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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Fit to be king
Lilli Dellheim '25 M.A., Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

Responding to the Breonna Taylor Grand Jury Decision

Responding+to+the+Breonna+Taylor+Grand+Jury+Decision

On Sept. 23, a grand jury decided not to charge Myles Cosgrove, John Mattingly and Brett Hankison, the three police officers who killed Breonna Taylor, an unarmed Black woman in her bed in her apartment. Sadly, this verdict was unsurprising to many, despite the city of Louisville, Kentucky settling a “wrongful death” lawsuit with her family one week earlier for $12 million. 

One of the officers, Brett Hankison, is charged with “wantonly and blindly” shooting into the apartment adjoining Taylor’s. Nobody was charged for actually killing Taylor, who was in her apartment, in her bed. Apparently, buildings are more protected than innocent Black women’s lives.

The Louisville police were able to obtain a “no-knock warrant” due to “the nature of how these drug traffickers operate,” as indicated in court documents. 

The police showed up at Taylor’s apartment seeking her ex-boyfriend, who they say was a suspect in a drug trafficking case. Her ex-boyfriend no longer lived at the residence, and Taylor and her new boyfriend, Kenneth Walker III, were not a part of the police’s investigation. The police continuously pounded on the door to her apartment and then used a battering ram to enter. Walker shot at what he thought were intruders. It turned out that he hit one officer in the leg. The police fired 32 bullets into the apartment. Taylor, who was unarmed, was hit six times.

Many people were not surprised by the grand jury’s decision. Between 2015 and 2020, 1,337 Black people were killed by the police. Of these, 48 were Black women. Officers were charged in only two of the 48 cases. One officer was acquitted and the other case is still pending. 

The rate at which Black Americans are killed by the police is twice as high as the rate at which white Americans are killed by the police. According to Rashawn Ray, a fellow at the Brookings Institute, “Black people are 3.5 times more likely than white people to be killed by police when Blacks are not attacking or do not have a weapon.”

When reading another headline about a Black person being killed by the police, many white people’s first instinct is to ask, “What did they do?” and rarely, “Why would the police kill them?” This response is encouraged by political leaders who use tired dog-whistle calls that affirm the worst, racist stereotypes of Black people and which suggest that, therefore, Black people are deserving of the violence inflicted upon them.  

Police interact with Black people differently than how they interact with white people.

We have seen how police are able to arrest armed white shooters and take them into custody alive. 

In 2015, white supremacist Dylann Roof worshipped alongside Black parishioners in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. He then shot and killed nine people. Police arrested him alive and without incident. This clearly proves that police officers choose whether or not to kill people they encounter, whether they are armed or not.

According to a Washington Post database that analyzes fatal police shootings, since Jan. 1, 2015, 5,652 people were shot and killed by the police. So far this year, 721 people were fatally shot by the police. A FiveThirtyEight analysis of police officers who face legal consequences as a result of fatal violence or excessive force in past years found only a tenth of police officers were charged, and even fewer were convicted. The data shows that police are not held accountable for killing Americans, especially Black Americans.

Taylor’s killing and the grand jury’s response are more examples of systemic racism and the consequences of an unjust justice system. We must fight this racism by holding these institutions accountable and demand justice when those who uphold these institutions blatantly ignore what is right. It is important that we continue to acknowledge the self-evident truths of the American justice system and advocate for the protection of Black lives and a more just system. 

It is discouraging that, historically, thousands of Black men and women have been killed by police, who act as agents of the state. The vast majority of these police officers face no consequences for these killings. The structure of the current system of justice must change in order to ensure that there is liberty and justice for all. One way we can do this is to vote for candidates, at both the local and national level, whose policies uphold the fundamental human rights of all Americans, in a land where Black lives do matter.

 

—The Editorial Board

 

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