DOJ bringing charges in the Breonna Taylor case is a callback to the ’60s when local and state officials failed—or refused—to do their jobs

OPINION: Thank God for the Department of Justice because clearly, Black people still have little to no due process rights or equal justice under the law at the state and local levels.

A photo of Breonna Taylor is seen among other photos of women who have lost their lives as a result of violence during the 2nd Annual Defend Black Women March in Black Lives Matter Plaza on July 30, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Frontline Action Hub)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

It’s a sad commentary on the state of racial justice that in the year of our Lord 2022, Black people still cannot get equal justice from local juries and state officials when wrongfully murdered by law enforcement. 

In the case of Breonna Taylor—the young Black woman from Louisville, Ky., who was shot to death in her night clothes as police unlawfully entered her apartment—the only tangible justice we have seen so far is from the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights enforcement division. 

For African Americans, it’s a tale as old as time. It harkens back to the brutality of the early 1960s, when three civil rights workers—James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner—were murdered on June 21, 1964 in Mississippi by a group of law enforcement officials and local Klan leaders. Of course, their killers were not held accountable at the time as the state refused to prosecute them. It wasn’t until the Department of Justice stepped in and ultimately charged 19 men with civil rights violations. At a 1967 trial, only seven were convicted and received relatively light sentences. Fast forward 55 years later, and it seems not much has changed. 

“Breonna Taylor should be alive today.” U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said Thursday when he announced that the DOJ was going to federally prosecute four officers involved in Taylor’s death. He is right, but it’s much deeper than that. When Garland made the announcement, the Black community breathed a collective sigh of relief. The charges filed by DOJ against Joshua Jaynes, Brett Hankinson, Kelly Goodlett and Kyle Meany include civil rights violations, unlawful conspiracies, unconstitutional use of force and obstruction offenses. In April 2021, the DOJ announced a wide-ranging civil probe into whether or not the Louisville Metro Police Department had committed systemic abuses with poor oversight and planning. 

In his press conference, Garland said, “The federal charges announced today allege that members of a Police Investigations Unit falsified the affidavit used to obtain the search warrant of Ms. Taylor’s home and that this act violated federal civil rights laws, and that those violations resulted in Ms. Taylor’s death.” More specifically, Garland spoke to the federal charges filed against the former and current officers, stating that they violated Taylor’s Fourth Amendment rights. “Among other things, the affidavit falsely claimed that officers had verified that the target of the alleged drug trafficking operation had received packages at Ms. Taylor’s address. In fact, defendants Jaynes and Goodlett knew that was not true.”

Garland also alleged that Jaynes, a former LMPD detective, and Goodlett, a current  LMPD detective, knew armed officers would be carrying out the raid at Taylor’s home and that conducting the search could create “a dangerous situation for anyone who happened to be in Ms. Taylor’s home.” Jaynes, Goodlett and current LMPD Sgt. Meany “took steps to cover up their unlawful conduct” and “conspired to mislead federal, state and local authorities who were investigating the incident,” Garland said.

Former LMPD officer Hankinson was charged with civil rights violations after he was accused of using excessive force for firing 10 additional shots into Taylor’s apartment. You may remember that Hankinson was the only officer charged in April 2021 with endangering three of Taylor’s neighbors—but not Taylor. A jury found him not guilty in March.

The officers, who were sworn to protect and service all citizens, instead knowingly carried out a scheme to get an illegal no-knock warrant. Then after it all went wrong, the officers conspired to tell a false story about what happened during the raid. The state of Kentucky did not charge the officers, except one who, as stated, was charged for shooting into a neighboring apartment. Let that sink in. A young Black woman is shot to death in her home after being roused from her sleep. The city of Louisville pays a $12 million settlement to Taylor’s family, but no one is responsible or guilty for her murder? 

Thank God for the Department of Justice because clearly, Black people still have little to no due process rights or equal justice under the law at the state and local levels. 

In the final analysis, yes, Breonna Taylor should still be alive. Tragically, she is not. As voting rights reform has stalled, as the Supreme Court and state legislatures move to take away women’s constitutional rights over their own bodies, the Black community must remain more vigilant than ever about guarding our civil and constitutional rights. Taylor had a bright future ahead of her. The police officers who recklessly disregarded her life and ultimately caused her untimely death must be held accountable and they must serve prison time at the minimum. To do anything less sends a loud message that Black lives, indeed, do not matter.

Sophia A. Nelson is a contributing editor for theGrio. Nelson is a TV commentator and is the author of “The Woman Code: Powerful Keys to Unlock,” “Black Women Redefined.”

TheGrio is FREE on your TV via Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku, and Android TV. Please download theGrio mobile apps today! 

Loading the player...