Grand Jury to America: Breonna Taylor’s life did not matter
A man holds a photograph of Breonna Taylor as he kneels with other protesters on Atlantic Avenue during a protest in the Brooklyn borough of New York. Taylor was fatally shot by police in her home in March. | Frank Franklin II / AP

“If a society permits one portion of its citizenry to be menaced or destroyed, then, very soon, no one in that society is safe.” – James Baldwin

Breonna Taylor, a young Black woman, was unarmed when she was shot and killed in her home by police fire. The demand by hundreds of thousands from across the nation for months following her death was a simple one: “Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor.” The answer they were given this week was a resounding “No.”

A Jefferson County grand jury ruled Wednesday that none of the three officers who fired bullets into Taylor’s home were responsible for her death. The jury did however indict one of the officers, Brett Hankison, on three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment for several of his bullets going into the apartment of Taylor’s white neighbors.

Anger over the ruling has flowed out into the streets of Louisville, Ky., and other cities. The frustrated rallying cry of “No justice, No peace” is coupled with confusion over how the law could determine no one is actually responsible for Taylor’s death despite evidence to the contrary.

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron claimed in a press conference announcing the jury’s decision that, “Justice is not often easy. It does not fit the mold of public opinion. And it does not conform to shifting standards. It answers only to the facts and to the law.”

Yet the facts and laws surrounding Breonna Taylor’s death seemingly fly in the face of Cameron’s assertion. One could argue that in looking at the handling of Taylor’s case by the AG and the grand jury, there was a “standard” being applied to the pursuit of justice. It just so happened to be one that was already on the side of the officers and excluded the value of Black lives.

People gather in Jefferson Square awaiting word on charges against police officers, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020, in Louisville, Ky. A grand jury has indicted one officer on criminal charges of wanton endangerment six months after Breonna Taylor was fatally shot by police in Kentucky. | Darron Cummings / AP

The facts

On March 13 in Louisville, 26-year-old Taylor, an emergency medical technician, was shot and killed. Police officers—Det. Myles Cosgrove, Det. Brent Hankison, and Sgt. John Mattingly—raided Taylor’s home, executing a search warrant as part of a drug investigation.

Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, thought they were being robbed (a recorded 911 call confirmed this) when Walker fired a warning shot from his gun. This shot struck one of the officers, Mattingly, in the thigh. In response to Walker’s warning shot, officers returned a hailstorm of over 20 bullets. Six of those bullets struck Taylor, resulting in her death.

Following the shooting, facts and reports would come out shining a spotlight on just how botched the raid of Taylor’s home had been from the onset.

Lt. Ted Eidem would later claim the officers had knocked several times on the apartment door announcing themselves. Taylor’s family noted in their wrongful death civil suit against the city that this assertion didn’t line up with the fact that the officers had a “no-knock” warrant. This is a warrant that allows officers to enter the premises without knocking or announcing their presence.

Statements by Taylor’s boyfriend and several neighbors in the apartment complex would also contradict Eidem’s report, as they were interviewed saying they had heard no announcement from the cops.

A report by the police department also admitted that none of the three officers who shot into Taylor’s apartment were wearing body cameras. This was a clear violation of Kentucky police procedure, although the justification given was that body cameras are not required for plainclothes cops.

This would not be the only recorded violation by the officers during that tragic night. One cop, Hankison, was subsequently fired from the Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) for “blindly” firing 10 rounds into Taylor’s apartment. Hankison fired into the sliding glass patio door and window, both of which were covered with blinds. This was a violation of a department policy that requires officers to have a line of sight when firing their weapon.

Lastly, it is standard practice for an ambulance to be on standby when police conduct a search. The night of the raid the ambulance that was assigned to be near Taylor’s apartment was canceled. This would leave Taylor without the immediate medical attention that might have possibly saved her life.

Officers were not wearing required body cameras to ensure accountability. An excessive use of 20 deadly bullets rang out in response to one warning shot. And one officer fired 10 times into a home when he had no way of knowing whether he needed to be firing his gun at all.

It’s clear that Breonna Taylor didn’t need to lose her life that night. The city admitted as much through its action of awarding an unprecedented $12 million to Taylor’s family in regards to their lawsuit. The settlement also included 12 police reforms in relation to the way the raid was carried out.

Although the agreement reached in the settlement didn’t require the city to formally admit wrongdoing, actions speak louder than words. The reforms that were included, such as banning no-knock warrants and creating an early warning system to flag officers with previous disciplinary problems (a measure seemingly aimed at both Hankison and Cosgrove), shows that had there been no wrong done, then the city would not have felt the need to make it right.

AG Cameron seemingly didn’t lean on these facts. For all his talk of the power of the law, it would appear he traded in truth for a narrative that would lay no blame at the feet of the officers.

A failure in justice

According to USA.gov, Attorneys General represent their legislature and act as the “People’s Lawyer” for the citizens. It should also be noted that most are elected by the public.

This has to be kept in mind when addressing the failure on the part of Cameron to seek justice for Breonna Taylor. Because, in theory, that is what his office was supposed to do.

A grand jury is called when the state AG, a federal U.S. attorney, or a county district attorney, needs help determining whether there is cause to believe a crime was committed. Far too often in situations when police use a weapon against a civilian—especially when an officer is involved in a fatality—the cops claim to have been acting in self-defense. This can make jurors hesitant to bring charges against the cop. In such instances, the AG plays a vital role in walking the jury through the case, examining the nuance and evidence, so that the blanket self-defense justification isn’t automatically accepted by default.

This is where the law and facts that Cameron claimed his office was working with should have come into play. Instead, what resulted seems to be nitpicking of evidence and testimonies to get to the pre-determined decision of the officers’ innocence.

Cameron stated in his announcement of the grand jury’s decision that evidence proved police actually announced themselves before entering Taylor’s apartment. The evidence he cites is testimony of one independent witness and the statements of the officers themselves. What then of Kenneth Walker’s statement saying he heard no such announcement? Or that of several neighbors who said the same as Walker? It would appear that Cameron chose to hold the words of the officers in higher regard than those of the several citizens whose lives were put in danger by the gunfire.

Cameron stated that the grand jury found Mattingly and Cosgrove were justified in their use of force because Walker fired the first shot. Simply put, the grand jury decided that these two officers acted in self-defense. Yet, Cameron noted that it was only Mattingly who entered the apartment and saw Walker with the gun. Mattingly stated he fired six shots after being hit in the thigh. Why then did Casgrove fire 16 shots right after if he hadn’t actually entered the apartment but was still in the doorway? Cameron gave us no answers for that.

Hankison was brought up on charges of wanton endangerment of Taylor’s neighbors—NOT Taylor herself. Cameron claimed there was no conclusive evidence that any of the 10 bullets Hankison fired actually hit Taylor. Yet, somehow, they were able to determine some of his bullets went into the neighbors’ apartment. One would think that since Hankison can be indicted for bullets that never hit the neighbors, he could be indicted for the 10 bullets he had blindly aimed into Taylor’s apartment, whether they hit her or not.

The Republican AG went on to condemn all of the people outside Kentucky who have called for the arrest of the officers. It was, in short, an inappropriate slap at a nationwide movement demanding justice for Breonna Taylor. It was an attempt to localize and limit an incident that put a harsh light on injustice within the criminal justice system.

Cameron may have received praise from President Donald Trump, but he earned the rightful contempt of the people he was elected to serve.

The aftermath

The FBI investigation into Taylor’s death is ongoing, meaning the chance of a federal indictment for a civil rights violation is still on the table. Yet, relying on this investigation doesn’t have to be the only way people seek justice for Taylor.

Thousands are already gathering in the streets to demand change. This has been part of an ongoing six months of unrest as the inequalities of our society have been made plain for many to see. Breonna Taylor is part of that movement, and her life did matter. The frustrations expressed in the streets across the nation in the days following this grand jury decision can also be translated to the ballot box come November and beyond.

A demonstrator holds a “Breonna Taylor deserved better sign” during a Black Lives Matter protest at the Hall of Justice, Sept. 23, 2020, in Los Angeles. | Kirby Lee via AP

Donald Trump praised Cameron’s handling of the case because it goes along with the cover-up of justice that Trump is used to. The president has a long history of sowing the seeds of division and fueling racist ideology. Trump’s words and actions have made it clear that he does not believe Black Lives Matter and that he thinks protection under the law is only guaranteed to those he deems worthy. If he is allowed four more years, he will continue to push that narrative and put in power those who go along with his perspective.

Cameron stated in his announcement that, “Our reaction to the truth today says what kind of society we want to be.” On this particular sentiment, he is right. The truth we were shown this week is that the justice system failed Breonna Taylor. She is not the first Black woman this system has failed, and unless concrete change is pushed she will not be the last. Taylor deserved better. The kind of society we can be is one not complicit to injustice. That means voting out the ones who are.

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CONTRIBUTOR

Chauncey K. Robinson
Chauncey K. Robinson

Chauncey K. Robinson believes that writing and media, in any capacity, should help to reflect the world around us, and be tools to help bring about progressive change. Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, she has a strong belief in people power and strength. She is the Social Media Editor for People's World, along with being a journalist for the award winning publication. She’s a self professed geek and lover of pop culture. Chauncey seeks to make sure topics that affect working class people, peoples of color, and women are constantly in the spotlight and part of the discussion.

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