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Andrea K. McDaniels is The Baltimore Sun’s deputy editorial page editor.
The message sent by the decision in the Breonna Taylor case: Property, an inanimate object, is more important than a Black life.
A Jefferson County, Kentucky, grand jury indicted Brett Hankison — one of the officers who busted down Taylor’s door and allegedly shot her dead during a police raid of her apartment in March — on three counts of “wanton endangerment in the first degree.” He wasn’t indicted on charges he murdered Taylor, but for shots fired aimlessly into the wall of Taylor’s apartment. Those shots endangered the lives of three people in the apartment next door, said Attorney General Daniel Cameron, whose office will prosecute Hankison.
So, yes, the damage to a wall was deemed criminal, but not that of a human body. No one was indicted on charges for her death.
I wish I could say I was surprised by the decision, but I am not. Disappointed, yes.
Louisville, Kentucky, officials seemed to be bracing us for what was coming down before the verdict was announced, with city police declaring a state of emergency earlier this week. But more importantly the odds of justice for Black people up against law enforcement in this country are not usually in our favor.
I feel like a broken record, writing time and time again about these deaths. Weariness fills my heart because it seems like no matter how loud we as African Americans shout, little changes.
The problem is we can’t afford not to speak out, no matter how many people don’t want to hear about it anymore. No matter how mundane it becomes. A sentiment that has made its way around social media the last few months goes something like this: If you’re tired of hearing about it, imagine having to live it. We can’t close our eyes because we could easily be the next victim — and through no fault of our own. (Remember, 26-year-old Taylor was reportedly in bed when police showed up at her apartment.) And if not us, our nephews, nieces, sons and daughters.
I remember the time Baltimore police surrounded my neighbor’s house one morning while I was getting ready for work. I live on a quiet block, so the commotion was apparent. I was freaked out to say the least. Looking back now, what if they had gotten one number wrong on the address and showed up at my house instead? What if things had gone wrong, like with the case of Taylor? What if the police didn’t believe I hadn’t done anything wrong? Would my life not have mattered because of a mistake by law enforcement? I can’t help but wonder.
The felony Hankison is charged with carries a sentence of up to five years in prison for each count. But that is if he is found guilty. That is no guarantee. So far, the other officers who fired shots during the raid have not been charged with anything at all.
Cameron said officers were justified in shooting Taylor because her boyfriend Kenneth Walker shot first, thinking there was an intruder, not police. The boyfriend has disputed the account and announced in September he was suing the police department. Cameron also noted that the FBI is still investigating whether any of the officers committed civil rights violations or other federal crimes. We can only hope that Taylor and her family will see some justice at the federal level. Once again, that is no guarantee.
I can only wonder how Taylor’s family feels right now. Some may point to a $12 million settlement reached with the family as payment enough to ease their pain. But money only goes so far when no one is held accountable in a loved one’s death.
The grand jury decision has prompted yet more protests around the country. Everyday people and celebrities had turned Taylor’s name into a rallying cry against abuse of police power even before the grand jury indictment. Say her name, they cried. Don’t let her death go in vain.
If anything the need for police reform, such as the way police execute warrants, has only become clearer. Her death has already sparked change in Louisville, where the police department announced officers would require all sworn officers to wear body cameras. People must continue this activism, no matter how tired some get of seeing and hearing it. We can’t afford to be quiet.