Breonna Taylor was 26 years old, and grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She was an EMT technician, and lived in Louisville with her boyfriend Kenneth Walker III, who had planned to propose soon. Her life was just beginning, as she was truly coming into her own.
In the early hours of March 13, Breonna and her boyfriend were startled by a heavy pounding at the door. Believing they were intruders, Walker grabbed his legally owned firearm and yelled asking who was at the door. When there was no response and the door was broken open, he shot once at the doorway, and hit Sgt. Jon Mattingly in the leg. The other officers then shot 32 times into the apartment. Six of those bullets hit Breonna, taking her life.
The police were there on a no-knock warrant for suspected drug distribution. The warrant rests on the assumption that Taylor’s ex, Jamarcus Glover, would have ‘suspicious’ packages delivered to her address to later pick up. It has since been reported that the ‘suspicious packages’ claim was never backed up by the postal service, contrary to the warrant’s claims. Further, the person they wanted to arrest for the drug distribution, Glover, was already in custody when the raid happened at Breonna’s apartment. Why was there such an adamant desire to conduct a raid when the evidence was so flimsy?
Flash forward to Sept. 23. The jury hands down the decision: only 3 wanton endangerment charges against one of the officers, Brett Hankinson. This wanton endangerment charge was for the bullets that hit other apartments in the complex, though not for all of them. None of the officers were charged with murder or even manslaughter, and officer Myles Cosgrove, who’s bullet killed her, was not charged at all. In fact, he still has his job. All while the City of Louisville granted a settlement to the Taylor family for 12 million dollars for wrongful death. Her death was considered wrongful enough for a multi-million dollar settlement, yet nobody has been held responsible for causing that death.
The details of the legal proceedings become even more sketchy in the days that followed the jury’s decision. After it was made public, one of the jurors anonymously came forward (through a legal team) to say that the Kentucky Attorney General was not telling the whole truth about the proceedings. Namely, the truth about what the jury was presented to charge the officers. Days later, the Kentucky Attorney General, David Cameron, came out and said that he in fact did not recommend any murder charges to the jury. The jury didn’t rule on any other charges because their were none other to come to a decision on. Jurors were given the moral weight over the decision in the media, since the information coming from the court suggested that a murder charge was available but was not supported.
On Friday, Oct. 2, recordings from the jury proceedings were released, though they do not include anything from the prosecutors. They detail the jury being inquisitive about some of the conflicting information being given by the police versus what those like Walker had described, as well as questioning the officers on the conflicting information in their own testimonies. The New York Times has done a recap of what the recordings detailed, which you can read here.
What is important to note as well is the statement made Attorney General David Cameron, about why the decision was made the way it was. “Our prosecutors presented all of the evidence, even though the evidence supported that Sgt. Mattingly and Detective Cosgrove were justified in their use of force after having been fired upon by Kenneth Walker,“ Cameron said.
This is essentially a claim of self defense; the police were shot at first, so they fired back. Yet Breonna was never the one with the firearm. And her boyfriend shot once at the police, who he believed were intruders, compared to the 32 bullets shot into the apartment by multiple officers. These officers are supposed to be trained for stressful situations such as this, they should not be the ones firing aimlessly in fear.
Bodycam footage from the night shows violated rules and procedures left and right. Officer Hankinson walked around the crime scene while it was still being investigated, which is against protocol since it could tamper evidence. The officers involved should’ve been immediately removed from the rest of the group by an escort, and they were not. It should also be noted that no-knock warrants are meant to happen during the day, not in the middle of the night.
My question is: who was this supposed to ‘protect and serve’? This faulty drug raid was not going to help the community, and it certainly wasn’t there to protect Breonna or Kenneth. Breonna’s life was taken, and without a public outcry, Kenneth could have ended up with a hefty sentence in prison. He was originally charged with attempted murder of a police officer, with those charges being dropped in May; Walker is now filing a lawsuit over the arrest citing Kentucky’s stand-your-ground laws. Those in the apartment complex were not being protected either, both those who had their apartments hit by bullets and those who had to deal with the experience of their neighbor being killed by police.
And Breonna’s story is one that rings through communities across the nation. In Michigan, many of those taking to the streets have been fighting for the same kind of justice for black women in their own communities. Protests throughout Detroit felt the emotional reverberation of the lack of justice. The death of Priscilla Slater in Harper Woods police lockup back in June has those in the community relating personally to the hurt that comes with no justice served. And in Grand Rapids, Breonna’s cousins organized a protest quickly after the jury’s decision was handed down, their emphasis on a need to keep fighting for justice as Breonna would have wanted.
The law has shown that it does not value black lives the same way it values others. How are Black women meant to feel safe at all around police when they can wrongfully murder you and get away with it? You cannot begin to feel safe in your own skin when the law has shown that it believes police have the right to come into your home and murder you for nothing.
The protests cannot stop. We need to keep gathering together, protesting in the streets for justice. For Breonna and for the countless other Black lives taken at the hands of the police.