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.