Commentary: No Justice – No Peace

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Getty Image/ Associated Press

By David M. Greenwald

The Breonna Taylor case is not a clean case. Not like George Floyd where the police officer, no matter what led up to the arrest, clearly mishandled the incident that led to George Floyd dying. But in many ways, the Breonna Taylor case is probably more typical—ambiguous and a gray area.

If people want to understand the anger, they need to remember that Breonna Taylor was a young woman, she had some troubles in her past, but she had a bright future and by all accounts she was an innocent. The frustration is that there is no accountability here.

For me this isn’t nearly as close a call as it is for others, because this meshes two different problems—the problem of police shooting people of color, and the problem of no-knock warrants with the high probability of innocent life being taken.

Here’s where things get tricky. If you are going to argue “self-defense” for the officers, remember that if I bust down your door, you open fire at me, it is NOT self-defense for me to return fire.

The police knock on the door at 12:40 am. Both Taylor and Walker are asleep. The knocking startles the inhabitants, they ask who is there and they don’t hear a response. The police use a battering ram to knock down the door.

Walker at this point grabs a gun—which he legally owns. Walker claims he fired one shot as a warning, aimed at the ground. At this point the officers return fire and hit Breonna Taylor.

Here’s the thing that not many people have been talking about—Walker actually called 911 at this point. He told them: “Somebody kicked in the door and shot my girlfriend.”

Remember, this is occurring in real time—clearly, from the 911 call, he didn’t know that that they were cops.

Of course, there is no body camera footage of the shooting.

The had a valid search warrant here, but neither Walker nor Taylor were the target of it—it was Taylor’s ex-boyfriend, who was taken into custody that night 10 miles away.

This is the tragedy of this event—Walker and Taylor were not doing anything wrong. Walker legally owns a gun. People bust down the door in the middle of the night. He doesn’t know it’s a cop and in the exchange of gunfire, some of which is in dispute, an innocent is hit.

If you are white and you are reading this, you are thinking that the police had a valid warrant—even if it was served on the wrong place—and that the police were merely returning fire.

That was the position that Kentucky AG Daniel Cameron took.

But that is not the perspective of the people who are angry right now. What they see is an avoidable situation with better scrutiny on the warrant, and another situation with a high-risk warrant search in the middle of the night actually makes it more, not less, dangerous for police officers.

Think about it—what is the proper response of a citizen who is awakened in the middle of the night? Remember, this guy has done nothing wrong, and someone has just busted down his door. Imagine if this happens to you—are you going to immediately think it’s cops coming into your home in the middle of the night?

To make matters worse is that the person hit by gun fire was completely innocent and unarmed. She was just there. The police have no accountability here. The only cop who was charged in this was Detective Hankison, who fired his weapon 10 times, including from a outside sliding glass door and through a bedroom window. Some of the bullets traveled through Taylor’s apartment into the adjacent apartment.

So, basically, the police officers are not being charged because their bullets went astray and hit Taylor; one was charged because they could have gone astray and hit someone in the next apartment.

People of color see this differently from whites here. They see this as another innocent and unarmed black person who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, getting killed by a police officer.

It was an entirely predictable outcome. There is anger and rage and despair.

Daniel Cameron said yesterday: “My job is to present the facts to the grand jury and the grand jury then applies those facts to the law. If we simply act on emotion or outrage, there is no justice. Mob justice is not justice. Justice sought by violence is not justice. It just becomes revenge. And in our system, criminal justice, isn’t the quest for revenge. It’s the quest for truth, evidence and facts, and the use of that truth as we fairly apply our laws. Our reaction to the truth today says what kind of society we want to be. Do we really want the truth or do want a truth that fits our narrative?”

But let’s unpack that a second.

A prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich if he wants to. I have asked this question before—we have a better system than a grand jury, and it’s called a preliminary hearing. It’s public. It’s with a judge making the call. The defense can cross-examine witnesses and even put on their own evidence. Grand juries are antiquated and they don’t offer the protection that the founding fathers envisioned.

Invoking mob justice harkens back to an era where someone arrested, or even accused of a crime, was dragged out by a mob and lynched. Is that really where we want to go?

A lot of Breonna Taylor supporters thought the comment by Cameron, who is Black, was nevertheless callous. As one commentator wrote, they feel “the rage and despair that Mr. Cameron cruelly and historically dismissed as ‘mob justice.’”

This incident is another reminder that we need to figure out a better way to serve search warrants. You put everyone at risk in busting down a door in the middle of the night. Average citizens are not trained on how to respond—especially if they are law abiding and not suspecting that cops would come in.

I think we need to once again ask: does our system provide justice and respect to everyone? Do we live in a nation that treats everyone fairly and protects their rights?

At the end of the day, if you want to know where the anger is coming from, it is because many people see two systems of justice—one for those white and rich and another for those Black and poor.

No amount of parsing this incident for the legal niceties changes that. That’s why people responded again with anger. Because they don’t know what else to do at this point and they are tired of simply allowing business as usual to go on and turning the other cheek.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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19 thoughts on “Commentary: No Justice – No Peace”

  1. Robb Davis

    Thanks for laying this out in clear terms David.

    This was a “drug arrest” gone awry and no one in the LPD is held accountable for the deaths of a botched raid.  Just another “skirmish” in the war on drugs; a war that is a complete and total failure.  When people are killed because of it we cannot even take a step back and ask why we are fighting this war.  It is a travesty.  There can be no justice with an unjust war.

    And, we have exported this war around the world and millions of lives have been affected.  In this country it has been a blatantly racist war that has led to the mass incarceration of two generations of black youth.

  2. Keith Olsen

    Invoking mob justice harkens back to an era where someone arrested, or even accused of a crime, was dragged out by a mob and lynched. Is that really where we want to go?

    In this case mob justice is a group of rioters taking to the streets breaking windows, targeting local businesses, lighting fires and shooting two police officers because they didn’t get their desired result from the Grand Jury.

  3. Ron Oertel

    If you are white and you are reading this, you are thinking that the police had a valid warrant—even if it was served on the wrong place—and that the police were merely returning fire.

    People of color see this differently from whites here. They see this as another innocent and unarmed black person who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, getting killed by a police officer.

    Let’s unpack this.

    First, those are not two different things.

    Then there’s the issue of putting forth words into other people’s mouths, based upon skin color. Thereby assuming that you can speak for entire groups in this manner.

    By the way, here’s what one black man said:

    “I know that not everyone will be satisfied with the charges announced today,” Cameron said before railing against celebrities, influencers and activists, specifically those outside Kentucky, who “will try to tell us how to feel, suggesting they understand the facts of this case, that they know our community and the commonwealth better than we do — but they don’t.”

    And here’s what one white man said:

    Actor George Clooney, a Kentucky native, released a statement Wednesday saying he was “ashamed of this decision.”

    “I was born and raised in Kentucky. Cut tobacco on the farms of Kentucky. Both my parents and my sister live in Kentucky. I own a home in Kentucky, and I was there last month,” Clooney said. “The justice system I was raised to believe in holds people responsible for their actions. Her name was Breonna Taylor and she was shot to death in her bed by 3 white police officers, who will not be charged with any crime for her death.”

    https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/kentucky-ag-daniel-cameron-takes-heat-after-no-direct-charges-n1240886

     

     

  4. Alan Miller

    Imagine if this happens to you—are you going to immediately think it’s cops coming into your home in the middle of the night?

    No, I’m not.  This is example of needless escalation by police which creates a violent confrontation.  I’m not sure the individual officers are at fault, but a system that creates this sort of approach methodology is rotten.  Also, firing a weapon in an apartment complex is insane and should be avoided unless absolutely necessary.  Hiding behind a car won’t save you from most bullets, unless you are behind the engine block — certainly a wall isn’t a sufficient barrier.

     

    People of color see this differently from whites here. They see this as another innocent and unarmed black person who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, getting killed by a police officer.

    I’m not sure why you bring race into it on the methodology of the warrant.  This is wrong no matter the race.  That this no doubt happens much more often in non-white neighborhoods, that I’m sure is true and does need to be addressed.  Focusing the protest on the non-conviction of the officers is understandable from an anger standpoint, but the officers may have been acting withing their system.  The problem is the system, and I hope the anger can be refocused into action against a system that allows this, so both officers and innocents are not bound in this knot.

  5. Keith Olsen

    A prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich if he wants to. I have asked this question before—we have a better system than a grand jury, and it’s called a preliminary hearing. It’s public. It’s with a judge making the call. The defense can cross-examine witnesses and even put on their own evidence. Grand juries are antiquated and they don’t offer the protection that the founding fathers envisioned.

    David Greenwald September 18, 2020 at 9:32 am
    Clearly the prosecutor and Grand Jury saw something we didn’t

      1. Keith Olsen

        Maybe the Grand Jury in this case saw something you didn’t?

        You somehow took that as an endorsement of the grand jury process – it wasn’t.

        No, I took it more as you happened to like that outcome so their decision was okay with you.

         

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          In this case, the AG specifically laid out the details of his decision. In the other case, he did not. Therefore, we know the basis of their decision in this case and not in the other one. When the details of that case come out – we may well change our minds. I stand by my criticism of grand jury processes for the reasons laid out here and in my comments last week. I also stand by my comments that self-defense is a very tricky argument.

  6. Tia Will

    If you are white and you are reading this, you are thinking that the police had a valid warrant”

    No. White as I am, I wasn’t. The validity of the warrant does not absolve the officers, from making a rational risk assessment nor from prioritizing the danger to innocent lives over “making a drug bust” in my mind.

    But I am glad you wrote it. I think this choice of words illustrates a major point that all races deal with when facing the issue of racial disparities in our country. The fact that you, a champion of social equity in the realm of criminal justice would use this phrase, speaks volumes about the assumptions people make about people’s beliefs based on skin color.

    In order to ever thoroughly deal with racial inequities, we will first have to stop assuming we know what people believe on the basis of race.

      1. Tia Will

        Yes. However, I believe in calling out inaccuracies when I see them. Had you used a modifier, such as “some of you”, or even “most of you”, I would not have drawn attention to it. I maintain my point that it is not helpful to generalize to “all” which inevitably gets you this kind of feedback, whether warranted or not. It lets people exclude themselves too readily, saying, “but that is not me”, when in fact, it is all of us.

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          I understand your point but I felt like it was clear I was speaking to a specific subsection and the argument would have lost its force if I merely said “some”

    1. Alan Miller

      In order to ever thoroughly deal with racial inequities, we will first have to stop assuming we know what people believe on the basis of race.

      Amen, TW.

      As a Jew, I thought the warrant was possibly valid, but should not have been to the core of how/why these warrants are executed.  And news flash:  not all Jews think alike, which is patently obvious, which is why I said “As a Jew”, to further illustrate TW’s point, about the absurdity of assuming how people believe on the basis of race.  This is probably best (or worst) illustrated by Biden’s comment:

      ‘If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black’

  7. John Hobbs

    Here’s the bottom line. Once again the white authorities have said black lives don’t mean squat and rubbed salt in the wound by charging one cop with endangering the neighbors.

    If cops will just stop killing people, all this will settle down.

  8. Tia Will

    John,

    Here’s the bottom line”

    I hope you will take this in the semi teasing tone in which it is meant. You did the same thing David did that I called out. It would be more appropriate to say this is your bottom line. Although I share your sentiment, I am sure there are others here who believe the “bottom line” is something else entirely.

    1. John Hobbs

      “I am sure there are others here who believe the “bottom line” is something else entirely.”

      Yes, but to borrow one of your favorite labels, they are not people of good will or good sense.

       

  9. Ron Glick

    These cops are as innocent as O.J. Remember O.J.’s civil penalty was $33 million. $16.5 million per victim. Breonna Taylor’s family got $12 million. That is a big admission of wrongful death. The big difference, besides the exact amount of damages paid, is that O.J. stood trial.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Not a fair comparison… no indication that the police went out to kill, personally, with a knife, in cold, if not frozen/slushy, blood… as to responsibility/culpability, yes, but far from the same degree… won’t judge further, until there is more info… like seeing a copy of the actual warrant…

      But haven’t really heard of a public agency “caving” unless they felt at leas some culpability… that would be “a gift of public funds”… surprised tho’ that a $12 MM settlement already has occurred in the Taylor case…

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