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.
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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