There currently isn’t an alternative to no knock raids that help change police violence and racial disparities in the United States. The war on drugs created this militarized tactic that is dangerous to police, bystanders and suspects. No knock warrants are performed more often than they should be, with most happening in communities of lower socioeconomic status groups. Since the start of the drug war, tens of millions of people have been arrested and incarcerated. It has broken up families and ruined many people’s lives without diminishing access to controlled substances or the competency of organized crime.
What Is The Drug War?
The production of drugs, drug use and its distribution triggered what is known as the drug war. Richard Nixon first declared there would be a war on drugs in June 1971. Shortly after, he created new drug policies that many have speculated are racially targeted towards minorities. This led to the creation of Congress passing the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act (Controlled Substances Act). Its goal is to change how narcotics are manufactured, distributed, brought in and transported. Two years later, the DEA was created to deal with the drug problem that was going on in America. The war also developed the need for no knock raids and other measures. During the drug war Nixon also expanded all federal drug agencies and required more funding for drug treatment.
It wasn’t until the start of Ronald Reagan’s presidency in 1981 that harsher punishments for drug offenses led to an increase in mass incarceration all over the nation. Drug offenders faced lifetime consequences for minor infractions, yet the focus on harsh sentences for crack and not powder cocaine meant the people going to prison were primarily African American.
The majority of crack users at the time were African American, and although whites used and sold powder cocaine at about the same rate or more than blacks did, the law did not punish them equally. The media broadcasts focused mainly on the crack cocaine abuse in the ghettos, predominantly inhabited by black and brown minorities. They did not report the widespread use of powder cocaine among whites.
The Danger of Mandatory Minimums
The Anti-Drug Abuse Act was passed by the U.S Congress in 1986. It distributed $1.7 billion to the drug war, and it created a series of mandatory minimum prison sentences for numerous drug offenses. A significant problem for the required minimums is that judges could not lower the offender’s penalties no matter the circumstance.
Powder cocaine and crack cocaine are the same drugs but in different forms. They are both derived from the leaves of the coca plant. Crack is a mixture of powder cocaine and sometimes other fillers mixed with water and usually baking soda; after it is cooked, it will form into a rock. When snorted, powder cocaine takes a few minutes to set in. When it is smoked, crack has an almost immediate effect on the user.
The media always popularized crack to be more dangerous and addictive than powder cocaine, but that is not the case. There is no chemical difference between these two forms of cocaine. Although people already knew this information, the law stated that a person in possession of 5 grams of crack automatically received a minimum sentence of 5 years in prison. To get the same minimum sentence for possessing powder cocaine, a person had to have been caught with 500 grams. Of course, this heavily affected the black community since they were the primary users of crack cocaine, causing a rift between racial disparity and no knock raids.
As a consequence of this crack epidemic, prison populations grew more than anyone had ever seen, and they were made up of a disproportionately large number of African Americans. Nonviolent drug offenses increased from 50,000 in 1980 to 400,000 in 1997. The number of people in the United States incarcerated today is more than 2 million, and almost half of all the federal prison population is there because of a drug offense. More than 1 trillion dollars have been spent on the war on drugs during these past five decades. Access to drugs has been more of a challenge since this started, but drug use continues to be a significant problem in America. These numbers don’t necessarily represent a solution to the problem, however, they do show that the drug war continues to fail to produce a more desirable outcome.
What are No Knock Raids?
No knock raids are a common practice used typically by SWAT teams to surprise suspects by forcibly entering any vicinity unannounced to be searched. Although no knock warrants established this method during the drug war, law enforcement officials still use it today. Police officers argue that it is an excellent way to catch suspects in the act or obtain valuable evidence. If officers announce themselves before entering, it gives perpetrators a chance to flush drugs down the toilet, erase important information on a computer or other electronic device, run away or even arm themselves.
That creates an advantage for the officers but a significant disadvantage if the person they are after isn’t home and innocent family members are, or even worse if police mistakenly go into the wrong home. Police usually serve these warrants at odd times, either late at night or early in the morning. Showing up unannounced creates confusion for the suspect and others on the property.
In 2015 there were an estimated 20,000 no knock raids every year across America – if not more. The amount has now increased to 60,000 and continues to grow. One recent example that sparked a lot of attention over the past year is Breonna Taylor’s case.
On September 23, 2020, Louisville officers, dressed in plainclothes, entered Taylor’s apartment unannounced in the middle of the night. Police were there with a warrant to search her apartment because they suspected her ex-boyfriend was hiding drugs at her place. Taylor and her boyfriend were in bed at the time of the raid. When they woke up, Taylor’s boyfriend fired at the officers thinking it was someone breaking in. Police fired back and killed Taylor in the process. Tens of thousands of people were outraged at how she died, causing national protests in demand for her justice.
No knock raids bring up a lot of concern and outrage, but the media does not cover many cases in which innocent people get hurt. It is stated in the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution that all search warrants need to be supported by probable cause. It also disallows unreasonable searches and seizures. Even though it is clear that no knock raids are very dangerous and should not be allowed, they continue to be a preferred tactic for law enforcement officials.
What was the original purpose of police raids?
The original purpose of the no knock warrants was to show everyone that the police were serious about cracking down on people suspected of drug crimes. They were also meant to be used for hostage situations. Almost 80% of no knock raids are to search homes most of the time because it is suspected that there are drugs on the premises. For the most part, these raids unreasonably take place in communities of color.
Raids have always been controversial because judges tend to sign off on them without questioning law enforcement officials. Police officers that conduct these raids don’t need to have any particular ranking or seniority, and almost anyone in law enforcement can serve these no knock warrants. This makes it extremely dangerous to the officer and the suspect. Showing up unannounced to someone’s house in the middle of the night can have a fight or flight response from the people at home. Therefore, these raids can take a gruesome turn for the worse.
How No Knock Raids and the Drug War Connect
As a result of the drug war and no knock warrants, police departments have become increasingly and unquestionably powerful. During botched raids, pets and innocent people such as children and the elderly have been killed or injured. Families across the country have been torn apart. The war on drugs failed to reduce crime and drug use, and no knock raids have brought destruction to communities of color without fixing the real issues that go on there.
Since the declaration of the war on drugs, no knock raids have undoubtedly caused controversy. People from different parts of the United States have protested for these raids to be banned. In Louisville, where Taylor died, this tactic is now permanently prohibited, and officers must now announce who they are. But until no knock raids are banned throughout the country, there will always be a risk for everyone around. Do you agree that the war on drugs failed to achieve its purpose? We want to hear your thoughts in the comments below.