A burning question right now is 50 years old
Gil Scott-Heron called it, when will we take action?
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My new piece for you is about a fixable civil rights challenge, and why it’s worth listening to Gil Scott-Heron…
“No knock,” the Man Will Say…
Many factors drive U.S. police shootings, which are a larger problem in this country than many similar democracies.
One factor is how police policies can escalate a standoff and create the very lethal danger police are traditionally supposed to prevent. Take an approach to raids and searches that you have probably heard about recently—involving “no knock warrants,” where police storm a residence without knocking, or even announcing themselves.
They were used to authorize the raid that killed Breonna Taylor, an innocent woman killed while sleeping in her home.
They were used again recently in Minneapolis, where such a warrant authorized police storming a house and, within 9 seconds, killing Amir Locke, a 22-year-old man with no record, who was not a suspect.
There is a structural policy framework for these killings.
A recent study over six years showed over 80% of these warrants were used against Black Americans. And they increase the odds of avoidable injury and death—to the people raided, but also to other bystanders and officers themselves. If this tactic were used across all populations equally, it might seem reckless yet “uniformly applied.” But it’s not.
This policy, which is known to increase the “error rate” and fatalities, is a tool against minorities and the underclass. It’s part of the power structure in our democracy.
What’s known can’t be “new”
There’s nothing new about this.
Impacted communities have been calling this out for years—at least 50 years, to be exact. That’s why it’s vital to listen to people who are directly impacted, and why civil rights leaders and artists can be decades ahead of the national story or “conventional wisdom.”
Take the poet and singer, Gil Scott-Heron, whose 1972 song “No Knock” confronts this very policy.
“No-knock, the law in particular, was allegedly ‘legislated for Black people,’ rather than for their destruction,” he explained in an introduction, “the police no longer have to knock on your door before entering.”
Heron released the song after Nixon-backed legislation pushed the policy.
Here are some of the lyrics (try listening along here, it’s two minutes)
‘No knock!’ the man will say / to protect people from themselves
No knocking, head rocking, inter-shocking, shooting /
cussing, killing and crying, lying / and being white
Heron knew policy; listeners might hear more about this legislative development in 1972 from him than much of the national press.
He also knew political spin, which he shreds in a few more lines, after citing the police killing of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, in a controversial raid.
No-knocked on my brother Fred Hampton / bullet holes all over the place..
for my protection? / Who’s going to protect me from you? /
the likes of you / the nerve of you?
Heron debunks the Nixonian refrain that these “tough on crime” policies were to “protect” minority communities.
Sadly, Heron’s blunt rejoinder echoes today, in raids where police create the danger, police officers are the killers, and the creator of the (alleged) crime on the scene.
From Chicago ‘72, to Louisville 2020, to now Minneapolis 2022 — 50 years later — communities are asking police the same question:
Thoughtful and so very on-point commentary on a deadly practice that will only become more abused if police are allowed to continue in their unchecked (and usually unwarranted - no pun intended) and often reckless use of this practice that is turning into something more akin to a license to murder just because they can.
I always thought Gil Scot-Heron was a genius. I am not sure if he was clairvoyant. Rather he understood the nature of white America and no knock warrants were just another feature of maintaining white supremacy. He was willing to say it loud and proud; no knock warrants do not serve the citizens white or black. I don’t understand why we as a society won’t end an arcane institution for oppression. Great conversation Ari as always. Maybe a worthwhile candidate will make this a campaign promise