Justice for Breonna Taylor


Photo credit: https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/09/15/breonnataylorlouisvillesettlement/

Meena Lane, Opinions Editor

On March 13, 2020, Breonna Taylor was fatally shot and killed inside her Kentucky apartment. Twenty-six year old Breonna was sitting in her home late one night when Louisville Metro Police Department officers forced their way inside her house. The search was a “no-knock” search, meaning the officers barged in unannounced, looking for a drug trafficker. The suspect they were in search of was Taylor’s ex-boyfriend, who was using her address to mail drugs through the post office. The officers, Brett Hankison, Myles Cosgrove, and Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly, used a battering ram to knock down the apartment’s front door. Upon entering, they were met with gunshots, one of which struck Mattingly in the leg. Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, was a licensed gun owner who, during this attack, got his gun out for self-defense unaware of who was at the door. The officers then fired twenty-five blind gunshots into the apartment, some entering other apartments as well. Breonna Taylor was struck at least eight times. Her boyfriend then called 911 and said his girlfriend had been shot. He was then taken into custody for attempted murder of a police officer; which in his defense, his house was entered unannounced by people he did not recognize. Inevitably, the search was unnecessary and inconclusive since no drugs were found within the apartment.

The three officers involved, Brett Hankison, Myles Cosgrove, and Jonathan Mattingly, were placed into administrative leave. None of the three were immediately charged following the events of Breonna Taylor’s murder, like they should have been. On April 27th, the family’s attorneys, Sam Aguiar and Lonita Baker, filed a personal injury and wrongful death lawsuit against the three officers. They asked for compensatory and punitive damages. Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear stated that they would “carefully review the results of the initial investigation to ensure justice is done at a time when many are concerned that justice is not blind.” Yet in the following months after Breonna Taylor’s death and Kenneth Walker’s arrest, Louisville Metro Police Department continued to defend their actions regarding the murder. Many protests, campaigns, and fundraisers were started to demand justice for Breonna Taylor and make charges against the three officers. Finally, on June 19th, Officer Brett Hankison was announced to be fired due to irresponsibly violating procedure when he fired multiple rounds into the apartment. It took about three months for action to be taken against only one of the three officers involved. In recent events, the city of Louisville announced a $12 million settlement with the family of Breonna Taylor. Along with the settlement, they also announced new changes about how officers execute search warrants and must now turn-on their body cameras. The settlement follows through with the wrongful death lawsuit which was filed at the end of April. The lawsuit should have gotten immediate attention after the murder, not five months later, though it does not coincide or affect the investigation of Breonna Taylor’s murder itself.

Demands for criminal charges against Breonna Taylor’s murderers, Brett Hankison, Myles Cosgrove, and Jonathan Mattingly, remain persistent. Until Freedom, a social justice organization in New York, states that, “No amount of money will bring back Breonna Taylor.” All three of the officers involved still have yet to be charged. Though the day of the murder, they arrested Kenneth Walker, Breonna Taylor’s boyfriend, for claiming self-defense. Breonna Taylor’s family will forever be suffering from this loss, while the officers are currently living off of a warning. “True justice is not served with cash settlements… We need accountability. We need justice.”  The cash settlement is a start to justice for Breonna Taylor, though it is only a very small part of it. The other officer, Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly, also fired his weapon during the incident and has not yet been fired alongside Brett Hankison. He should face the same consequences, despite being a Sergeant. His level of authority cannot intervene with revoking his job. Actions against these officers should have been handled immediately. The officers should all be held accountable for Breonna Taylor’s murder, since they are all put at the scene with no available camera footage. Innocent people of color cannot continue to be killed while committing nothing that excuses murder; and the officers that do the killing should not be excused. These acts contain malice and violence that go unseen due to the position they hold and the system they stand behind. Justice for Breonna Taylor isn’t providing money to her family months after the murder. Justice is arresting and charging the officers immediately for the actions they took.

Unfortunately, charges not being handled immediately following the murder eventually became charges never being faced. A grand jury indicted only one of the three officers involved. Officer Brett Hankison, who was fired back in March, was faced with three charges of wanton endangerment in the first degree. This means, according to Kentucky laws, “when, under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life, [a person] wantonly engages in conduct which creates a substantial danger of death or serious physical injury to another person.” Besides being one of the three officers who should be guilty of shooting and killing Breonna Taylor, he is only being accused of endangering the neighboring apartments when firing. But if he was endangering apartments next to Taylor’s, then he must have also been endangering her apartment. Even the officer who fired the fatal shot wasn’t charged. Lawyers for Brett Hankison claim he was merely trying to protect his fellow officers, which explains the lack of charges. Kentucky officials continue to state that Breonna Taylor’s death was a tragedy but not a murder. They claim that the officers who had fired shots into the apartment, were “justified” in using force because Kenneth Walker, Breonna’s boyfriend, had shot at them. Though, at the very least, the officers, Brett Hankison, Myles Cosgrove, and Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly, should face involuntary manslaughter charges. This would entail that the officers had no malice intent, but still negligently killed Breonna Taylor. People across the nation are still demanding that action be taken against these officers, with protests erupting once again. On Wednesday night, after the announcement of Brett Hankison’s indictment, two Louisville police officers were shot and 127 protesters were arrested. In Portland, Oregon, 300 people crowded the streets, shouting Breonna Taylor’s name and “Black Lives Matter” in front of the Portland Bureau’s headquarters in order to show their anger. Outrage continues to arise as justice remains to be overlooked. Ben Crump, Breonna Taylor’s family attorney, says that this felt like, “killing Breonna all over again.” Protests, fights, and demands will continue to happen until these people get justice. Though sometimes violent, and to some people, unnecessary, these protests are the only way they can be seen and heard. The separation of color and systemic racism in this country is evidently a problem we’re unwilling to face, so people all over have brought it upon themselves to take action and demand justice. This all leads back to the same argument that there’s “two justice systems in America: one for Black America and one for White America.” People refuse to admit this; it’s something you may never experience, but people everywhere around you do.