Eight decades after the civil rights movement began, Black people are still fighting for basic human and civil rights. Black women especially so.
Consider Breonna Taylor, a Black woman who was killed in March by Louisville police executing a no-knock warrant while she slept in her home. The target had already been arrested. Yet Taylor was shot five times and no police officer gave her aid. To date, only one officer has been charged, and it was for the bullets he shot that missed Taylor. The city of Louisville has since banned no-knock warrants. But why did it take Taylor’s killing for there to be this common-sense policy change?
In the aftermath of Taylor’s death, as well as the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in May, hundreds of thousands took to the streets across the country. The US House of Representatives passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, sweeping legislation that would limit the use of no-knock warrants and make it easier to hold police officers accountable. In Massachusetts, state policy makers signaled a commitment to address police violence and the need to dismantle systems that for too long have exacerbated racial injustice. The police reform bill before Governor Charlie Baker reflects meaningful steps toward reining in violent, excessive force used by police, including police decertification, regulation of facial recognition technology, and requiring officers to intervene if their peers use illegal force. Baker has the opportunity and critical responsibility to implement these changes by signing the bill into law.
The bill includes an amendment by one of us, Representative Liz Miranda, who represents one of the most overpoliced sections of Boston. Her amendment requires a heightened level of scrutiny and allows only judges — not clerk magistrates — to grant these warrants when there is a credible threat to officer safety without it. The provision also requires that officers confirm that no children or seniors are in the target location.
Critics suggest that these common-sense limits might put officers’ lives in jeopardy. We would argue that the SWAT-like tactics of no-knock raids pose grave dangers to all involved — especially unarmed and innocent families behind the doors where those warrants are executed. Public policy should be designed to protect and value the lives of all — not just some. Indeed, Black lives matter too.
The policies addressing excessive force should be significantly informed by those who actually experience such force. For too long, the chorus of voices dominating the discussions on proposed reforms has been overwhelmingly composed of police unions and law enforcement. That is why, in June — as many were awakening to the brutal reality of violence, terror, and fear that so many Black people experience when encountering law enforcement — the NAACP Boston Branch convened community members and sister organizations to develop and advance urgent community-informed policing reform priorities. The demand for limits on excessive use of force was resounding.
District attorneys — the chief law enforcement officers in their counties — handle the overwhelming majority of cases where no-knock warrants are sought by law enforcement. And, like most things involving the criminal legal system, the defendants and communities where no-knock warrants are frequently executed are poor, Black, and brown. These communities already have too many interactions with law enforcement for low-level, nonviolent, non-serious crimes. Each of these interactions can erupt into violence at any moment. That is why in August, Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins and several of her Black female colleagues around the country pledged to ban no-knock warrants in their jurisdictions.
In 2018, acting under the authority of a no-knock warrant, Boston police entered the wrong apartment, invading the home of the Regis family. It was before sunrise when officers used a battering ram to break down the door, trained guns on and handcuffed Jean and Verlande Regis and their 15-year-old daughter, and then ransacked the home while two younger children watched.
As Black women, we know all too well the experiences of the communities that we represent. We understand the need for public safety, but we also know that safety and police accountability go hand-in-hand. We hear the accounts of the victims of all types of violence and crime: gang violence, domestic violence, and — yes — police violence. We have a responsibility to serve our community’s needs, and our advocacy must be taken seriously.
Our collective lived experiences and the experiences of the people we are connected to inform our perspective. The experience of witnessing violence, losing loved ones to violence, fearing for the safety of family members, having “the talk” with our children, or visiting loved ones in carceral facilities has grounded our perspectives in ways that other lawmakers may not appreciate. Because we walk in spaces others do not, our voices should be sought, heard, and heeded.
We cannot afford another Breonna Taylor or Regis family, and we cannot afford to allow policing to continue the way that it has. We call on the governor to sign the bill as is without amending the provisions regarding no-knock warrants. The cost of failing to act is far too high.
US Representative Ayanna Pressley represents the Massachusetts Seventh Congressional District. Rachael Rollins is district attorney for Suffolk County. State representative Liz Miranda represents the Massachusetts Fifth Suffolk District. Tanisha M. Sullivan is president of the NAACP Boston Branch.