In Interactions With Cops, Black Americans Are Held To A Standard Unlike Anyone Else In Free Societies
When the indictment against one of the three cops who were involved in the killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky last March were announced on Wednesday, it at first seemed like it was a relief. One cop, Brett Hankison, was charged with a Class D Felony for “wanton disregard” for human life. Someone would be facing justice for the act. But on further examination of the indictment, it quickly became clear that justice wouldn’t be Breonna Taylor. It would be for her neighbor’s window.
The charges had nothing to do with Taylor, as none of the bullets Hankison fired struck her. The officer, who was outside the building at the time of the incident, fired bullets that hit the windows and outer walls of a neighboring apartment, where Taylor’s neighbors were inside.
Basically, to Kentucky’s top prosecutor, Breonna Taylor’s neighbor’s window and walls mattered more than her life. Though no fault of their own, it was not lost on anyone that her neighbors in that apartment are white.
When Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a Black Republican, outlined the charges against Hankison on Wednesday, he called Taylor’s death a tragedy. This seemed to imply, however, that it was an unfortunate circumstance of either a misunderstanding by the police and her boyfriend Kenneth Walker, or her boyfriend’s intention to kill a cop. (Walker insists he did not know it was police entering the apartment)
The story of what happened on the night of March 1`3 in Louisville went something like this: Louisville Police, executing what was issued as a “no-knock” warrant on Taylor’s apartment in a drug case related to Taylor’s ex-boyfriend and another man, used a battering ram to enter the apartment, while Walker retrieved his legally-own firearm thinking a burglar was entering the unit. When the door was breached, Walker fired, unknowingly according to him, hitting one of the officers. In response, officers fired over 20 rounds into the apartment complex, striking Taylor five times, killing the 26-year-old EMT in her own home.
The shooting led to questions about the use of force, “no-knock” warrants – where police don’t have to announce before barging into a private dwelling – and accusations of systemic racism in policing (Would they have done this in a white person’s apartment?). Taylor’s situation is not a unique one. Botham Jean and Atatiana Jefferson were also recently killed by police while minding their own businesses in their own homes.
In Cameron’s press conference on Wednesday, he poked some holes in the widely accepted account of what happened. He said police did announce themselves before using a battering ram to enter the apartment, attributing it to one witness. Eleven other witnesses in the building stated they did not hear police announce themselves. He said the warrant was reclassified and wasn’t a “no knock” warrant at the time it was executed, thought it was when issued. Cameron further explained that because Walker fired first, the cops fired on him in self-defense, during which Taylor got caught in the crossfire, meaning cops are not criminal liable for her death.
Any objective reading of this conclusion as fair has to take into account several things that most people wanting equal justice do not accept:
- That police, even if they did announce themselves once as the one witness suggested, were justified in using a battering ram to enter an innocent woman’s apartment to search it in relation to a drug investigation that does not include her as a suspect. The warrant on the apartment was issued because one of the suspects used Taylor’s address to have packages delivered, suspected to be (but never proven to be) drugs.
- That Breonna Taylor’s life had less meaning simply because she tangibly associated herself with drug dealers.
- The Breonna Taylor’s life had less meaning because she happened to be the path of 20 rounds of bullets fired by police who feared for their lives.
- That it is perfectly acceptable for police is either not announce themselves or just do it once before battering through a person’s private residence in the dark of night.
- That it is perfectly acceptable for cops to fire 20 rounds, reloading, because of one gunshot. Also, 20 rounds and you didn’t even get the guy who shot at you?
There’s a lot of blame beyond the cops responsible for what happened to Taylor. The glaring failure of the virtue-signaling War on Drugs policy for one thing. We are still intent, decades later, to treat drug addiction as a criminal, rather than social, problem. We believe, against all evidence and medical advice, that the threat of harsh criminal punishment is enough to keep people off drugs and end and prevent addiction.
Wait – let me clarify. We treat drug addiction as a criminal problem, unless you’re white, then you get interventions, fancy rehabs, second chances, third chances, even fourth chances if you’re rich enough. You get to do things that get black men and women killed, and then you get to “find Jesus Christ” and get a prime time speaking slot at the Republican National Convention. You even get to relapse, and have the empathy of America as you continue to struggle. Addiction is a disease, even when rich why kids suffer from it. It should be treated as such.
But who feeds white America’s drug habit? The men and women who are offered few other opportunities to survive except to make a little money off an addiction problem we as a society refuse to deal with. Anyone who believes in Capitalism should understand as long as there’s a market, there’s a product, and when your choice is poverty or dealing drugs, you may very well choose the latter. What Capitalist could genuinely blame you?
When we talk about “defunding” or “abolishing” the police, we’re not talking about a world where law enforcement is gone (Well some are, but most aren’t). We’re talking about a world where some of the billions of funding we give to police to buy battering rams to use in executing search warrants, instead go toward job training, education and other programs that end the cycle of poverty in poor communities, especially communities of color, and don’t put them in a position where the only path to survival is to feed America’s drug habit. We’re talking about pouring money in anti-addiction programs to get America off its drug habit and smash the Capitalist market for drugs to pieces.
“Oh, but they don’t HAVE to deal drugs,” you’re going to tell me. It’s a bad life choice. Yeah, ok, tell me about bad life choices. How many have you made? How many have you made because you felt it was the least bad of many different choices? Have you never been in a position where you had to choose a bad option just to keep a roof over your head or food on the table? No? That’s what we mean when we talk about privilege. For most poor Americans, of which many are black, “good choices” don’t exist. You go where the money is. That’s Capitalism. Childish Gambino explains this pretty succinctly in “This Is America.”
Second; what the hell is a “no-knock” warrant and who is the bright shining star who thought that was a good idea for anyone involved? I get it; a “no-knock” warrant gives the element of surprise, so that suspects can’t hide or destroy contraband or prepare for a fight with cops. But how do you think people are going to respond to someone barreling through their front door in the middle of night in a country where it’s legal for everyone to carry a gun? You know they sell racks for shotguns that you can put on the side of your bed, so you can grab it and shoot an intruder without even getting up, right? How is this safe for either the people inside the apartment OR the cops? Why are you doing this at that hour of night anyway?
Further, it was clear police and others in the system tried their best to cover up the shootings and spin a narrative to help the cops. Taylor’s ex-boyfriend, Jamarcus Glover, the suspect of the investigation was, according to his lawyer, offered a plea deal in which he would implicate Taylor in the drug ring; presumably to taint her reputation in the public eye and/or offer further justification for her killing. Clearly the thought process was this; maybe if people thought she was a drug dealer herself, or was involved in dealing, there wouldn’t be as much sympathy for her and more understanding of why police had to enter her apartment by force. We all know a significant portion of America would just go “ahh, yeah, black woman = drug dealer, that makes sense.” And once you’ve done something wrong while black in America, you often forfeit your life in the minds of many. I call this the “No Angel” rule.
Oh, did I mention no drugs were ever found in Taylor’s apartment? So…yeah.
Also, maybe not everything has to be the climax to a big-budget cop movie? There may be reasons to use a battering ram to enter an apartment, but to serve a warrant to look for, presumably, drugs that you only suspect are inside in order to build a case against a drug dealer who doesn’t live there seems like a situation where a kind knock at the door will do. When suspects have nothing to hide, a simple “Hello, yes ma’am, we have this warrant to search the premises,” is often enough. How do I know? Because cops do it every damn day. What if she says no? Well then you escalate. Breonna Taylor wasn’t even given that option.
I know some of you are rolling your eyes. What business do I have critiquing the cops? I don’t know what the job is like. They just want to get home to their families. Yes I know. Probably not forcing police to barrel into someone’s apartment unannounced in the middle of the night in a state with a “stand your ground” law will help them not get killed? Think about it.
I’ve had many heartbreaking conversations with some of my black friends about how to handle the police interactions, which unfortunately are far more common for them than they are for me. More often that not, just being a black person in the wrong place at the wrong time is enough for them to end up in a life or death situation. What kind of freedom is that? What kind of fear do black Americans have to live in every day, even in the safety of their own? How free is THEIR America? We white people would never stand for this. Many of us are ready to drag out the guillotines over being asked to wear a mask!
I’ve only had rare encounters with police – one or two a year maybe. Most of them go off with no issue – such as the time when I was 17 years old, drunk and stoned, and I pissed in front of two cops on the platform of the Broad Channel, Queens subway station. The cops shook their head and walked away.
There was another instance when I was 25. I was waiting for a friend near a “hot-sheet motel” in Jackson Heights, Queens. I got antsy, parked the car and walked to meet him, but he wasn’t where we were due to meet. It was winter and cold and I walked back to the car. I paced the block several times in my car and on foot waiting impatiently, until finally I got stopped by two cops.
After a couple of questions about what I was doing – which I successfully bullshitted my way through. (I was waiting for my girlfriend “Amy,” she lived on the next block and she was taking forever and I was getting annoyed), they nicely explained to me that they were because of drug use at the nearby motel. We had a casual, friendly chat about how the motel did look seedy and I embellished on my story about how I was annoyed “Amy” was making me wait for her so closed to such a shady place. What if i got mugged? They laughed, told me they’d intervene if that happened and then told me to have a good night and left.
The truth was…There was no “Amy” and I was there for a sordid reason. I plead the Fifth on what that reason was, but my point is the cops took one look at me, saw a 25-year old white guy in dress pants and a blazer, and decided I wasn’t who they were looking for. I wasn’t a suspect and my fabricated story was believable. Even though anyone who knows anything about the illegal drug market in New York could tell I fit the profile of someone coming to buy a gram of coke from a dealer at the motel – or meeting a pimp for a night with one of his girls.
A white dude dressed in business casual clothes on Friday at 10pm in Jackson Heights on a cold winter night? It takes a lot of privilege for that not to raise eyebrows. No one battered into my home in the dead of night. No one searched me or my car. No one pointed a gun in my face. Just a simple “stay safe and have a good night.”
Because to those cops, my life mattered. I wish we lived in a country where the lives of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Rayshad Brooks, Daniel Prude, Atatiana Jefferson, Aura Rosser, Stephon Clark, Alton Sterling, Botham Jean, Philando Castile, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Akai Gurley, Tanisha Anderson and Tamir Rice mattered just as much.