When the grand jury announced that it had reached a decision in the case of Breonna Taylor’s death, everyone was braced for what came, including the city of Louisville, Kentucky, which had prepared for protests. As in the cases of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, there were no murder charges for the three officers involved — just a charge of “wanton endangerment,” related to the risk to Taylor’s neighbors rather than to her death. And after a summer where it felt like things might be changing in American race relations, does this return us to square one?
Fiona Zublin & Eugene Robinson
breonna taylor: an origin story
1. ‘The Baby’ Arrives
Taylor, the firstborn daughter of Tamika Palmer and the first grandchild in the family who would forever be called “the baby,” arrived on June 5, 1993, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her childhood was marked by fairly standard hobbies — board games, video games — and the decision to pursue a medical career. From a young age, she was described as “goofy” by friends, who loved her sense of humor. She moved to Louisville, Kentucky, in 2008, and immediately took to her new hometown.
2. A Rising Star
The ebullience that was so much a part of Taylor’s personality by all accounts also fueled the plans she had. Like most young people, she was a work in progress. For a time, the driven student dropped out of nursing school and started dating Jamarcus Glover, a convicted drug dealer who brought the eyes of the police into her life. However, by 2020, the 26-year-old had taken up a job as an emergency room technician and planned to return to school for a nursing degree. She was also working to boost her credit score so she could further her plan to buy a house next year. Things were looking up.
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On March 13, police arrived just after midnight and banged on the door of Taylor’s apartment three times before breaking the door down. Her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, thought the intruders were sent by her ex and fired immediately, wounding one officer in the thigh. Officers fired back into the apartment, with several shots hitting Taylor, who struggled to breathe as Walker called 911. The officers later said they’d announced themselves as police — a claim one neighbor corroborated, although others could not — but Walker says he never heard them do so.
2. The Motive
Police said they raided Taylor’s apartment due to its connection with a drug investigation into Glover, who operated four other trap houses under investigation and who had been seen picking up and delivering packages from Taylor’s address. No drugs were found, but her ex-boyfriend — she had broken up with him in mid-February, a fact authorities seemed unaware of — was later arrested and taped suggesting to associates that he had stashed bail money at her apartment. Part of a draft plea deal he says he was offered in July named Taylor as a co-defendant, even though she’d been dead for four months.
3. What Took So Long?
Taylor was killed in March, but protests didn’t begin until May 28, three days after the death of George Floyd in police custody sparked mass outrage across the United States. And the fervor for racial justice that saw Floyd’s killers fired from the Minneapolis Police Department and charged has been notably less focused on Taylor’s case. Just one of the Louisville officers has been fired: Brett Hankison, who had been disciplined for reckless conduct before and is facing multiple allegations of sexual assault from women who said he offered them rides home from bars and then attacked them. The city did settle with Taylor’s family for $12 million and the promise of reform, the largest police misconduct settlement in Louisville Metro PD history. Taylor’s case, in parallel with Floyd’s, drew attention to the fact that crimes against Black women often receive even less attention than crimes against Black men, inspiring the hashtag #ProtectBlackWomen.
Because the officers were shot at first amid the confusion, many legal experts in Kentucky and nationally believed it was unlikely that murder charges would be pursued. Still, yesterday’s verdict — which included only the wanton endangerment felony charge for Hankison, who blindly fired bullets into other apartments as well — caused immediate and explosive protests, with thousands of people in cities across America. Forty-six protesters have been arrested. Protester Larynzo Johnson, 26, was charged today less than 24 hours after he shot two police officers, both of whom are recovering.
all the way to the top
1. The Best Disinfectant
Subsequent to the grand jury’s findings in the Breonna Taylor case, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer have both requested that the state attorney general’s office evidence from the case be made public. Attorney General Daniel Cameron is resisting this call, saying he wants to keep the gender and racial identities of the jury secret. We’ll see how this plays out, but as Fischer stated this is “far from over.”
2. What Mitch Had to Say
Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell took to the Senate floor to decry the “lawlessness” of the protesters. Meanwhile, his onetime challenger Charles Booker tweeted: “Justice failed us today.”
3. And the Buck Stops Where?
When asked about the grand jury’s decision Wednesday, President Trump responded with a message that was loud and clear: “I'vedone more for the Black community than any other president … with a possible exception of Abraham Lincoln.”
so what happens now?
1. Biden His Time
The FBI says it’s continuing its probe into Taylor’s case, leaving open the door for federal charges to be filed against the officers. Presidential contender Joe Biden, who’s said in the past that the officers who killed Taylor should be charged, said that the Wednesday decision did not answer the call for justice. If Biden wins the White House in November, could that change the game?
2. The Rules of Engagement
After Taylor’s death, Louisville banned “no-knock” warrants in what’s known as Breonna’s Law. In June, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul advanced a bill at the federal level that would do away with such warrants altogether. But other potential advancements, like ending the qualified immunity that makes it so difficult to prosecute police officers, seem less likely.
A relatively homogenous, sparsely populated country, Finland’s lessons could apply globally: Police officers train longer before joining the force — three years compared to a maximum of 36 weeks in the United States. Cops in Finland also have to seek permission from superiors before shooting, whenever possible. The result? Finns trust their police to secure law and order more than inhabitants of any other country — on-duty officers shoot their firearms only 10 times a year on average.
2. A New Georgia
The nation had a terrible reputation for corruption until 2003, when it abolished its entire police force, and then rebuilt it, from the ground up, with help from the EU, the U.N. and George Soros’ Open Society Foundations. Police salaries were raised from about $50 a month to $200 a month — but the message was clear: Corrupt officers would be fired. It’s an approach Camden, New Jersey, followed in 2012, similarly dissolving and then re-creating its police force. Georgia has also built glass-paneled police stations, so officers know they can be seen from the outside.
This petition is for voicing a desire to see the officers involved in Breonna Taylor’s death arrested and charged, and for Congress to pass legislation that bans no-knock warrants. By contacting your local representatives you can share your thoughts on legislation the U.S. House Democrats approved that would ban the controversial procedure in federal law enforcement and take away funding from local police departments that fail to follow suit.