Breonna Taylor’s life mattered. Her life was precious and it was beloved by God. Yet the decision by the grand jury in Jefferson County, Ky., painfully says otherwise, after officers killed Taylor in a botched raid on March 13. The members of the grand jury determined Wednesday that two of the officers involved in her death were justified in firing weapons into her apartment, and the third, Brett Hankison, was only charged with recklessly firing rounds into the apartment of a white neighbor. No one has been held accountable for the killing of Breonna Taylor.
The actions of the cleared officers were deemed by the jury as justified because they were allegedly acting in self-defense after Taylor’s boyfriend, in his own defense, fired a single shot that struck one of the officers. (Kenneth Walker, Taylor’s boyfriend, has filed a lawsuit, citing Kentucky’s “stand your ground” law.)
Breonna Taylor’s name didn’t even appear in Wednesday’s indictment against Hankison, which raises alarming questions about what case the attorney general made to defend the value of her life. The decision exposes the value gap in our justice system that so often dismisses and degrades the value of Black life and treats police recklessness and misconduct with impunity. Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron failed to explain why Hankison felt it was necessary to shoot wildly and blindly into the apartment from the parking lot or the details around how this seemingly faulty no-knock warrant was obtained and executed in the first place.
While the city of Louisville subsequently banned no-knock warrants and has put in place other reforms, much more must be done not just in Louisville but in police departments across the country. It is as though the justice system views Taylor’s life as collateral damage or only a tragic consequence of upholding public safety. Black women are nearly twice as likely to serve time in prison as white women, according to the Sentencing Project in 2017. The grand jury decision is particularly heart wrenching in light of the repeated, ongoing cycle of Black lives that have been senselessly cut short by police violence. Taylor’s name has been added to the long and traumatic list of Black men and, increasingly, Black women who have been killed at the hands of police violence and misconduct. While many of these Black men have garnered much more national attention and public outcry, we must continue to speak out about the murders and deaths of Black women such as Sandra Bland, Atatiana Jefferson, and Alteria Woods, and Black trans women such as Dominique "Rem'mie" Fells and Riah Milton.
The life of Breonna Taylor must now also pierce our national conscience and memory. This miscarriage of justice brings even greater urgency to transforming policing and our criminal justice system. While this will not bring her back, it can prevent future police violence and lack of accountability. Taylor's presence has become far larger than the facts of the case, as clear or opaque as they may seem. It is time not only to #SayHerName, but to honor her memory and life by fighting tirelessly through peaceful protest, advocacy, and our vote to ensure not only bold police reforms but much deeper transformation in policing and the criminal justice system.