As a 25-year law enforcement veteran, I sit this morning with a familiar sadness seeing justice denied once again to a family and a community in this country. The criminal justice system denied Breonna Taylor’s family the justice they deserved.
Here is the thought I can’t shake today: Why can’t we–the police, the city leaders, the powers-that-be–ever apologize and admit we’re wrong? Breonna Taylor should not have been shot dead that night. Full stop. She should be alive today, working a shift as an EMT, living her life. But because of a poorly planned, badly executed, no-knock warrant, she is dead.
Her mother’s cries reverberate off the courthouse walls, where no justice was delivered on Wednesday. And the thing is, no one in charge has had the decency to apologize for all that went wrong. Instead of any kind of mea culpa, defensive walls immediately went up. Then, in short order, the character assassinations began, as they always do. Very quickly, too many police supporters suffused the narrative with an avalanche of unfounded and unproven misinformation, even blatant lies, to convince themselves that this young woman—a paramedic, a fellow first responder—was somehow responsible for her own death.
Why is this response so typical? In the aftermath of murdering a woman sleeping in her bed, would kindness and humanity be so terrible? Each time the message that Black lives don’t matter is reinforced, I ask any fellow officer: What would you do if your loved one were shot dead while in bed because of a botched raid based on questionable evidence? Would you demand justice? Would you rage against a system that denied it? I would. Why don’t you?
Even though most people both in and out of law enforcement rightly condemned the murderous actions of Derek Chauvin in the killing of George Floyd, within days, the same character assassination started. Again, too many of us decided to traffic in that same ugliness. Blame the victim for his own death because the mistakes he made in his life somehow invalidate his humanity.
Why do we do this? Nothing in George Floyd’s past justifies his murder by an employee of the people. Nothing about Breonna Taylor’s life makes it OK to kill her in her bed. If a police officer was killed, should his worth be diminished by prior discipline on the job? Of course not.
I think a lot of what makes an increasing number of marginalized people so angry, sad, and disgusted is the perception that they don’t matter. Injustice toward them doesn’t matter, regardless of how heinous it is. It just doesn’t matter.
Police are the armed agents of state power. When these senseless, preventable killings occur, people take to the street for justice. People take to the street to say we matter. (Hint: That’s why they say, Black Lives Matter.) When you strip it all away, isn’t that the howl of pain at the heart of it all? It’s a cry by the marginalized, desperate to be seen in their full humanity.
We hide behind excuses: They should have listened. They shouldn’t have run. They shouldn’t have questioned. She had the wrong boyfriend. George Floyd wasn’t fighting. Amhaud Abery was jogging. Philando Castile was taking out his driver’s license as asked. Emmit Till spoke to a white girl. Breonna Taylor was sleeping. These are just a fraction of the names whose lives our system has callously declared are collateral damage in a war waged on our own citizens we have Othered.
The reaction to injustice starts out a cry that becomes that howl of rage and then erupts into violence when nothing else seems to work. Because the truth is, it happens and keeps happening because violence really does beget violence. The police officers shot the next night are proof of that. The perverse need to justify senseless violence to avoid our collective complicity is poisoning all of our souls.
But we can be better. We have a choice.
We can either see one another’s humanity and work for real solutions or retreat to our defensive positions and continue to degrade and dehumanize. Keep being thin-skinned and self-righteous, or be brave warriors for all human life and dignity. We can continue to filter the world through our own narrow lens, sharing toxic memes, in a misguided attempt to prove we are right. Or we can have the courage to open our hearts and minds, to see the humanity in another person in the same way we all wish to be seen.
We can continue to divide ourselves black/blue, gay/straight, left/right, on and on, in the twisted ways we imagine as justifying injustice. The violence will generate more violence. In the end, we are left with the irrefutable proof that our divisions and prejudice are a lie: The blood running in the streets will always be red.
Breonna Taylor’s life mattered. I don’t know why it’s so controversial for cops to say it. We don’t have to be perfect, but compassion goes a long way. If the Louisville PD had simply stated that truth all those months ago and taken responsibility for what went wrong, they would have sent a simple but powerful message to their community: Our police department cares about the citizens we serve.
Breonna Taylor’s life mattered. It costs absolutely nothing to say so.
4 thoughts on “Breonna Taylor’s Life Mattered”
Sarge, I am a big fan of your blog, but I believe you may have a few things wrong. The media continues to describe her as an EMT ( you said paramedic) She only briefly held that position for around 7 months approximately 4 yrs ago. Allegedly she did not leave under good terms so we can probably infer she didn’t make probation. At the time of her death she worked as a low level med tech in a hospital ER. Honest employment, but not a first responder either.
Breonna was NOT gunned down in her bed while asleep. When they heard the pounding on the door they got up and proceeded down the hallway to investigate. She took rounds in the hallway.
Breonna was involved with 2 guys. The guy in her bed that night, Kenneth Walker appears to be a decent fellow with no criminal record. He fired at the door, striking the Sgt in the leg. He had a properly licensed firearm, but mistakenly believed they were being home invaded.
Breonna was the victim of some poor decisions. The other guy she was involved with was a known drug dealer. She became entangled in his web in as an active participant and that is what brought police to her door that night. The warrant was valid. The debate over no knock vs knock and annouce which they claim to have done is almost irrelevant. I say that because a journalist who had previously embedded with that drug squad stated from his observations that the time lapse differentiating between the two styles could be measured in seconds. The planning and execution of the warrant left much to be desired. Breonna did not receive prompt medical attention. In the ” fog of war” officers on the scene were preoccupied with trying to help the seriously injured Sgt Mattingly. They did not immediately know she was criticality wounded until her boyfriend called 911.
Yes, Breonna Taylor’s death was indeed tragic. However, the media and activists have tried to make her out to be an angelic martyr. They have refused to consider any evidence that does not fit their narrative.
Those clamoring for indictments are speaking from emotion. It would be needless and unethical to indict officers in a case there was little chance in securing a conviction, like what was recently done in Atlanta. It would passify the masses for the time being only to roil the waters later when a conviction was not secured.
Perhaps the only avenue left to explore is was there just sloppy police work at play in this situation or was information on the affidavit purposely falsified?
Was the shockingly large settlement a hail mary designed to keep other embarrassing information from coming out?
I look forward to your thoughtful, well reasoned posts. I have tremendous respect for many of your courageous stances. It’s just that this case will have no easy answers or satisfying solutions.
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Thanks for reading, and I appreciate your thoughts.
I agree that there has been new information calling into question some of the initial facts. Whether she was a paramedic or EMT or neither (or sleeping vs. in the hall) wasn’t intended as the larger point.
I’m disturbed by the dehumanization of too many of the subjects in these cases. I believe as agents of our state, law enforcement must be better. I’m not sure why it seems like we are the only ones allowed to say we were scared for our lives, standing our ground, or defending our homes. There’s this increasing attitude I’m seeing that says lives lost are collateral damage and “oh well.” Then the ugliness that too often ensues and spreads only makes matters worse. When posted on social media or caught on a hot mic, the public hears it and the feeling that we don’t care is reinforced.
We are responsible for ensuring we are acting on good information. We are responsible for conducting our actions as safely as possible. We are responsible for professional conduct, both at a scene and in the community discussions. I believe the cops who cross the line on the street are by and large the same ones running their mouths and embarrassing the rest of us online or wherever. I continue to say it: They make every cop less safe and need to be purged.
Thanks for the conversation!
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Thank you for sharing this. For me the saddest part is we have lost any perspective on the value of a human life in leu of judging the person or persons lifestyle or behaviors leading up to the incident. I don’t care what personal choices a person is making, taking a life is a permanent act. It dissolves any future evolution by the person killed. Using a persons lifestyle choices to sanction their murder diminishes the value of all of our lives. If that’s how we are going to excuse and rationalize murder I fear for the entire system.
(In the substance abuse field when someone died of a “hotshot” (deliberate overdosing for whatever reason) there were always comments about “Just another junkie.” I would tell any fellow therapist who spoke that way that “It could have been me.” I was fortunate.)
There is a lot of education that needs to take place. For civilians and law enforcement. We are not a “weapons free” zone. All law enforcement personnel are humans first with all the included emotional and cognitive problems. Pointing fingers is useless. Dialogue, education, financial support, training (lots of that), patience, and the willingness to give to get.
I agree that most authority, particularly in the social political arena, simply can’t admit that we make mistakes, big ones, on large and personal scales. Sigh
There are never any easy solutions on a social level. There are no immediate solutions either.
But we can persevere and start moving the social machine in a new direction if we are willing to grow up a little.
Noisy today aren’t I? I think it’s my way of coping with this sad and disturbing place that humans call home.
Be well. Thanks again.
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Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this tragic event and its repercussions. Breonna Taylor’s life mattered. Period. Attempts to taint her character or actions are disgusting. The impulse of some to blindly defend police officers is a symptom of the crisis facing law enforcement. The illusion that there are two sides, those for and those against law enforcement, has forced each side to dig in deeper at every opportunity. Attacks on the character of the people the police are here to serve and protect fuel this divisiveness, but so too does the way events involving the police are often framed. While your piece eloquently expressed the pain of this loss of life, and effectively condemned the inexcusable attacks on Ms. Taylor that followed, you missed the mark on a crucial point. The idea that “[t]he criminal justice system denied Breonna Taylor’s family the justice they deserved,” echoes misguided calls for criminal convictions against the officers involved. Furthermore, to refer to her death as murder is both inflammatory and inaccurate. Murder requires intent. Without all of the facts, no one outside the investigation is in a position to determine whether there was the requisite intent for a murder indictment or the gross negligence required for manslaughter charges.
The events of that night, as they have been presented to the public, indicate that the officers were executing a valid search warrant when Kenneth Walker, believing he was defending himself against intruders, fired at police officers with a legally owned firearm. One officer was wounded, and the officers fired back, inadvertently killing Ms. Taylor. The fact that Mr. Walker’s gun was licensed does not make the officer’s response to being shot at unreasonable or criminal. Mr. Walker’s reasonable belief that he was defending himself against a home invasion has absolved him of criminal liability for shooting the officer, so too should the officers’ reasonable belief that they were being shot at, defend their response. Ms. Taylor’s death was a devastating tragedy caused by a combination of events and circumstances. Our focus should be on potential problems with the laws and police procedures, as well as the implicit biases we all carry, rather than on eye for an eye retribution against the officers involved.
This was a horrific mistake that cost a young woman her life. The failure of many law enforcement supporters to acknowledge that fact is outrageous. But tragedies do not necessarily have criminal responsibility. Demands to prosecute the officers involved are motivated by the grief of a family in mourning, and the frustration of people who believe the police are never held accountable for their actions. These feelings are absolutely valid and justified. If someone I loved was shot and killed by a police officer, I would be devastated and probably want to kill that person with my bare hands. But those feelings should generate sympathy and support, not be the basis of criminal convictions. It is not justice that is being denied to the family of Ms. Taylor, but compassion and empathy.
The police, along with their supporters and their critics, all want the same thing: to prevent this kind of horrific loss of life. Close examinations of the way investigations are conducted, search warrants are obtained, and tactical plans are executed, can help us learn from this heartbreaking loss and prevent needless deaths in the future. Police training and oversight, along with search and seizure laws, gun control measures, and all of the other laws and procedures involving police interactions, demand close scrutiny and frequent re-examination, but to suggest criminal prosecution of the officers involved in accidental deaths distracts from the real issues and lays the blame for systemic failures on individuals.
Stay safe, happy, and healthy.