ROUNDUP WEEK 17 – SEPTEMBER 25, 2020
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We’re drafting this Wednesday afternoon, sick to our stomachs, after the nation has gotten the news that Breonna Taylor’s killers will not be indicted for her murder. No one will face any repercussions for killing her in her bed while she was sleeping.
You may have read that one officer, Brett Hankinson, would face criminal consequences for his behavior that night, which isn’t untrue. He will be indicted for three counts of Wanton Endangerment, a Class D felony that falls in the same category as unauthorized use of a credit card involving a sum of money between $500 and $1,000, stalking in the first degree, or possession of a controlled substance. However, that charge isn’t for endangering Breonna Taylor; it’s for endangering her neighbors when he fired rounds that damaged the drywall of the neighboring apartment. Seriously. “BT”’s initials aren’t even listed on the charging documents.
We want to be very clear here. None of this is justice. But that’s not what we were asking for.
Nothing short of Brett Hankinson, Myles Cosgrove, and Jonathan Mattingly NEVER ENTERING Breonna Taylor’s home, NEVER SHOOTING their guns will ever be justice. Nothing short of Breonna being alive, healthy, and happy today will ever be justice. Nothing short of Black people living without fear that they could be killed at any moment by an act of racist violence, and Black women, particularly, knowing that they are safe and valued in this world, will ever be justice. There is no such thing as justice when someone is killed in an act of racist violence. There is no such thing as justice in a world built upon a framework of white supremacy culture.
However, what we were hoping for, in some form or fashion, was true accountability. A message that officers with badges could not kill someone sleeping in her bed and get away with it. A message that, in the criminal punishment system, there is room to hold its own actors accountable when they do so, so much harm. Yesterday, Kentucky’s Attorney General, explained to the world that The Law places officers’ “duty” over Breonna Taylor’s life.
We’re normally very anti-trauma porn and in full transparency, we feel weird even putting this here but we think that this is an important listen for anyone who might still be skeptical of just how horrific this is. Kenneth Walker, Breonna Taylor’s boyfriend, called 911 after the cops shot her because even within his home, he knew that the cops would not render aid. He knew that the system made to “protect and serve” would do quite the opposite in this, the worst moment of his life.
We want to be wary of shouting “vote, vote, vote” into the void, when we know so many people have been stripped of their voting rights and that November’s election will have more to do with widespread voter suppression efforts than any conscious decisions not to vote. However, we want to put something important about Breonna Taylor’s case in perspective:
Daniel Cameron, the Attorney General who refused to press criminal charges against the three officers responsible for Breonna Taylor’s death, was an elected official at the local level. Attorneys General and District Attorneys/Solicitors are almost always elected (and if not, they’re appointed by an elected official). When we say voting matters at a local level, this is what we mean. Cameron, a close friend/mentee of KY Senator/Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is on 45’s short list for potential SCOTUS appointees and was selected to speak at the Republican National Convention.
While Attorneys General/District Attorneys are elected & we encourage all of our readers to consider the most antiracist candidates for these local and state elected officials, the very existence of these roles in the criminal punishment system can hardly be separated from their close ties to the police. And the very existence of police today is entirely linked to the inventions of Slave Patrols and Night Watches. DAs and AGs are wholly complicit in the perpetuation of a system of policing that prioritizes the theater of “safety” (read: keeping white communities, particularly middle and upper income white communities, feeling protected from Black and Brown outsiders), while actively seeking out “criminal activity” in Black and Brown neighborhoods.
District Attorneys and Attorneys General charge officers with murder after they kill civilians in less than one percent (1%) of cases. In fact, since this data began being recorded, only 110 police officers have been charged with murder or manslaughter for killing a civilian, while each year over 1000 people are shot by police nationwide, which doesn’t even account for other forms of police killings (& only 42 of those 110 officers were ever convicted!). This is what we mean when we say that the problem is systemic: the entire criminal punishment apparatus is built to protect only the values that (wealthy) (white) people in positions of power have deemed important, treating lower income communities, particularly Black and Brown communities, as though their wellbeing is expendable.
In the Breonna Taylor case, her family’s lawyers remind us that her home was targeted in a scheme to “clean up” “criminal” neighborhoods as part of a broader gentrification effort to pave the way for a large real estate deal. They write, “Breonna’s home should never have had police there in the first place. When the layers are peeled back, the origin of Breonna’s home being raided by police starts with a political need to clear out a street for a large real estate development project and finishes with a newly formed, rogue police unit violating all levels of policy, protocol and policing standards.” What this really means is that, in the pursuit of making Breonna Taylor’s neighborhood palatable for white developers who wanted to build an apartment complex comfortable for white residents, the cops were willing to launch a massive operation to catch a few potential low-level drug dealers. What this really really means is that, in not holding her killers accountable, the legal system has said that this pursuit of comfort for white folks is ultimately more important than Breonna Taylor’s Black life. This conflation of the value of property over the value of a person is only further confirmed by the charging documents, which place the shots that hit the neighbors’ drywall, not the shots that hit her body, as the ones for which Brett Hankinson will face consequences.
You might be ready to peck an angry reply to this message to tell us that your cousin is a prosecutor and she got into that field to protect her community and that she is good and kind. You might be yearning to say, “the non-indictment of those cops that killed Breonna Taylor was horrible but not ALL prosecutors are like that” or “not ALL cops kill!” And you would be right that there are many kind, considerate individuals that serve in those roles. And those kind, considerate individuals are still part of a larger structure that has been used to perpetuate systemic racism. Many of our loved ones are doing the best they can in roles that are rooted in racist structures. Many of us are doing the best we can and are still perpetuating racism so regularly. Because it is a system that is doing harm, a system of racism that we, as individuals, have a duty to interrupt at every possible opportunity.
We want to remind ourselves and everyone reading that this commitment to antiracism is not just a self-improvement project, it is not about our “goodness” or absolving our own morality. Racism is systemic — it is embedded in every system central to our daily lives and has been since the “creation” of race as a means of creating a racial hierarchy. We have to be willing to see it, name it, and work to uproot it, even when that means admitting our own complicity in the past or present. If our goal is ultimately to protect, uplift, and prioritize the joy of Black folks, we cannot look away when we feel overwhelmed. We created this space so that we could work through it together, honestly and earnestly, to betray white supremacy and the systems that uphold it.
SEE YOU SUNDAY!
SO, Sunday we will see you all at 7 PM EST to speak with the brilliant Lyric Swinton, cofounder of CityBright LLC and Secure the Ballot. Lyric will be giving us a full rundown of what different positions on our ballots mean, what various political roles do in our communities, and how to best support Black and Brown leadership and communities on your ballot. Please fill out this form with any questions you want us to ask Lyric if you can’t make it (Reminder: Patreon subscribers will have video/audio access to these calls even if they can’t attend!). You can support Lyric and her work, making voting more “accessible, understandable, and maybe even better” with Secure the Ballot by donating here.
Meeting ID: 406 309 7837
We love you; we’re cheering for you; we’re thankful for you.
Ellie and Emily