Breonna Taylor and the Conversations That Follow

When Attorney General Daniel Cameron announced the grand jury’s decision regarding Breonna Taylor’s death and the police officers responsible, Louisville was unsatisfied. Not only Louisville, but others in the U.S., people overseas, especially people who had been rallying behind the Black Lives Matter movement and those whose lived experiences were informed by the same injustices that led to Breonna Taylor’s death. We felt slighted—as soon as Breonna Taylor died there was no justice, but still we held on to hopes of accountability. 

Firing officer Brett Hankinson and charging him with three counts of wanton endangerment—comparable to the charges of a driver under the influence—was not enough. Allowing the officer who fired the shot that killed Taylor to roam free with a slap on the wrist was not enough. Allowing the fate of this case to rest in the hands of a grand jury with no trial and no journalists or public crowds present was not enough.

Hankinson’s bond was set at a paltry $15,000; we still don’t know if he will be required to serve jail time for the charges he was indicted on. Working with a nonprofit organization called the Louisville Community Bail Fund has given me a glimpse into how bonds operate within our legal system, and while Hankinson’s may seem like a high number, it pales in comparison to the numbers we have been dealing with. Earlier, I spoke with a young man whose bond was set at $100,000, with hardly any hope of getting it lowered—yet Hankinson’s bond was paid off within no time, and the other two officers involved in the case did not receive a bond whatsoever. 

Naturally, citizens of Louisville took to the streets in protest. But they were met with walls of barricades that “set up three days prior to the [Breonna Taylor] verdict,” according to Washington Post columnist Paul Butler, where police officers dressed head to toe in riot gear, prepared to arrest people seemingly at whim. The city had also implemented a nine o’clock curfew for that night, attempting to curtail the peaceful protests and silence the thousands of voices crying out that Black lives matter. 

Nevertheless, the protesters persisted past curfew. Because of this defiance of the order given by the city, protesters were arrested. I was working the intake line for the Louisville Community Bail Fund the first night that these protests were taking place, and all night we had an influx of calls coming from peaceful protestors who had been held for minor discrepancies. Many protesters who had been taken into custody earlier in the night for peacefully protesting were released by the police late in the evening and then contacted the Louisville Community Bail Fund because they were re-arrested for “disobeying” the curfew. Not only were citizens arrested for protesting peacefully, but they received horrible treatment from the police who took them into custody. There were several people we spoke to whose cell phones and cars were confiscated from them, and upon speaking with one of the volunteers that I work with, I learned that her cousin had been beaten by the police while in jail.

AG Daniel Cameron claims that justice is “not often easy, does not fit the mold of public opinion, and it does not conform to shifting standards.” That justice is not “mob justice,” nor is it “sought by violence,” nor is it “revenge.” That justice is “the quest for truth, evidence, and facts.” But Cameron is ignoring the reality of what justice means to people in contemporary America. It has become increasingly evident that our justice serves some and fails to protect the innocent. And despite how far we have come we do not live in a post-racial society. Prejudicial sentiments regarding Black America have not gone away and have seeped into our courts. For so long our society has been funded on principles of racial hierarchy and so we see how institutionalized racism has become.  It’s the reason why we have mass incarceration and it’s the reason why studies show that Black people committing crimes will get a heftier sentence than a White person who committed the same crime. It’s in our face. 

AG Cameron fails to recognize that the ideas of justice purported by the United States government are not just and that facts can never be free of emotions as he claims they can. There will always be a level of subjectivity surrounding what are thought to be facts because knowledge is always evolving. The activists of years past, such as Martin Luther King or Susan B. Anthony, are almost universally praised for their work in making our world more just, yet we villainize our modern-day protesters and spearheaders of social justice. Public opinion and what we do or do not see as factual naturally evolves.

Change in regards to the American justice system and the police force is necessary for the livelihood of United States citizens, especially for Black citizens. Paul Butler discusses the conservative’s argument that “this is a case about three bad-apple cops,” and since “manslaughter and reckless homicide are already crimes,” no “structural change, reform, or [new laws]” are required. Others, like Daniel Cameron, argue that while this is “a tragedy under any circumstances,” but is nothing more than that, and is certainly not an indicator of the larger issue of structural and systemic racism at hand. 

These ideas, often touted by conservatives, contribute to the epidemic of colorblind racism, clouding the opinions of many Americans who claim to not be racist. They fail to acknowledge that Black people are over three times “more likely to be killed [by police] compared to White people,” according to a study conducted by FXB Center Doctoral Student Cohort Members Jacquelyn Jahn and Gabriel Schwartz. They fail to acknowledge the struggles of the Black populations in America, choosing to frame their strife through the frames of cultural racism, abstract liberalism, and naturalization, developed by sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva. They fail to acknowledge their contributions to systemic racism and thus feed into the perpetual system that oppresses minorities within our country.

Privileged people are not worried about dismantling, defunding, or reimagining the current police systems that receive billions of unnecessary public money and rather reallocating that money to adequately fund community programs that combat homelessness, the school-to-prison pipeline, mental health issues, sexual assault, and so much more—they have the kind of immunity that allows them to turn away from these problems and regard them as inconsequential. Our biggest problem in the fight for racial parity is the lack of recognition by the parties in power. To work toward a future in which racial inequalities are diminished and cases like Taylor’s cease, we must first make it a nationally recognized problem.

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