It has been 194 days since police fatally shot Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, while she slept in her bed. On March 13, around 1 a.m., plainclothes Louisville Metro Police Department Officers Myles Cosgrove and Brett Hankison, along with Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly, used a battering ram to force open Taylor’s apartment door while executing a “no-knock warrant” in search of drugs or evidence of drug trafficking. Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, a licensed gun owner with no criminal record, fired at the plainclothes officers upon their forced entry, at which point they blindly returned fire with more than 25 bullets, at least eight of which fatally struck Breonna.
Today, the grand jury’s decision was released, in the investigation of whether or not to bring criminal charges against the officers involved in Taylor’s fatal shooting. Hankison has been charged with three counts of wanton endangerment—a Class D felony charge that holds fines of up to $10,000 and a maximum of five years in prison—for shooting into the apartments of white neighbors surrounding Taylor’s residence, not for murdering Taylor. Additionally, Cosgrove and Mattingly were not indicted. This decision is infuriating, but not surprising.
The boarded-up buildings in downtown Louisville, barricades placed around the central area, and curfew instituted days before the decision was set to be announced, signaled that all officers would not be charged. If charged, I knew the charges would be baseless. Otherwise, the city would not have taken such drastic steps to protect its capital and property from anticipated protests, looting and maybe even violence in the wake of the grand jury’s decision.
Since Taylor’s murder, her family, friends, Louisville, and the nation have waited for justice to be served. On April 27, a wrongful death lawsuit was filed in Jefferson District Court against Cosgrove, Hankison and Mattingly on behalf of Breonna Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer. On May 12, Kentucky Attorney General, Daniel Cameron was announced as the special prosecutor in Taylor’s case after top Louisville prosecutor Tom Wine recused himself from reviewing the police investigation.
True justice would mean the system functioned to truly and equally protect every American, so Breonna would still be here with her family, her friends, her boyfriend, who was getting ready to propose, and with us—the greater Black community.
On May 28, three days after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minnesota, Walker’s distraught 911 call was released, sparking protests in Louisville that have continued every day since. Protesters are calling for the officers involved in Taylor’s shooting to be fired, arrested, and prosecuted. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer responded to protesters’ demands by signing “Breonna’s Law,” which bans no-knock search warrants in Louisville, on June 12, and firing only one officer involved in Taylor’s death, Hankison, on June 23, with Cosgrove and Mattingly on paid administrative leave.
On September 15, Taylor’s family and the city announced a $12 million settlement in the wrongful death suit against the officers responsible for Taylor’s death. The settlement will not bring Breonna back, but important reforms were attached to it. The reforms will:
Require commanding officers to review and give written approval for all search warrants.
Overhaul the procedure around obtaining simultaneous search warrants.
Require police to always wear and have their body cameras turned on.
Adopt an early warning system to flag officers with disciplinary problems.
Require ambulances to idle nearby when police conduct a search.
Challenge officers to improve their relationships with the communities they police through housing credits encouraging them to live in neighborhoods they patrol and two hours of paid community service.
These reforms, however, will be meaningless without follow up and accountability, something police departments in the country lack. In addition, the grand jury decision continues to ensure that other Black people can be killed by the police and—more than likely—justice will not be served. Indicting one officer, who may well not see any repercussions when he’s brought to trial, will not soothe the deep anger and sadness that wells in the Taylor family and Black community.
That you can kill a Black woman, asleep in her bed, then be placed on paid leave, and not charged in her death, is yet another example of Black life not mattering in the United States of America. Being fired, subsequently charged with wanton endangerment, and held on a $15,000 bond is also just another example of Black life not mattering in the United States of America. The system of policing needs to be overhauled, if not abolished in this nation. With people taking to the streets, all over America and around the world, this grand jury decision ignored the life of Breonna Taylor, but cannot escape the fight for justice in her name. This case is about Breonna Taylor, but it’s also about Black people having no safe place to live our lives. It is about saying her name, and fighting for justice for Black women who die because of state-sanctioned violence with the same vigor that we fight for justice for Black men who are victims of similar violence. It is about the pervasive nature of white supremacy and racism, so deeply embedded in American “justice” that no one is surprised at two out of three officers being let off, and one only being indicted with a Class D felony.
According to Cameron, Kentucky is a Stand Your Ground State, which allows the force used by the police officers to be justified because Walker fired first. In his press conference following the announcement, the attorney general, one of Trump’s potential SCOTUS picks, said the American justice system is about truth, facts, and evidence, not revenge. He encouraged Louisville and Kentucky officials to do what they needed to maintain law and order. He reprimanded responses that may not be peaceful and told us about the creation of yet another task force to review police behavior and processes. But none of this offers any justice, consolation, or meaning to me.
I resist the idea that lethal force is ever justifiable. I know the American justice system is about truth, facts, and evidence so long as white supremacy is maintained. Law and order just means keeping Black people in our place, which has always been outside of the protections we should be afforded as citizens and human beings. Corruption and political posturing run throughout the handling of this case. AG Cameron, a Black man and Republican, is unfortunately using his position to harm his people by pandering to Trump. Trump and McConnell are pandering to their racist base, using the tragedy of Breonna Taylor’s death, as a show of force ahead of the first presidential election debate, where race is meant to be a prominent discussion point. Calling for peaceful protests is a way of trying to control our righteous anger over the fact that we still have to declare that our Black lives matter. Task forces, investigations, and reviews never result in any meaningful changes; if they did, police would not pose such a threat to Black life in America. Cameron’s statements do not make me feel better because I know better than to place any faith in the American justice system in the first place.
Breonna Taylor’s life mattered simply because she was alive and living it. True justice would mean the system functioned to truly and equally protect every American, so Breonna would still be here with her family, her friends, her boyfriend, who was getting ready to propose, and with us—the greater Black community. It would mean that those who love her were not robbed of more time with her. It would mean us and her family not suffering another trauma that continues to feed Trump’s “law and order” agenda. It would mean society caring about, paying attention to, and investing in the safety, happiness, and livelihood of Breonna and other Black girls and women like her— before they become a hashtag. It would mean the police never forced their way into her apartment in the first place.
All three of Breonna’s murderers should be charged and convicted. But, more than anything, Breonna Taylor should still be here.