Law enforcement vehicles block off a street downtown Minneapolis on Wednesday. Credit: Tim Evans | MPR News

Since the morning of Wednesday, February 2, Representative Esther Agbaje (DFL-Minneapolis) has been speaking with her neighbors in the hallways and elevators of the Bolero Flats Apartment Homes in downtown Minneapolis. A police shooting in their building Wednesday morning left them all shaken and confused. 

Their dismay only grew over the course of Wednesday and Thursday as they waited for the city and Minneapolis Police Department to provide answers 

Agbaje and her neighbors struggled to find more information on their own. “We believe in wanting to make sure there’s transparency and communication,” Agbaje said. “People don’t know what’s going on. It would be great to have some answers.”

They weren’t the only ones at a loss. Facts about the shooting have emerged haphazardly. Here’s what we know: Initial reports from the Minneapolis Police Department say Minneapolis police shot and killed 22-year-old Amir Locke early Wednesday morning at a downtown Minneapolis apartment after executing a search warrant that did not name Locke. The city identified Mark Hanneman as the officer who fatally shot Locke.

Minneapolis residents, activists, and elected officials demanded to see the bodycam footage of the incident, but received no word from city officials. Then, Thursday evening, the city released bodycam video of the shooting.

The footage revealed a disturbing scene of police entering an apartment unannounced, kicking a couch Locke was sleeping on, and then firing three shots at him when he came out from under a blanket. Police shot Locke within nine seconds of entering the apartment.

The fatal shooting of Locke during a police raid mirrors a string of police killings in Minneapolis during failed apprehension attempts. In December 2020, Minneapolis police shot and killed Dolal Idd in a sting operation at a gas station, and conducted a raid of his family’s home afterward.  

In June, a agents in a U.S. Marshals Service task force in the Twin Cities shot Winston Smith in a parking garage while trying to arrest him.

Each of these incidents has led to anger and outrage from many Minnesotans, especially people of color. Elected officials, in turn, have responded with procedural reforms and promises to change police practices. But the latest police killing has led activists and some elected officials to protest how little progress the state and city has made.

“This is not a time to sweep it under the rug and try to move on to the next thing,” Agbaje said. “Real people are hurting here.”

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey is facing criticism for a lack of transparency about the incident and a wider inaction to pass public safety reform measures promised during his last campaign. Minneapolis’ most diverse city council to date and Mayor Jacob Frey began a new term just last month. State legislators are also ramping up campaigns for elections in November.

Bodycam footage leads to community condemnation

At a press conference Thursday, interim Minneapolis Police Chief Amelia Huffman said that Locke had pointed the gun toward police. But that action is not clear in the video.

Bodycam footage shows a SWAT team entering an apartment with a key while shouting “police search warrant.” Locke, whose family said he has no criminal history, appears to have been sleeping under a blanket on a couch. 

Police approach the couch, kick it, yell to get on the ground and show his hands. As he wakes, Locke stirs in the blanket and emerges holding a gun. An officer fires three shots at him. 

Locke suffered two gunshot wounds to the chest and one on his wrist. He was later pronounced dead at Hennepin County Medical Center. 

According to the video, the SWAT team did not announce their presence before entering the apartment. This practice is known as a no-knock warrant. In May, Frey told Sahan Journal that he banned no-knock raids with limited exceptions for high-risk events like hostage situations.

It’s unclear whether the raid that killed Amir Locke complied with those guidelines. Along with the failure to implement clear policy changes, the city revealed details of the shooting over social media and through community intermediaries in a manner that confused and aggravated the public. 

That response could be observed at a press conference with Frey and Huffman Thursday night at Minneapolis City Hall. 

Frey insisted that he’d delayed the release of the bodycam footage so that Locke’s family could see it before the public. At the press conference, Frey called this delay “non-negotiable.” 

“In grappling with it and having some of these hard discussions that we need to have, one of the first steps that is necessary is transparency—good, bad, or ugly,” Frey said.

As the interim chief continued Thursday’s press conference, civil rights attorney and former Minneapolis NAACP president Nekima Levy-Armstrong took the floor to express her grievances at Huffman and Frey. 

Stepping in front of the podium, Levy-Armstrong called Frey and Huffman out for what she called a “cover-up” on behalf of Minneapolis police. She also spoke about how, as a mother, she was terrified to see how Locke was targeted while sleeping.

Last year, Frey appointed Levy-Armstrong as co-chair for a public safety work group, a role she said she is now reconsidering.

“This isn’t what I signed up for,” Levy-Armstrong said at the press conference. “We’re tired of being killed, we’re tired of the cover-ups, we’re tired of the excuses.”

City Council members have been discussing public safety changes; another police killing came first. 

Robin Wonsley Worlobah, a Democratic Socialist , ran for City Council in support of creating a public safety department to replace the Minneapolis Police Department. While she won her election to the City Council in November, the referendum to create the department didn’t pass. She entered office with mounting pressures to address police reform with the City Council’s limited power.

Wonsley Worlobah told Sahan Journal she’s unsatisfied with the changes made to policing in the city so far.

“What policies are being discussed right now? There’s nothing being discussed,” Wonsley Worlobah said. The City Council member pointed to the public rejection of a ballot amendment that would have forced a restructuring of the Minneapolis Police Department. 

“After Question 2 didn’t pass in November, we have a responsibility—the Mayor’s Office has a responsibility—to move forward with substantial changes,” Wonsely Worlobah said. 

Wonsley Worlobah was on her way to a meeting at City Hall with the City Council’s public health and safety committee to discuss a staffing study about the Minneapolis Police Department. The report highlighted staffing levels for the Minneapolis Police Department, investments needed for alternative emergency response, how to scale up mental health responders, and more.

“We were having these discussions in the backdrop, not knowing that Amir Locke had just lost his life,” Wonsley Worlobah said. “The details around that put into context that so much has not happened since George Floyd.”

In the state legislature, Agbaje is also trying to push for change. She said she is advocating for a bill introduced by Representative Cedrick Frazier (DFL-New Hope) that focuses on holistic public safety practices and funding community prevention. 

The bill would create an Office of Safety Innovation to look into innovative public safety strategies to be implemented at the state level. The bill also includes funding for law enforcement to adopt better strategies.

Other elected officials echoed these concerns on social media. They described the latest police killing in stark terms. 

On Twitter, Minneapolis City Council Member Jamal Osman responded,  “I’m sick. The video is horrifying. They shot him in his sleep. I don’t know where to start or end. Failing another young black man in Minneapolis. I call for the justice system to move as quickly and as surely as possible to hold the officer involved accountable.”

State Senator Omar Fateh used even more damning language. On Wednesday night, he called the incident “a break-in and murder.”

Hibah Ansari is a reporter for Sahan Journal covering immigration and politics. She was named the 2022 Young Journalist of the Year by the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists. She’s a graduate...