Getting Things Straight.

In the week and a half since the Minneapolis Police Department shot and killed Amir Locke, many news articles have come out covering the events of the day, and the choices that lead to it.

Much of this reporting, especially in the early moments right after the news broke, sourced information directly from police reports. As often happens in these cases, the facts reported by the police did not line up with the truth. While many of the news articles that have been published have been quietly adjusted to reflect something closer to reality, most publications have made no effort to clearly state to their readers that corrections were made, much less that early key facts were reported incorrectly.

Let’s get things straight.

First, The Facts

  • Amir Locke, 22, was murdered by the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) in the early morning hours of Wednesday, February 2nd, 2022 during a search raid requested by the St Paul Police Department (SPPD).
  • The warrant was issued to search for evidence, not make an arrest. Further, Amir is not named in the warrant. SPPD issued the search warrant to look for evidence to tie Amir’s 17-year-old cousin, Speed, to a homicide investigation.
  • The original warrant was not a no-knock warrant. The MPD requested the search warrant be upgraded to a no-knock warrant, citing concerns for officer safety. This change was approved by both the MPD, the SPPD, and signed off on by Judge Peter Cahill, the same judge who presided over the murder trial of Derick Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd.
  • In body camera footage from the incident (CW: Graphic,) we can see Amir asleep on the couch when police entered the apartment. Police begin shouting once inside, kick the couch, and within 9 seconds MPD Officer Mark Hanneman shoots and kills Amir while he is still wrapped in a blanket on the ground.
  • Amir had a legally owned firearm with him in the living room. In the body camera footage you can see him reach for his gun, which he keeps pointed away from officers with his finger off of the trigger.

Things Get Murky

Reading through the facts above, it’s pretty straight forward that the police acted wrongly in this case. They explicitly escalated the danger of the situation by entering the premises without consent or prior warning. They immediately resort to violence upon encountering a civilian inside the apartment. Within 9 seconds, they’ve killed someone.

If you’ve been following this story with local news outlets as their articles come out, however, this probably isn’t the story you’ve heard. Many news organizations make a practice of printing police statements, nearly verbatim, as soon as they possibly can in order to “get the scoop” on an upcoming story. This often leads to news stories that print unverified police information, and indeed misinformation, as though it were fact.

While many news organizations will go back to these articles after the fact to correct the errors, most readers will not notice this, having already read the article and determined what their understanding of the facts of the events are. What this means in practice is that many people have fundamental facts about these events wrong. So, let’s run through how that played out in this case in particular.

The Police Statement

Let’s take a look at the original police statement on the killing of Amir Locke.

Screenshot of the Minneapolis Police Department statement on the shooting of Amir Locke
source

MPD states, repeatedly, that they encountered a “suspect.” Amir Locke was not a suspect in any investigation. They further state that “the suspect’s gun” was recovered. Again, Amir was not a suspect, and was a legal gun owner. That would not, however, be the conclusion that most folks would arrive at upon reading this statement.

They also state that the gun was pointed in the direction of officers. While we can’t clearly see everyone in the apartment from the body camera footage that was released, from what we can see it’s clear that Amir was reaching for his gun, kept his finger off of the trigger, and does not aim the weapon at any officers that we can see. This is probably the best gun safety practice we can expect from someone half-asleep and being shouted at by several armed men inside their home.

MPD states that they “loudly and repeatedly announced their presence…and advanced with continued loud announcements.” This gets a little messy, as there’s no clear definition of what “announcing” your presence means. However, in the body camera footage, we can see the police officers entering the apartment with guns drawn in the same second that they make their first shouted announcement. This is after the door to the apartment has been opened. Amir was shot dead within 9 seconds of entry. How much of an announcement can the police have given if they were inside and killed someone within 9 seconds?

Breaking News

The Star Tribune releases their first article on the shooting at around 9pm the same day, sourcing information from the police report and Interim Chief of Police Amelia Huffman. The only other source mentioned is Nekima Levy Armstrong, who is cited as identifying the person killed as Amir Locke. In effect, what the Star Tribune does here is provide the context of a trusted news source as the wrapping for an unverified police narrative.

The article headline is also problematic. It reads “Man shot, killed by Mpls. police during search was armed.” This implies, to a casual reader, that the police were in some kind of danger and being actively threatened. That was not the case, as we can see in the video. The police are heavily armed, wearing protective gear, and have Amir surrounded on the floor before he has time to comprehend what’s going on. Yes, he had a gun, but that gun was not being “brandished” as a weapon, as the article claims. It was, at worst, being reached for in self defense.

The Star Tribune also incorrectly claims in the tweet promoting this article that the police were serving an “arrest warrant”

Screenshot of Star Tribune tweet incorrectly citing “arrest warrant”
source

We know now, from having seen the original warrant, that the police were not there to arrest anyone. They were supposedly searching for evidence, which should be a much lower conflict activity. Why, then, did they request a no-knock warrant, send a swat team to investigate, and go in guns ready? Why, then, did the Star Tribune report they were serving an arrest warrant? These facts matter.

An Absent Mayor

During all of this, Mayor Jacob Frey has remained relatively silent. It’s not until the evening of the 3rd that he gets in front of a podium to make an official statement and take questions. The press conference does not go well.

Frey dodges questions, provides no real new information, and when pressed with questions he can’t easily get out of, defers to his Interim Chief of Police. When Interim Chief Huffman doesn’t have any good answers either, a city employee states that they’re out of time, and both the Mayor and the Interim Chief file out of the press room hurriedly without answering any further questions. As they leave, you can hear someone in the crowd calling them murderers.

This brings us to another point that we’ve seen some confusing headlines about during the coverage of this police murder. Jacob Frey, during his most recent re-election campaign, repeatedly stated that he had “banned no-knock warrants” in Minneapolis. This was a lie. That didn’t stop the mayor, his campaign staff, and All of Minneapolis (the PAC campaigning for him) from repeatedly stating it throughout the campaign. Both All of Mpls and the official campaign website have scrubbed mention of this from their sites by now, but we’ve got screenshots.

Left: screenshot of Mayor Frey’s official campaign website. Right: screenshot of All of Mpls website. Both taken before edits made after the murder of Amir Locke

When confronted with this lie, Mayor Frey has done everything but own it. In an interview with MPR, Frey insisted that the actual impact of his regulatory changes on no-knock warrants was clearly communicated and readily available. The only part of the lie that he owns, is that his communication around the subject became “condensed.”

MPR — You campaigned and said you had banned no-knock warrants, and then this week said your language became casual over time in ways that been misleading. If transparency is to the forefront, how do you explain this?

Frey — If you look back at all the official channels — the press release, our webpage, the longform interviews that I did with a number of different channels, we were able to provide the full context there. We were able to provide the full depth in the state law as to what specifically we were doing. Specifically, it was consistently characterized as a policy that required announcement prior to breaching the threshold.

Frey — But as you mentioned, throughout the campaign and certainly more and more outside groups began weighing in. The communication around this, it condensed. There was more brevity. That’s the part that we just need to own. We need to change. And we need to change the policy specifically as well.

Despite his campaign website claiming one of his top achievements was “Banning the use of no-knock warrants in the city of Minneapolis,” Mayor Frey refuses to own that lie. In reality, since the policy change that he made prior to re-election, MPD has served 90 no-knock warrants.

Official Lies & Untrustworthy Sources

This practice of outright lying about police behavior, procedures, regulations, and oversight is nothing new. Remember, the first statement from MPD in the murder of George Floyd sited his death as a consequence of a “medical incident.” And that’s not the only historical example out there. So if this isn’t new, why do news organizations like the Star Tribune keep publishing police statements as though they were fact?

It’s hard to answer that question without presuming some level of malfeasance on the part of the news media, but that’d be hard to prove. It’s no secret that the Star Tribune has a long history of publishing articles from its Editorial Board that have barely-concealed contempt for the poor and unsettled masses of Minneapolis, but proving intent in the newsroom is harder.

Still, it is well past time for the Star Tribune and other organizations like it to stop publishing police narratives as though they were fact. More often than not, once all the information has seen the light of day, it’s rare for statements from police departments that have just murdered a civilian to accurately reflect the truth. Reporting them as truth is misleading, and only serves to confound the issues we have discussing racist police violence in this country. We deserve better. Both from our elected officials, the departments they oversee, and the newsrooms that report on them.

Amir should be alive. MPD should be known as the ruthless murders they are. and the Star Tribune should stop covering for them.

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he/him. acab. abolish prisons. sr web dev, writer, organizer, photographer, gamer. generally too online. usually too tired.

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Martin Sheeks

Martin Sheeks

he/him. acab. abolish prisons. sr web dev, writer, organizer, photographer, gamer. generally too online. usually too tired.

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