On Wednesday, September 23, a Kentucky grand jury issued a decision regarding Breonna Taylor’s death in March. The jury charged former-officer Brett Hankinson with three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment for firing rounds into neighboring apartments without a clear line of sight, but ruled that officers Myles Cosgrove and Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly were justified in shooting, and ultimately killing, Taylor. Her murder spurred protests during the Black Lives Matter movement this past summer, and this controversial decision has only further energized the movement.
Taylor was killed in March when three Louisville police officers forcefully entered her apartment in the middle of the night and shot her six times. The officers had obtained a warrant to investigate Taylor’s connection to a drug trafficking operation run by her ex-boyfriend, but accounts of the events preceding Taylor’s death reveal several discrepancies and failures of judgment. First, the “no-knock” warrant granted for this case included little evidence that Taylor posed a serious threat to the officers if they announced themselves before entering her apartment. Further, the officers claim to have received instructions to knock on Taylor’s door and announce themselves as the police, yet they used a battering ram to enter the apartment and neither Taylor’s boyfriend nor several of their neighbors remembered the officers identifying themselves. Additionally, the officers filed an incident report stating that Taylor had not suffered any injuries, despite the fact that she received several gunshot wounds that ultimately killed her. In the six months since Taylor’s death, only one of the officers involved was dismissed from his position and later charged with wanton endangerment.
Taylor’s murder is not only an example of a gross abuse of police power, but also a reminder of the failures of the US justice system to protect Black Americans and other marginalized communities. Considering both major presidential candidates have voiced opinions on protests against systemic racism, the grand jury’s decision and subsequent protests could introduce additional tension into an already charged political climate.
The lack of justice for Taylor and her family could garner more support for the Democratic party, which typically portrays itself as aligned with progressive ideals, including racial equality. Presidential candidate Joe Biden incorporated support of Black Lives Matter into the 2020 convention and expressed his agreement with the movement’s goals of reducing racial disparities at the institutional and political level. Vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris has taken a stronger stance, leading the Justice in Policing Act to end qualified immunity and issuing public statements to convey her outrage at Taylor’s murder and the failure of the justice system to punish the officers responsible.
However, the protests in response to the grand jury decision could also push wary voters towards President Trump, who adopted a firm position against the Black Lives Matter protests in favor of “law and order.” Greg Fischer, the mayor of Louisville, imposed a 9 p.m. curfew on Wednesday and declared a state of emergency earlier this week in anticipation of the civil unrest that might follow the grand jury’s decision. However, this precaution did not prevent violence. Two Louisville police officers were shot shortly before the curfew began, and protestors gathered in cities across the country to mourn Taylor and decry the failings of the justice system. Tense interactions between protestors and police officers or destruction of property could fuel President Trump’s anti-protest rhetoric and energize his supporters.
Regardless of the political consequences of the Kentucky grand jury’s decision, Taylor has become an important symbol of the goals of Black Lives Matter. Her name is shouted at protests and emblazoned on signs, and her story has inspired so many others to speak out against the corrupt US policing system. The $12 million settlement paid to her family is not sufficient compensation for a justice system that has failed her and so many others who have lost their lives to police brutality. Two of the officers who shot her have kept their jobs, and the third received charges of wanton endangerment only for the shots fired at neighboring apartments, not for the several rounds that killed Taylor.
Breonna Taylor’s death is a reminder that the decisions the police officers made the night of her death and the outcome of the Kentucky grand jury both technically fall within the letter of the law. The tragedy is not that an innocent woman died because others broke the law, but that the law allows for behavior that results in the loss of Black lives. The judge who signed the no-knock warrant and the police officers who killed Taylor should be held accountable for their errors in judgment, but real change will require doing away with the laws that protect their actions. Taylor, her family, and every victim of police violence deserve justice, and this justice must come from changing the laws that permit the unnecessary use of force. The public continues to demand action, and hopefully, the candidates who have incorporated Taylor’s wrongful death into their platforms will deliver.
Categories: Domestic Affairs