, stormed Breonna Taylor’s apartment as she slept and sprayed her with gunfire, leaving the 26-year-old emergency medical technician to die in a pool of blood.
The March 13 killing is still under investigation — her boyfriend had fired on police, believing them to be burglars — but the no-knock warrant that authorized the risky raid was routine.
Law enforcement agencies execute roughly 20,000 high-risk search warrants each year, the vast majority in drug cases. Washington Post columnist Radley Balko, author of Rise of the Warrior Cop, told National Public Radio those annual raids result in 20-30 suspect deaths and “about eight to 10 cases per year where a completely innocent person is killed.”
A relic of the Presidents Richard Nixon– and Ronald Reagan-era drug wars, the no-knock raid places officers, suspects and bystanders in mortal danger over victimless crimes. The special search warrants are issued to prevent violent resistance, escape or destruction of evidence.
It’s the last scenario that really curls a cop’s mustache — flushing dope down the toilet might preempt a perp walk.
After Taylor’s killing, Louisville officials banned no-knock warrants. If justice prevails over politics on Capitol Hill, the rest of the nation will follow.
The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a comprehensive law enforcement reform measure, cleared the Democratic-led House of Representatives on a 236-181 vote June 25. It faces an uphill climb in the Republican-led Senate, where a competing reform bill fell five votes short of a floor debate.
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., pitched his JUSTICE Act as a serious effort to end racial disparities in policing and prevent police killings of unarmed black Americans. Democratic senators refused to consider it, with critics noting it’s chock-full of study panels and half-measures.
Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, introduced her Justice in Policing Act with full support from House Democrats and the backing of influential leaders in the police accountability movement. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., extolled the legislation in a victory-lap news conference held before a scheduled vote.
A new Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll shows nearly all Americans support reform that includes clear standards on use of force and punishment for police brutality. Yet, Congress could squander the opportunity to lead and fall victim to petty partisanship.
The Justice in Policing Act is a better vehicle for reform not only because it has crossed over to the other chamber but also because it delivers on promises its Senate counterpart isn’t even willing to make. It bans no-knock warrants in drug cases on the federal level and requires states to do the same in order to qualify for lucrative law enforcement grants. Scott’s bill instructs agencies to report statistical information about no-knock raids to the attorney general’s office for further study.
Bass’ bill includes a laundry list of fixes, including a ban on chokeholds, a body-camera requirement and a national misconduct registry that would prevent bad cops from remaining in law enforcement by playing musical chairs across state and jurisdictional lines.
The legislation also rewrites the doctrine of qualified immunity, a legal privilege that allows police officers to dodge lawsuits. Under a modified definition, people could sue cops in their individual capacities for constitutional rights violations.
Scott’s bill sought grinding, incremental change and suffered from a lack of ambition, failing to abolish no-knock raids and rein in qualified immunity even as libertarian-leaning Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., proposed both measures in his own freestanding legislation.
If Republicans read the room, they’ll engage with Senate Democrats to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. The effort can still be a bipartisan triumph: Scott, as the only African American Republican senator, and Paul, as a surveillance-state skeptic, should serve as their party’s chief negotiators.
Paul and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell represent Kentucky, where Taylor’s senseless killing first sounded the clarion call to end dangerous no-knock police raids. These home-state senators have the chance to help accomplish that goal.
They owe it to Taylor’s memory to try.
— Corey Friedman is an opinion journalist who explores solutions to political conflicts from an independent perspective. Follow him on Twitter: @coreywrites. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.