A step forward for justice took place in the United States on August 4. US Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that four Louisville, Kentucky police officers had violated 26-year-old Breonna Taylor’s civil rights, when they shot her dead as she lay sleeping on March 13, 2020.
“Justice for Breonna Taylor” became a national demand of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and the anti-police violence movement.
Taylor should be alive
Garland said not only had the cops violated Taylor’s constitutional rights, but they also knew the allegations listed in the indictments would lead to a dangerous situation — one that “resulted in Ms Taylor’s death”.
The four current and former police officers have been arrested: Kelly Goodlett, Joshua Jaynes, Kyle Meany and Brett Hankison face years in prison, if convicted.
Taylor was a young Black woman and emergency room medical technician serving the community at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Her “crime” was being born Black and being targeted — like all Black people — by the police for allegedly having a drug dealer living in her apartment. It was never true.
“Breonna Taylor should still be alive,” Garland told a media conference outside the Justice Department’s headquarters in Washington, DC.
The police officer who killed Taylor, and those involved in the civil rights violations, had faced no state charges. In fact, only one cop was ever charged, for wildly shooting bullets through Taylor’s patio into her neighbour’s home. He was acquitted.
The community and movement for Black lives continued its protests and demands for justice. It called on the Federal Justice Department to act.
It took more than two years of public multiracial pressure to achieve this victory, in a state that voted for Donald Trump. As President, Trump attacked activists campaigning for Black lives and justice.
Mother waited 874 days
At a news conference after the indictments were issued, Tamika Palmer, Taylor’s mother, said that while the Justice Department’s action is satisfying, the circumstances of her daughter’s death at the hands of police remain painful.
“I’ve waited 874 days for today,” Palmer said, “and it’s here now”.
Ben Crump, one of the lawyers for Taylor’s family, called the federal charges “a huge step toward justice”.
“It’s about Breonna and all the other Breonnas across America,” he said.
Maurice Mitchell, a leader of the Movement for Black Lives, said the federal case against the police officers “proves that Breonna Taylor’s family, the community and our movement were right from the very beginning, despite being gaslit from local authorities and others”.
He expressed hope that the Justice Department’s pursuit of cases involving killings by police officers or white vigilantes in 2020 — Ahmaud Arbery (in February), Breonna Taylor (March) and George Floyd (May) — “sends a message that you can’t kill Black people with impunity. There will be a cost”.
Jim Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police, said his organisation is working to ensure that the four police officers receive due process in the federal case. The so-called police “unions” have always defended cops who murder innocent Black people and the racist institution.
Crump, a national civil rights lawyer involved in most of the other police shooting cases and his fellow attorneys also denounced Kentucky Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron for declining to charge any officers. Cameron is the first African American to serve as Attorney General.
The election of President Joe Biden in 2020 — who advocates hiring 100,000 police nationally and rejects demands to defund police — did not slow down the fight for justice. His largest electoral bloc is the African American community. In the end, his Justice Department took positive action.
The lesson of the two-year battle for justice is the importance of grassroots organising, not relying on the two major parties or elected officials. It was the hallmark of the BLM movement, which remains active. It is what forced the Justice Department to investigate the Louisville police department and finally issue indictments.
The civil rights violation charges and arrests are a significant victory, but the trials will decide if any of the four police officers will be convicted. It rarely happens. The police convictions for George Floyd’s murder were only the result of mass protests — the most sustained movement since the 1960s.
Since Black men and women continue to be shot and brutalised by police every week somewhere in the US, the movement must remain vigilant. Its most left and militant wing must continue to educate and demand radical changes to the policing, criminal justice and mass prison incarceration system and win justice for its victims.