Family, friends and community members gathered Thursday at a church in north Minneapolis where a funeral service celebrating the life of Amir Locke, who was shot and killed by police two weeks ago, began with songs of blessed comfort before moving on to words of fury aimed at the police.
“Amir was not guilty of being anything but young and black in America,” Reverend Al Sharpton said in his eulogy as 22-year-old Locke was remembered during the 2 1⁄4 one-hour service at Shiloh Temple International Ministries on West Broadway.
Sharpton traces back five centuries to the beginning of slavery in America and the unnamed mass of black humanity that was shipped to the continent.
“We are the survivors of the worst conviction in history,” Sharpton said, “and that’s why it’s just a tragedy that we’re here.”
Sharpton said Locke “didn’t have a single scar to his name” and described him as a “clean, upright young man”.
Locke’s mother followed suit and was direct in her feelings towards the police department that carried out the raid that left her son dead.
Karen Wells recalled that it took her 10 hours of labor to deliver her son before pointing out that “those thugs representing the Minneapolis Police Department executed my baby boy in 9 seconds. The law…you go all pay [for] the disrespect you have shown my son.”
Wells then made more comments to city police and Mayor Jacob Frey, though they weren’t on hand to hear what she said: “When you go to bed, I want you see his face” as well as at other times of each day.
Locke’s father, Andre Locke Sr., noted how his son was shot while covered and on a couch, then said, “When they pulled that sheet off, they knew they screwed up.”
The midday funeral service was preceded by a viewing of Locke’s open ivory casket which was draped with dozens of red roses on top. Governor Tim Walz was among many who walked to the edge of the casket and saw Locke’s body.
As the service began, mourners were asked to stand as an organ led a gospel ensemble in “Soon and Very Soon” and “I’ll Fly Away”. Moments later, the choir led the congregation in “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
People close to Locke followed and recited passages of scripture. “Rest in spirit, Amir. I love you, baby,” the second of the two readers said.
Shrine quickly echoed with an a cappella rendition of “Hold on Just a Little While Longer” by four female members of the Sounds of Blackness.
Shortly after Locke’s family arrived about an hour before the service, Sharpton led Locke’s loved ones and others in prayer. He also warned them to act with dignity throughout the service, saying, “It’s not a gathering, it’s a funeral.”
However, once the intro music was over, one of Amir Locke’s aunts was the first to put that message aside and berated the police and political leaders for what she called the execution of his loved one.
“Stop the rhetoric that police officers need more training,” Linda Tyler said, drawing increasingly loud cheers and applause from the now standing attendees. “We’re just asking you to resign today, like you resigned from another sister or brother in the grave. You can’t eliminate racism… If you think being a police officer is a difficult profession, try to be a black man.”
A program for participants listed active and honorary bearers, and included a message from Locke’s parents: “Everyone has been so beautiful that no words can quite express this special concern which you have shown us and which brought comfort and rest. ‘Thank you’ is the smallest part. We appreciate your visits, cards, calls and flowers from the bottom of our hearts.”
The church parking lot was full long before the funeral began. At least two community street patrol organizations were visible around the temple building. The bishop said he expected about 1,500 attendees.
Among those present were two relatives of George Floyd, who died in police custody while lying below officer Derek Chauvin’s knee in May 2020. Floyd’s brother Philonise Floyd and nephew Brandon Williams met Sharpton before services began and prayed with the family.
Ben Crump, the attorney who has represented many black families who have lost loved ones to police action, issued what he called a “call for justice” during the service.
Crump listed the many black people across the country in recent years who have been killed in encounters with police – Philando Castile, George Floyd and Daunte Wright in the Twin Cities included. When Crump said each died “while”, those before him replied “Black”.
He saved for last the death of the man who was mourned at the church in North Minnepolis: Locke. “He was just sleeping for,” and “Black” was the full-throated response.
Crump cut short of his comments to make way for Sharpton, who has become the national eulogy for many black people who have died at the hands of law enforcement.
Absent from the rally was Frey, who said Wednesday without explanation that he would not be present. Shiloh Temple Bishop Richard Howell Jr. said the Locke family did not extend an invitation.
Acting Police Chief Amelia Huffman will also not be on duty. Howell said Huffman and the police department as a whole were not welcome given the circumstances of Locke’s death.
Locke was shot by police officer Mark Hanneman as a Minneapolis SWAT team executed a “no-hit” search warrant in a St. Paul homicide case.
Hanneman shot Locke during the early morning raid as Locke emerged from under a blanket onto a couch while clutching a gun. The police were not looking for Locke and he was not named in the warrants.
The state’s Bureau of Criminal Arrest is investigating Locke’s death and will report its findings to the state attorney general’s office, which will decide whether the shooting was legally justified or whether Hanneman should be charged with a crime.
The pre-dawn raid stems from the shooting death of Otis Elder, 38, in an apparent drug deal Jan. 10 outside a music recording studio in St. Paul. Latest court filings accuse Locke’s 17-year-old cousin Mekhi Speed and others with him of ‘attempting to steal [Elder] money and/or drugs.”
Speed, of Minneapolis, was charged last week with second-degree murder in connection with Elder’s murder. He remains in custody ahead of a March 16 court hearing to respond to the Ramsey County District Attorney’s Office’s request to transfer his case to adult court.
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