No Knock Warrant, Wrongfully issued to my Father caused him to Missed my Graduation: On May 28, 2020, my father missed my graduation from Harvard. During the virtual ceremony, after scrolling through endless squares and deducing it wasn’t a technology failure, I was unable to find him.
In this country, we have normalized Black men’s absence in their children’s lives as inattention to responsibilities. But that’s actually not my case. My father is a brilliant teacher — of world religions, of true resilience and an example of how to bounce back in a world that is far too often cold, unrelenting and cruel to Black people. He would never miss this chance to cheer for his daughter.
Two days after graduation, he called at his usual early morning hour and jumped right into conversation: “I need you to look at something.”
Every first-generation college student knows this call — our family members think we are experts at everything because we went to college. But his ask this time signaled there was a legal issue. He apologized for missing the ceremony — and little did he know that what he would share next impacts me today and likely will for the rest of my life.
My graduation was three days after the murder of George Floyd, and 15 days after police killed Breonna Taylor while she was asleep in her bed. My father, his wife and their autistic grandchild were soundly sleeping when they were suddenly awakened by the clamor of the front door being kicked in by cops. They ambushed my family and held them at gunpoint with large rifles. Everyone, including the child, was handcuffed, removed from the house and forced to gaze upon the disruption while uncomfortably perched on the curb.
My father texted me a photo after our call. I was shaken. They were served a no-knock warrant by the police. Wrong address. Wrong name. No one even bothered to check the address. No one knocked on the door.
The police — who are supposed to “protect and serve” — had served nothing but chaos and an egregious no-knock warrant “allowing” them to ransack my father’s home. They shattered glass. They tore apart walls. They ripped furniture and destroyed heirlooms. They left the door unsecured. They had hoped to find something that would match the proportion of their disruption. When they did not, they simply said, “Sorry.”
Sorry. As if they had accidentally bumped into my family on the street, as if they had merely made the mistake of spilling a beverage on someone else, or as if they were visiting friends and rang the wrong doorbell.
Much like we’ve seen countless times in America, my family could have been killed by cops. We could have had three funerals. We could have gaping holes in our hearts from system-driven violence, perpetual grief, psychological assault and total disregard for our fundamental right to live.
I was unhinged. Who would be held accountable? My father lives in Detroit, Michigan — where in May of 2010, cops killed Aiyana Stanley-Jones, a seven-year-old Black girl, in a raid by a bullet fired from a cop while she slept on the couch, initially blaming her grandmother for her death. Michigan has a law where officers have to knock and “announce” themselves before entry, offering no protection for extreme raid tactics like injuries, property damage or other unnecessarily aggressive actions — many of which happened with my family. Even more frustrating, there are no consequences or liabilities for false raids. Sadly, this is the case in many places across the country.
Banning no-knocks is just one step in a series of actions needed to protect our families.
Campaign Zero notes that in addition to banning them, elected leaders and policymakers must also restrict other actions related to policing (like plainclothes search warrants) and take an overall approach to ensure police are held accountable. Because we know from Breonna and Aiyana that we will not get true justice, or they would still be here today.
Too often we attribute circumstances like this to “other people.” I’ve learned that no matter how much one accomplishes or how adjacent one is to power or privilege, American society has a way of refreshing our memory — with the horrors of oppression, directly and indirectly — that we are Black.
The “defund the police” conversation is sorely and sadly misunderstood. Since slavery, Black bodies have been hunted, aggressively and disturbingly murdered, and tracked down by enforcers of the “law.” When people in our communities say defund, we actually mean stop funding things that harm us and start funding things that help us. Our communities need resources and access to opportunity and jobs — not over-policing and incarceration.
The solution is to fund possibility. Fund our future, by investing public dollars in policies, people and programs that catalyze community-driven change. It is time to be inclusive in our approach to “protecting” humanity. Black people can no longer tolerate the colonial mindset that allows “changemakers” to enter our communities and homes to provide solutions based on their assumptions about our lives. We must now be at the center of and leading those solutions.
The protection that we expect from police is inherently unavailable because they don’t even have a deep understanding of the communities they are called to “serve,” often policing Black and brown communities they don’t live in and stereotyping us into death and prison. We have been served crumbs by our systems — public education, housing and lack of economic opportunity — so much so that our humanity and collective aspirations are nearly invisible.
It’s often said that Black communities have a generational curse, but such framing does not implicate the problematic party, and rather makes victims continually question themselves and their ancestry — and that’s the problem. That haunting is what distracts us from what we need — true freedom.
My father is fine. Even after going through such traumatic events, he is somehow patiently undeterred in his quest for justice. I, however, am now impatient and very intolerant because that text he sent has forever changed my life. My family is lucky. So many others are not even afforded a chance. It’s time we give them one.