General Directors Lisa and Derek Engdahl celebrate with neighbors after advocating and winning a ban on no-knock warrants
Last week, the Pomona Valley Branch of the NAACP led a victory in passing Breonna’s Law—a complete ban on no-knock warrants in the city of Pomona, California. Among the diverse array of neighbors, clergy, and community leaders who organized and testified before the city council were Lisa and Derek Engdahl, Servant Partners’ General Directors. As longtime Pomona residents, they had experienced the abuses of no-knock warrants firsthand.
“I was here, and it was right there,” motioned Gabi*, a granddaughter of the Engdahl's next-door neighbor, describing a flash grenade that police blindly threw into her room while she, then five-years-old, was sleeping with her two-year-old sister. The no-knock raid, which took place four years ago, was inaccurately executed, damaged their property without repair, and caused severe trauma for Gabi and her family.
As the name indicates, no-knock warrants allow police officers to forcibly enter a property without any prior notification of the residents—like knocking or ringing a doorbell. This military-style practice has a staggering potential for casualties and death—most publicly seen in the murder of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor last year in Louisville, Kentucky.
Gabi is among many neighborhood children with whom the Engdahls have enjoyed a relationship. As they have grown older, many of the youth have pursued stable lives, but others have entered gangs. Derek—who was questioned by police regarding his connections to the youth—and other neighbors often worry about whose house may be raided next, as neighborly relationships may be misunderstood by the police.
In years past, the Engdahls raised this concern with police chiefs and public officials after two faulty no-knock raids against their next-door neighbors—but received little response. Last August, Lisa joined with the NAACP and city councilmembers in fighting for a ban on no-knock warrants in Pomona. For months, NAACP leaders led meetings with the police chief to address this concern and consider the best response. After much advocacy and intercession, the motion was brought before the city council.
One week before the council meeting, Lisa visited Gabi’s family. “I want all the guns gone—now!” Gabi innocently exclaimed. As she recounted how scary the raids were, Lisa was moved to assure her of God’s love for her.
“Your grandma spoke up about what happened, and I and other adults are working to have this law changed so it never happens again,” Lisa assured Gabi. She later reflected, “As I shared about God’s love with Gabi, I realized that I was not only sharing sympathy or comfort, but that people in our community were working to keep this from happening again. I felt the love of God in that—a love expressed beyond personal relationship, in justice. It is this love that has kept us grounded in this slow, difficult journey.”
In an effort “rooted in love,” this community coalition saw triumph when the city council unanimously passed the ban on February 1, 2020. Arriving on the first day of Black History Month, this victory honors the memory of Breonna Taylor. And to Gabi and many others, this law is an expression of love. Philosopher Cornel West famously said, “Justice is what love looks like in public, just like tenderness is what love feels like in private.”
For more information on NAACP Pomona Valley’s work, visit www.naacp-pv.org/.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy