Injustice for Breonna Taylor
Breonna Taylor’s death at the hands of Louisville police officers was not a failure of the city’s police department. That city and state prosecutors have refused to prosecute her killers was not a failure of the justice system. To say that a system has failed means that it is not working as it should, not acting as intended. It is the perverse tragedy in this case that these systems have behaved exactly as they’ve been intended to work. The problem is not one of failed systems, but systems which were purposely designed not to bring about justice, but to protect the purveyors and pillars of that system. The system was never meant to protect and serve, let alone deliver justice, for people like Breonna Taylor.
I don’t know if many people were really surprised that justice was denied. But given the details of the case, only the most jaded and cynical could have predicted how little, almost worse than nothing, was done. Police officers wrote up a warrant with false information, wrongly claiming that Breonna Taylor’s apartment was being used for drug trafficking. A judge signed that warrant, permitting the violation of Breonna Taylor’s and her partner’s constitutional fourth amendment rights, without evidence or prior due diligence. Officers raided Taylor’s home, late at night, wearing plain clothes, wearing nothing to mark them as police and without announcing themselves as police, according to most witnesses. Taylor’s partner, Kenneth Walker, a licensed gun owner, understandably believing that the unidentified men invading their home were home invaders, fired one shot at them. (We know that Walker did not know they were cops, because as soon as they fled the scene, Walker called the police, in tears, because his girlfriend had just been fatally shot by unknown intruders.) One officer was hit in the leg. It is not clear whether Kenneth Walker was actually the one who shot that cop in the leg, with a recently released ballistics report suggesting otherwise. The report throws into (further) doubt the cops’ story of “self defense,” that they were responding to Walker, whom they claim was the first to fire. (It’s as, or more, likely both that the cops opened fire first, and that the injured officer was hit by “friendly fire.”) The three officers “responded” to that one (alleged) shot with thirty-two shots, fired wildly: at least six bullets hit Breonna Taylor, in the other room, and miraculously none hit Walker. So not only are these cops doing every part of this raid badly, stupidly, and unethically, but they’re terrible shots; they fire thirty-two shots, none of them hit the “armed suspect,” but six find their way into an innocent woman. After Breonna Taylor was dead and the cowardly cops had gathered their nerves, Kenneth Walker was arrested for having shot that officer, but was later released without being charged because they knew there was no case against him: plainclothes cops broke into a home unannounced, and a legal gun owner tried to protect himself and his girlfriend. Then, weeks and months passed. The officers weren’t charged, no attempt at justice for Breonna Taylor was sought by authorities. It was only after months of public activism and celebrity involvement that any pretense at investigating the case and seeking justice began. We all know what happened next, a few days ago: Kentucky’s piece of shit racist Black Republican attorney general, Mitch McConnell’s protege, announced that there would be no indictments against the cops for killing Breonna Taylor; adding insult to injury, one of them was charged for reckless endangerment because one of his stray shots went into the wall of an adjacent neighbor’s apartment. The Kentucky justice system did nothing for Breonna Taylor; as far as they’re concerned, the cops did nothing wrong.
This is about more than a few bad cops. There’s been a focus through the case and now on the three officers directly responsible for killing Breonna Taylor. There’s no doubt that these three men created a bad situation, made it worse, and killed a good and innocent woman. There’s little doubt that these are not good men, that they are not suited for their chosen profession, and that all ill-placed power should be stripped from them. They are guilty and should be punished. But focusing on them as individuals is a mistake. It supports the “bad apple” myth that the police department itself is blameless, police in general are good, the system is just, and there just happens to be a few problem cases that need to be weeded out, or swept under the rug. Individual cops are ultimately not the problem. Breonna Taylor’s killers are not outliers in an otherwise flawless system. They are guilty, but they are not aberrations. They are the products of an unjust, well-functioning (in the sense that it is functioning as intended) system. That’s not to say that there are no “good” cops. But the “good” ones are the aberrations, whose own morality and idealism are counter to the prevailing culture of the police forces they work in. They are the Serpicos, who are treated like shit by their colleagues, forced out, or assassinated. Truly good cops are a rarity, and it’s a lucky few who survive the job, or life, without submitting and conforming to the iniquitous system.
Much attention was given to the settlement between Breonna Taylor’s family and the city of Louisville. News outlets focused on the number, twelve-million dollars, one of the largest settlements ever paid over the wrongful death of a Black woman at the hands of police. It was announced as though a milestone had been reached: Finally, you have to pay a shit-ton of money when you murder a Black woman for no reason. You can still murder them for no reason, with the police murderers facing no criminal repercussions, but look at how much money her family got. It was not emphasized enough that the twelve-million dollar settlement was being paid not by the guilty officers or the Louisville police department, but by the city. That means that it is city taxpayers footing the bill. Not only do the taxpayers fund the corrupt and incompetent police force and its officers, but they have to pay for the crimes those officers commit. That’s not uncommon, or specific to Louisville. Cities all over the country pay out millions of dollars every year in settlements for lawsuits against police violence and misconduct. But, critically, these expenses don’t result in budget decreases for police departments. They continue to typically take a majority of a city’s budget, requiring cuts be made elsewhere, often to social services. The people’s money is taken from funds providing for public education, healthcare, housing, food assistance, and municipal infrastructure to provide for overfunded police departments, and then more is taken every time the police do something wrong. The services more likely to prevent poor conditions and unrest, and crime, are sacrificed to pay for the wrongdoing of police, which in turn leads to poorer conditions, increased policing, further austerity cuts to social spending, and more crime. Communities are being financially bled dry by a system that is literally killing them.
That is the system that killed Breonna Taylor, and which worked to ensure that there would be no justice for her murder. A few scumbag cops committed the action of killing her, and a handful of lawyers and politicians made sure that they would not be punished, because they are playing their roles in the policing and criminal justice system as they’re meant to be played. They protect and serve capital, not the people. It is their job to maintain the socioeconomic hierarchy. Enforcing the status quo, preserving the
twin evils of capitalism and white supremacy, requires that the underclass, the poor and non-white, be kept underheel, and it is the police and the courts which the wealthy and powerful rely upon to do it. If they or any other part of that machine failed, then the system would begin to fail in its intended purpose. It’s not purely a matter of callousness or hatred, or even just apathy. It has less to do with them not caring about the life of a Black woman and more to do with them valuing wealth and power far more. And, of course, they count on the majority of the public to not care. It’s only relatively recently that that has fortunately been changing. Breonna Taylor, and all innocent victims like her, need and deserve justice, but they will not get it until we’ve dismantled the current system and installed one actually intended to protect the innocent and serve justice in its place.