Karen Wells was getting ready to speak to an audience of majority Black mothers whose children were killed unjustly when she received the news that the police officer who killed her son would not be charged.
On April 6, she was at the National Action Network’s annual convention and would be talking and bonding with other families who had lost loved ones. That is, until the news came that Minnesota prosecutors declined to file charges against former Minneapolis police SWAT team officer Mark Hanneman for fatally shooting her son, Amir Locke, during what advocates have referred to as a botched execution of a no-knock search warrant.
“I’m starting to believe that they knew I was coming to the convention today. So, I almost feel like this was a set up. You couldn’t wait until next week. You couldn’t wait until Friday. So once again Minneapolis, you’re showing your true colors of actually who you are and who you represent. I’m not going to give up,” she said during a press conference that day, held alongside Rev. Al Sharpton and civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who is representing the family.
Amir Locke, 22, was asleep on a couch in his cousin’s apartment when officers entered. He was killed a mere nine seconds later after officers startled him awake, which caused him to reach for the gun he was licensed to carry. Mr. Locke worked for DoorDash and carried the gun legally as a protection.
The search warrant was part of a St. Paul, Minn., homicide investigation. Amir Locke was not named in the warrant.
Though no longer on a SWAT team, Off. Hanneman is back on active duty.
“The Minneapolis police officer that executed my baby boy on 2/2/22, be prepared for this family, because every time you take a step, we’re going to be right behind you. This is not over. You may have been found not guilty, but in the eyes of me, being the mother who I am, you are guilty and I’m not going to give up,” Ms. Wells said at the press conference.
She said to the officer and to the city of Minneapolis: “You’re going to continue to be restless, because the spirit of my baby is going to haunt you for the rest of your life. I am not disappointed; I am disgusted with the city of Minneapolis.”
In strong words, the grieving mother declared that she’s not “Minnesota-nice.”
“You decided that he wasn’t worth nothing but less than nine seconds of a human being. And y’all think I’m about to be nice? That’s why I’m not from Minnesota, because I’m not,” she stated. “So, get ready, because with the backing of these two (Rev. Sharpton and Atty. Crump) and the other attorneys, we’re coming. We’re coming full force. And I’m not going to stop racing this race and running this race until I’ve crossed that finish line.”
Atty. Crump explained that Amir Locke did what any law-abiding citizen would do if they were startled awake after a break-in. The police created the life-or-death situation, he said. They did not execute the warrant by knocking and announcing who they were and what they were there for.
“Black people, they kick in the door and expect us to just say, ‘Whoever’s coming through our door, we don’t know if a burglar is robbing us or if it’s a home invasion, don’t try to protect yourself,’ ” he said. “Well, Amir tried to protect himself, and for that, he’s dead.”
On April 5, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey issued a new policy prohibiting no-knock warrants and requiring officers to knock, announce their presence and wait before entering a residence.
“This policy is among the most forward-looking and extensive in the nation and will help keep both our residents and officers safe,” he said in a statement.
Attorney General Keith Ellison and Hennepin County Attorney Michael Freeman said there was insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Officer Hanneman violated the state statute governing when police can use deadly force, according to the Associated Press.
“It would be unethical for us to file charges in a case in which we know that we will not be able to prevail because the law does not support the charges,” Atty. General Ellison said.
Amir Locke’s family and their legal team are committed to continuing the fight for justice in the civil court system and are advocating for the passage of local and national legislation, according to a statement released by the legal team representing the family.
Ms. Wells, Atty. Crump and Rev. Sharpton stated during the press conference that they are going to call on the Department of Justice to launch a federal investigation into the case.
A community in solidarity
“My heart is broken for Amir’s family because I know how it feels,” Toshira Garraway said to The Final Call. “Our families are grieving. This is a pain that never goes away, and we have to live with it,” she said.
Ms. Garraway and her organization Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence held a press conference April 6 at the Hennipen County Government Center. Ms. Garraway herself still has not received justice from the time St. Paul, Minn., police brutally beat to death Justin Tiegen, the father of her son, in 2009. She stood in solidarity with Damik Wright, the brother of Daunte Wright, a young Black man who was fatally shot by former Brooklyn Center officer Kimberly Potter.
Daunte Wright was killed during the trial of Derek Chauvin, who was convicted for murdering George Floyd. Amir Locke was killed while a federal trial was being held in St. Paul, Minn., for the other three officers involved in Mr. Floyd’s death.
During the press conference, Ms. Garraway said she had spoken to Andre Locke, Amir Locke’s father, earlier that day. He relayed to her that he was too hurt to speak to the media and that he had to process the fact that the people who killed his son were walking free.
Minnesota State Rep. John Thompsonquestioned: “When are y’all going to hold police accountable for when they crash land, when they botch no-knock warrants, when they’re choking Black people? How about passing an anti-kill Black people law right here in this state? How about we do that, because it seems like it’s just us asking for justice every year, just us, Black people, losing their lives at the hands of police officers here in this state.”
Nekima Levy Armstrong, civil rights attorney, activist and founder of the Racial Justice Network, told The Final Call via text that the failure to bring charges against Officer Hanneman is deeply disturbing and unconscionable. “This decision reinforces the status quo and sends the message that police officers are above the law. Hanneman and members of the SWAT team acted as judge, jury, and executioner when they killed Amir Locke within two seconds of waking him up. Amir Locke’s family deserves justice,” she said.
Chauntyll Allen, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Twin Cities, used to teach Amir Locke when she worked at Como Park Senior High in St. Paul.
“He was a really good kid. It’s really unfortunate. He had a license to carry,” she said to The Final Call. “Where do Black folks find justice in our Constitution?”
She said she doesn’t think Keith Ellison made the right decision. “He’s up for election, and we’re definitely going to be here to challenge that,” she stated.
Ms. Garraway explained that it’s not just Minneapolis, but what happened and what has been happening is Minnesota’s way of practice, as there has been a pattern of “accidentally” murdering Black men.
“Because it doesn’t seem like they’re having these accidents when it comes to White men. And we have Caucasian people here in Minnesota who have shot at the police and still have been taken into custody alive,” she said.
She also questioned, “Why do these officers get to come into our homes and kill us and walk free? Why do they get to shoot unarmed people and walk free? Why do they get to shoot people like Jamar Clark in the back of their head while he’s handcuffed and walk free and still work for the department?”
In response, she said, “The reason that these killings keep happening is because the officers don’t have a reason to stop. They know that they can kill Black, Indigenous and minority people, and they’re going to walk free.”