50 Years After Recording “No Knock,” Gil Scott-Heron’s Protest Song Contains a Prescription

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No-knock raids are in the news again after last week’s police killing of Amir Locke, but the tactic and its impact have never left the minds of artists and activists calling for its end. As you follow along with our colleague Eamon Whalen’s reporting on the Locke case, take a listen to Gil Scott-Heron’s “No Knock,” recorded 50 years ago.

“The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” gets more plays and shares, but “No Knock,” from 1972, is more freshly resonant. Scott-Heron’s poem is rapped over a pulsing beat. It’s concise, with tight lines. It’s spare, with minimal instrumentation. And it’s specific: It names names, closing in on “one of our unfavorite people,” John Mitchell.

Mitchell was the attorney general who called for no-knocks, and he became Nixon’s presidential reelection campaign chair. Mitchell approved wiretapping without court authorization, tried to spike the Pentagon Papers’ publication, advocated the prosecution of antiwar demonstrators, and was convicted of perjury, conspiracy, and obstruction in the Watergate cover-up. A statesman.

Mitchell isn’t the only bad actor in Scott-Heron’s sights. “No Knock” has a long reach. It presses for a multigenerational movement against the tactic that not only disparately kills civilians but results in the preventable deaths of the very police using the tactic. The poem is as much a pushing back as a lament. And it taps into Scott-Heron’s twin talents: resistance and results. If “No Knock” expresses fury, it lands on another beat: a policy proposal to end it.

Let us know at recharge@motherjones.com if you see good news in national or local no-knock coverage.

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