Justice is Forever Delayed for Breonna Taylor

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The grand jury’s decision regarding the killing of Breonna Taylor does not provide sufficient justice. (Courtesy of Flickr)

Kyle Chin, Contributing Writer

Once again, America has been shaken by a furor over racial injustice and police brutality, this time following the grand jury decision in the police killing of Breonna Taylor. Accompanying the outcries for racial justice and police accountability have been defenses of the police and scrutinies of Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, who was involved in the shooting. Amidst these clashing narratives put forth by various actors, it feels necessary to establish what this incident entailed, correct the record where it has been muddied and ultimately reestablish why this case of police violence is so troubling.

As for the facts of this case, just after midnight on March 13, plainclothes Louisville police officers arrived at Breonna Taylor’s apartment with a warrant for suspected drug trafficking on the part of Taylor’s ex-boyfriend, Jamarcus Glover. Taylor was in bed with her current boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, when the two were awoken by banging on their door. Police claim they identified and announced themselves, and upon receiving no response, rammed down the door. 

Conversely, Walker claims that the officers never announced themselves and Taylor received no answer when she asked who was at the door. Walker armed himself with his legally registered handgun. Police broke open the door at which Walker had fired one shot. Officers Myles Cosgrove, Brett Hankison and Jon Mattingly responded by firing a total of 32 rounds into the apartment, hitting Taylor five times and fatally wounding her. Officer Mattingly received a non-fatal bullet wound to the leg, which the police assert was inflicted by Walker, though initial forensics could not conclude whether the shot came from Walker or friendly fire. 

This past week a grand jury issued only one indictment in relation to this incident. Officer Hankison was charged with wanton endangerment for having fired through the wall into neighboring apartments, to which he pled not guilty. None of the officers were charged with Taylor’s death.

In approaching the debate which has arisen around this case, I will first address the misinformation put forward by numerous actors, specifically concerning Taylor and Walker. Numerous conservative commentators, including Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens, have published videos purporting to reveal “the truth” of the Breonna Taylor situation. Both primarily lean on character attacks of Taylor, particularly her past relationship with Jamarcus Glover. Owens stated that Taylor was at the center of Glover’s drug ring “actively helping” move drugs, and Kirk asserted that Taylor was “knee deep” in crime. 

While Glover did have a rap sheet and had used Taylor’s addresses in past dealings, Taylor herself had no criminal record, and no publicly available evidence exists implicating her in such activities.

Owens went on to claim that Taylor was not an EMT as has been widely reported, but was fired because a car she had rented was involved in a homicide. It is technically true that Taylor was not an EMT at the time of her death, but rather was working as an emergency room technician at two area hospitals. Taylor indeed allowed Glover to use a car which would later be involved in the December 2016 death of Fernandez Bowman, yet Taylor had already stopped working as a Louisville Metro EMT the month prior. Apart from the false and spurious connections drawn here, the insinuation that Taylor had been expelled from the medical field for supposed criminality is baseless. 

Kenneth Walker is addressed with even greater scorn by commentators on the right. Kirk declared him a “criminal” and “thug.” Both Kirk and Owens decried him as an attempted cop killer and saddled the blame for Taylors’ death on Walker for firing at police. As Walker has no criminal record apart from the incident on March 13, the characterization of Walker as a brutal criminal rests only on his interaction with police that night. 

At the heart of this case lies the question of whether or not the police announced and identified themselves upon arriving at Taylor’s apartment. If police did not follow these protocols, then it can be argued that Walker was well within his rights to defend a private residence from unknown armed intruders. 

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron cited the testimony of one independent witness in supporting the story of the police. Many have assumed this to be Aaron Sarpee, the lone witness the New York Times found to attest to the police announcing themselves out of a dozen interviewed. Sarpee reportedly first said that he had not heard the police announce themselves, only offering that version of events in an interview two months after the shooting, and now claims police identified themselves only in passing. 

Needless to say, the wavering account of a single individual seems fairly flimsy grounds on which to build a case, but the state of Kentucky chose to do so all the same. Curiously, the state’s narrative does not seem to be universally held, as the attempted murder charges against Kenneth Walker have been dropped. The county prosecutor asserted that further investigation into the matter was needed, but as Walker has no significant criminal history and the civilian accounts supporting his retelling of events are credible, it would be difficult to disprove Walker’s claim of reasonable self-defense.

Unfortunately, it seems likely that this is where this case ends. The dubious arguments of police and the state of Kentucky have apparently been accepted by the grand jury, and summarily it appears no one will be held accountable for the death of Breonna Taylor. Instead, the public has been handed a lesser, tangentially related charge, accompanied by a flurry of victim blaming and borderline slander about the alleged moral characters of Taylor and Walker. This killing and its aftermath offer both an indictment of policing and of American society at large.

The response of some to Taylor’s killing not only demonstrates a disheartening willingness to drag the character of a victim of police violence through the mud, but reveals a stunningly convoluted approach to law and order. Breonna Taylor did not have to be an angel to deserve life. The suggestion that while Taylor’s death was tragic, it was ultimately caused by her own poor life decisions, is baffling. Guilt by association is antithetical to every system of justice in the developed world. Beyond that, even in the event Taylor had been involved in criminal activity, that is certainly not a warrant for her to be mowed down in a hail of bullets. 

As for the ones firing bullets, certainly police were reckless in their wild gunfire and put the lives of bystanders in neighboring apartments at risk, and the charges levied by Kentucky in that regard follow some logic. For officers to be charged on that count but not for the death of Breonna Taylor borders on insulting, as apparently the bullets which struck the apartment drywall were in error but the bullets which struck Taylor’s body were not. The killing of Breonna Taylor is just one entry in an ever-growing list of incidents in which police show essentially no restraint in the application of lethal force, something which America has been forced to reckon with in recent months. While activists and lawmakers carry on the fight to right this state of affairs, it is the unfortunate truth that in this case, justice will not be served.

Kyle Chin, FCRH ’21, is a history and political science major from Malverne, N.Y.