Heartbreak in the wake of Breonna Taylor’s death and still holding hope for justice
OPINION: Justice may not look like arresting the cops who killed Breonna Taylor as many were hoping for but efforts to abolish the system that made it happen are not in vain
For the past few months, many of us have been made to believe that justice right now looks like one simple hashtag: #arrestthecopswhokilledbreonnataylor.
Unfortunately, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron and a grand jury did not see fit to enact that particular image of justice. Many of us have felt heavily defeated, deflated, and discouraged in the wake of that decision. But Wednesday’s outcome is but one battle within a much larger war towards justice for Breonna Taylor, and in essence justice for all of us who see ourselves in her story.
In the early morning of March 13, members of the LMPD shot and killed the vibrant 26-year-old aspiring nurse and arrested her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, during a botched nighttime no-knock raid in connection to a narcotics investigation surrounding her ex-boyfriend, Jamarcus Glover. After her death, officers Brett Hankison, Myles Cosgrove, and Jonathan Mattingly were audaciously painted as hometown heroes while Taylor and Walker were depicted as “suspects” in a drug raid (the erroneous claims have since been redacted).
Those of us outside of Louisville, Kentucky now know Taylor’s name. It’s not because police officers took the air from her lungs, but because those who knew and loved her and the bubbly fun-loving and generous spirit that she was, refused to let them take her life.
Taylor’s family and friends fought back instantly with the #Breewayy, #JusticeforBree and #FreeKenny movement. They sought to reclaim the narrative, free Walker who’d been arrested and charged with the bogus claim of attempted murder, and cast a wider lens on Taylor’s story so that she may receive justice. Thanks to their tireless efforts, Walker was released with all charges dropped and celebrities began retweeting the #JusticeforBree hashtag. Activist Tamika Mallory’s Until Freedom took up the mantle, moved their offices to Kentucky, and are risking their own freedom daily to demand the state to do right by Taylor and her family.
Taylor’s name has been trending for so long that it may be easy to lose sight of the determination it took for even that much to be accomplished at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown with no video footage of the incident. This is what the road to justice looks like.
The next step towards justice via financial and civil accountability began when Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, hired attorney Sam Aguilar and filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the officers involved in her daughter’s death. The lawsuit and media coverage later caught the attention of high profile civil attorney Ben Crump, garnering in the same level of notoriety to her case as Crump’s former clients including Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, the families of Flint, Michigan, and the plaintiffs behind the 2019 Johnson & Johnson baby powder lawsuit.
CNN reported that the lawsuit alleged Taylor’s death was the “culmination of radical political and police conduct.” According to the lawsuit, there was an ongoing effort to redevelop the Beecher Terrace public housing complex and vacate homes on Elliott Avenue for a “high dollar” real estate development, and “one of the primary roadblocks to this unit and the real estate development project was an ex-boyfriend of Breonna Taylor, who rented a home on Elliott Avenue.”
This home on Elliot Avenue was one of several that had received no-knock warrant raids the night of March 12th, and Glover was apprehended at this residence. Because Glover had recent bank account ties to Taylor’s address and had been surveilled conducting business in a car registered in her name, a warrant was also requested for her address, granting officers legal authority to raid her home.
Although the 4th Amendment protects citizens from “unreasonable search,” the structurally racist war on drugs made it legal for federal law enforcement agents to conduct no-knock raids after police argued that the standard “knock and announce” raids allowed drug suspects time to destroy evidence and arm themselves.
Because of this element of surprise, it is not uncommon for no-knock raids to end tragically, injuring or killing the intended and unintended occupants of the home. In 2014, police threw a stun-grenade into a baby’s crib during a no-knock raid, and the infant had to be placed in a medically-induced coma. No officers were charged in that incident.
Unfortunately, Taylor was far from the first victim of this irrational and dangerous practice, but she will be the last in her state thanks to the efforts of her family and Crump pushing for Breonna’s Law, which effectively banned the use of no-knock raids in Kentucky. Furthermore, after meeting with the Taylor family, Sen. Rand Paul introduced legislation to seek an end to no-knock raids nationwide through the Justice for Breonna Taylor Act. This is what the road to justice looks like.
Hankison broke protocol by shooting from outside of Taylor’s building, sending bullets through surrounding apartments not covered by the warrant’s jurisdiction. It resulted in his dismissal from the department in June and later an indictment on three counts of wanton endangerment. The other responding officers were found to have acted within legal bounds according to the grand jury decision.
While this is not the form of justice many of us had been hoping for, we are doing ourselves an emotional disservice by focusing exclusively on this one portion of justice. Breonna Taylor was not just killed by the officers who carried out the raid that night. Breonna Taylor was killed by the violence of gentrification. She was killed by the corruption and racism of the “war” on drugs. She was killed by inefficient and dangerous policing practices. And unfortunately, none of that will be dismantled solely with the arrests of three men.
Yes, we will continue to fight for justice, and if there’s any chance that releasing the grand jury transcripts can bring about a different ruling on the decision, we will continue to fight for that too.
But we also owe it to ourselves to acknowledge what our efforts have accomplished. No-knock raids may soon be yet another relic of America’s sordid past. The Taylor family received the largest monetary settlement in a police use-of-force case in Louisville history (albeit from taxpayer funds and not those needing to be held accountable) with major police reform stipulations included. Hankison — whose unhinged actions that night followed a pattern of misconduct from sexual assault allegations to filing false charges — while not charged directly for Taylor’s death, may potentially face retribution for his illegal behavior. Of course, this is the bare minimum, and Taylor deserves so much more.
Today, our community is hurting and brimming with justifiable rage. Every day we are faced with constant reminders that our lives are deemed disposable by this country, and this bombardment of collective pain and frustration can often give way to hopelessness and a sense of “why bother?” But our actions have not been in vain. Breonna Taylor’s beautiful life will not be in vain.
The pain and devastation of her loved ones shall not be in vain. Justice today may look less like #ArrestTheCopsWhoKilledBreonnaTaylor, and more like #AbolishTheSystemsThatAllowedTheCopsToKillBreonnaTaylor. We may never know what justice truly looks like, but what I do know is this is not the end. We can and we will use the momentum from these small wins as a catalyst for something greater.
It’s what we’ve been doing all along. Why would we stop now?
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