The article below about the murder of Breonna Taylor and the racism of the US police and justice system, is by Margaret Kimberley. It was previously published in her Freedom Rider column at the Black Agenda Report.
The events surrounding the killing of Breonna Taylor and its aftermath have presented yet another case study of police brutality inflicted on black people in America. A ‘no knock’ warrant was applied for and issued on flawed and spurious grounds, later confirmed to be a lie by Louisville’s Postmaster General himself. A witness to the investigation initially told officers that he did not hear officers announce themselves before entering Breonna Taylor’s apartment, only to change his story two months later. The officers executing the warrant testify that they saw Kenneth Walker with a weapon, and only Kenneth Walker; yet they shot five bullets into the body of Breonna Taylor, who did not present a threat to them. Since the decision of the Grand Jury not to indict any officers for the killing, a juror has submitted a motion requesting the release of the transcripts of the proceedings, alleging that the Kentucky Attorney General misrepresented the deliberations, and failed to offer the Grand Jury the option of indicting the officers.
And yet, the family of Breonna Taylor have settled with the city of Louisville for wrongful death for the amount of $12 million – one of the largest financial settlements in history for police violence. This is surely an indication of a case for criminal charges. Coupled with this is the fact that prior to the announcement of the verdict Louisville was effectively locked down, businesses shuttered and petrol stations closed in anticipation of serious disturbances to come. White ‘militia’ groups were engaged to provide private security for some businesses. All this indicates that the authorities knew that unlawful killing had taken place; that despite this knowledge, no action would be taken against the officers concerned; and that following the announcement of the verdict the community would respond. Upon the announcement of the verdict a curfew was declared and mass arrests made, including black women walking peacefully towards a church that was providing sanctuary to the protesters. They were charged with rioting – a class D felony (those convicted of such felonies can receive prison sentences of up to 10 years). One of those arrested was the sponsor of Louisville’s Breonna’s Law, which put an end to no knock warrants in the city.
Considered alongside other examples of atrocities committed against black people by law enforcement, some well known and countless others going largely unnoticed, a very sharp struggle is taking place across the USA in its urban centres. It contributes to one of the facts currently being laid bare about life in America by the crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic and its economic and political consequences – to be born black is to be born guilty.
Breonna Taylor and Black Life
By Margaret Kimberley
Reactions to the Breonna Taylor murder, settlement and verdict all have one thing in common: Black people’s inability to protect our lives.
“Even if a killing occurs on camera the only hope is that a family may get some financial restitution.”
Regardless of life circumstances, income, or educational levels, discerning black people know that misfortune befalling anyone else in the race could easily be theirs. That is one reason that the killing of Breonna Taylor at the hands of Louisville, Kentucky police resonates so deeply.
Ms. Taylor was shot to death by police executing what is called a “no knock” warrant seeking evidence against a former boyfriend. It is rare for a criminal to be such a threat to the public that a no knock warrant, police bursting in unannounced with guns drawn, is ever justified. It is just another tool that guarantees jobs for law enforcement and jail for black people. There is drug dealing in every part of the country and among every racial group. Only black people have to fear death because of personal connections.
Her current boyfriend returned fire upon hearing the police breaking down the door. Police shot Breonna Taylor five times and then left her to die. They made no effort to call an ambulance or take any action to save her life. The case ended the way that police killings of black people usually do. Only one of the three officers involved was indicted and on a minor charge because a bullet he fired went into a neighbor’s apartment. No one was charged with killing Taylor.
“Only black people have to fear death because of personal connections.”
Shortly before the grand jury decision was announced Taylor’s family received a $12 million settlement from the city of Louisville, a deal brokered by attorney Benjamin Crump. The size of the payment was an indicator that the police would get away with the crime.
Black people remain angry about Ms. Taylor’s death. The anger is felt not only on her behalf, but on behalf of Sandra Bland and Eric Garner and Tamir Rice and the 300 black people killed by police every year. Most of them remain anonymous.
The statistic which informed us that one such killing occurs every 28 hours is an indication of our powerlessness as a group. Of course there is anguish and trauma among people who still do not have a say in how they are treated and who can expect the legal system to act against their interests. There is even anger directed at the family because they accepted the money and dubious legal opinions are expressed regarding Crump’s ability to do anything but win settlements.
There is another, far more dangerous reaction that blames Taylor for her own death. Self-haters and others predisposed to blame black people, even when they are murder victims, absolve corrupt policing and blame her relationship with a former boyfriend. The police who killed Breonna Taylor committed an extra-judicial killing and if there is any condemnation to be made it should be laid at their feet. Judgement and finger wagging are cloaked in respectability politics and absolve a racist system of any culpability.
Black communities are over-policed, residents are targeted for arrest for any offense, sentenced unfairly, and killed for any reason. Prosecutors are cozy with police. They work together to fill the jails and keep the mass incarceration system running. Even if a killing occurs on camera the only hope is that a family may get some financial restitution.
“Blacks are targeted for arrest for any offense, sentenced unfairly, and killed for any reason.”
Benjamin Crump, Lee Merritt and other attorneys who take on these high profile cases can do little except negotiate for settlements, which are in fact paid for by the public. Cities sell bonds for liability awards. We end up paying to support brutality committed against us, while Wall Street reaps the benefits.
Some of the finger pointers despise their own people. Others hope that following the rules will save them from the modern day slave patrol. It is painful to contemplate that our lives can be snuffed out for any reason at all because we are black. Blaming the victim is an out and in this case gives some measure of comfort in the belief that our behavior will keep us safe.
Reactions to the settlement, the verdict, and Ms. Taylor’s life choices all have one thing in common. Our inability to protect our lives, and to successfully confront the system has created great confusion amongst us. We turn on each other in judgement, blame lawyers, families, and even victims because we have made so little political progress.
Reactions to Taylor’s death are a litmus test. Do we side with our people when they are victimized or do we rationalize murder in order to feel superior? Do we blame publicity seeking lawyers or do we understand why justice for us is so rare? All of these questions must be taken seriously. We are all Breonna Taylor.
Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well at patreon.com/margaretkimberley and she regularly posts on Twitter @freedomrideblog. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.