I haven’t been on this Earth for 65 years. But it seems like an awfully long time to wait for a so-called “justice” system to actually work for you. And yet here we were this week – 65 years to the day when an all-white jury allowed the two men charged with the brutal murder of Emmitt Till to go free, a grand jury declined to press charges against police officers involved in the senseless killing of Breonna Taylor. So explain to me how far we have come as a nation.
Jerry Mitchell, an investigative reporter who reopened cold murder cases from Mississippi during the Civil Rights era, described the scene from 65 years ago on his Facebook page:
Mitchell’s wonderful book, Race Against Time, chronicles his pursuit of the Klansmen responsible for some of the most heinous murders of that time and is available for purchase from Amazon.
Flash forward six and a half decades, and it is painfully clear that Breonna Taylor deserved so much better. A grand jury was considering the charges against the police officers who shot her to death after bursting into the Louisville, Kentucky apartment she shared with her boyfriend in March. Her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired one shot at the officers – believing that they were criminals attempting to break into the apartment. The officers responded by firing more than 20 rounds in response – hitting various objects in the living room, dining room, kitchen, hallway and two different bedrooms. Taylor, who was an ER technician at two different local hospitals and had worked previously as an EMT, was struck by five bullets and pronounced dead on the scene.
But the grand jury’s decision in this case brought to mind these famous and chilling words, uttered seven years after Emmett Till’s killers went free :
The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.Malcolm X, 1962
Astoundingly, the grand jury didn’t find any of the officers responsible for either directly or indirectly causing her death. They returned merely one indictment against one officer, Brett Hankison, with “wanton endangerment” – a far lesser felony charge than the murder or manslaughter charges that many legal observers had expected.
The true outrage was that this charge had nothing to do with Breonna Taylor or her death. He was charged for recklessly firing shots from his gun into the walls of neighboring apartments. Somehow, it didn’t seem to matter that some of the shots fired by officers on that night ended up killing a Black woman who was asleep in bed. Somehow, the taking of her life didn’t matter to people who were charged with bringing her family justice.
So why doesn’t the life of Breonna Taylor matter? It’s not merely that the law didn’t apply to police officers in this case (as is often the case in police-involved shootings)…it’s that the law didn’t even apply to her life being taken. And that is outrageous, unconscionable and completely unacceptable.
In the end, the walls of her apartment complex received more justice than she did. It wasn’t “and justice for all,” as we were all trained to say at the conclusion of our Pledge of Allegiance every day in school. It was “and justice for walls.” But when actual lives are deemed less valuable to us than the physical walls that divide our lives from one another…how is justice even possible? How do the grieving families of victims who are innocent and unwitting victims of state violence ever stand a chance in a courtroom?
We’ve seen far too often that we haven’t come very far from Mississippi in 1955, or even from seven years later when Malcolm X offered his sober assessment about Black women in America. Enough is fucking enough. Somehow we must now rise above the bile in our throat, the rage that tenses our chests and places knots in our stomach, and the overwhelming sadness around those who we have tragically lost – but will never receive the justice they deserve.
These steps are by no means enough to honor Breonna’s memory, or prevent this from happening again tomorrow or in the future.
But it’s a start:
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