If there was a positive takeaway from the tragic death of George Floyd it’s that the continued scrutiny of his treatment at the hands of Minneapolis police has illuminated the circumstances surrounding the murky police killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville.
Taylor’s death, along with Floyd’s, has pushed to the forefront the issue of racial injustice and police reform amidst differing brands of justice being handed out depending upon the color of one’s skin.
Unlike the Floyd killing, which was captured on multiple cell phone videos by witnesses, much of Breonna Taylor’s death remains a mystery. It took place on March 13, during the midnight hour. Narcotics detectives wore street clothes. No badge cameras were utilized.
Taylor was shot and killed after Louisville Metro Police officers broke down her apartment door to serve a “no-knock” search warrant in connection with a narcotics investigation.
Police say they knocked and announced their presence, but Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, said he and Taylor didn’t know who was pounding on the door.
Breonna Taylor, 26, was not unlike millions of other Americans, in that it took her some years to figure out who she was and what life was about. Taylor was the daughter of a single teenage mother, and a father who has been incarcerated since she was a child.
Taylor attended college and trained as an Emergency Medical Technician (E.M.T.). She was considering nursing as a possible career goal. The hours and low pay forced her away from E.M.T. work, but she settled into the position of an emergency room technician.
On the day leading up to her death, Taylor had completed four overnight shifts at the hospital where she worked. She and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, went out to dinner that evening, then back to Taylor’s apartment to watch a movie in bed. Taylor drifted off to sleep just after midnight on March 13.
At that same time plain-clothed police officers were surveilling the apartment. They failed to recognize Taylor’s boyfriend had come home with her. They anticipated finding a single female alone in the apartment. This set in motion a series of miscalculations by police, where a failure to follow routine safeguards and protocols led to Taylor’s shooting death.
The question was did police need or have the right to be at Taylor’s door?
Police interest in Breonna Taylor stemmed from her involvement with a previous on-again, off-again boyfriend, Jamarcus Glover. Taylor had no police record and was never a target for inquiry.
Glover, 30, was in the drug game and had frequent run-ins with the law. This landed him in jail more than once. The attention Glover drew from law enforcement gave Taylor pause. This was a lifestyle seen routinely in Louisville’s segregated West End. It often ended in prison or on a medical examiners’ slab.
Yet Glover had listed at times his home address as the one at Breonna Taylor’s apartment. A GPS tracker on Glover’s vehicle showed he made regular trips to Taylor’s apartment complex, and surveillance photos showed her outside his house.
This connection led to Taylor being interviewed in a murder investigation. Taylor had rented a vehicle and provided it to Glover. Later another man was found shot dead inside the same vehicle. Taylor was also on record having paid or arranged bail for Glover and his associates.
Admittedly this entanglement between Taylor and Glover doesn’t look great. But most of this so-called evidence leading to probable cause is anecdotal. It’s a woman who had feelings for a bad boy and tried to help him when he got in trouble. Police construed it as hard evidence Taylor was in the dope game.
The department received a “no-knock” warrant to search for drugs or cash related to Glover’s drug trafficking operation. Prior to the raid the order was changed to “knock and announce,” meaning police had to identify themselves.
Nearing 1:00AM on March 13, police punched Breonna Taylor’s apartment door with a battering ram. Both Walker and Taylor were awakened by the pounding at the door. They screamed for the unknown visitors to identify themselves, but heard nothing in return.
When the door came off its hinges, Walker, fearing it was Glover or another violent intruder, reached for his 9mm handgun and let off what he characterized as a warning shot.
The bullet ricocheted off the floor and struck Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly in the thigh. He and Det. Myles Cosgrove returned fire. Another officer, Det. Brett Hankison, standing outside the apartment, blindly fired shots through Taylor’s window and patio door.
Taylor was hit five times and bled out on the floor, dying in her apartment hallway.
Det. Hankison has been fired, while Cosgrove and Mattingly remain on administrative reassignment.
Several investigations are under way including a federal civil rights inquiry. For reasons still unclear Louisville Metro Police and city officials have refused to release routine internal investigation details on the botched raid. This void created by a lack of any concrete details from police has led to tensions between the city’s African-American residents and police.
The family’s civil lawsuit, filed April 27, alleged Taylor’s life was wrongfully taken, that police used excessive force and that the search was grossly negligent.
An amended complaint filed two months later additionally claimed Taylor’s death was the result of Louisville police’s effort to clear out a block for gentrification and the newly formed Place-Based Investigations unit consisted of “rogue police” who violated “all levels of policy, protocol and policing standards.”
Taylor’s family alleged in the suit the warrant served at Taylor’s apartment was targeted at Jamarcus Glover, a convicted drug dealer who was located by police at a drug house 10 miles away before the warrant was served on Taylor’s residence.
Why police were looking at Breonna Taylor, how they were able to get a “no knock” warrant and the shabby way it was carried out all are endemic of racial inequality. Racism has never left this country. Instead it slowly poisons communities. African-Americans and other minorities bear witness to generations of discriminatory leadership from industry, the education sector, commerce and the judicial system.
Black residents in Louisville are in poorer health and have less income and far fewer economic opportunities.
Minority populations have been relegated to these impoverished neighborhoods, where they are cut off from basic necessities like groceries and adequate health care. It stymies their ability to find sustaining waged jobs and build wealth for future generations. Their schools are less than adequate and prospects after graduation are even worse.
Only 2.4 percent of businesses in Louisville are Black-owned. African-Americans are less likely to be ready for college upon graduation from high school, more likely to be searched by police during traffic stops and more likely to be unemployed.
Statewide, African-Americans are almost three times as likely to be incarcerated as white people, and more likely to be evicted from their homes.
The casino is holding all the cards, stacking the deck against minority betterment. Even within the police department itself, only 10 percent of the city’s 1,154 officers are Black, when African-Americans make up 25 percent of Louisville’s overall population.
It sadly takes the tragic death of a person like Breonna Taylor, and subsequent months of protests to shock the stacked system, and get city officials to feel sufficient community pressure to make change possible.
The conclusion to Breonna’s case is far from over. What we can do as a community and a nation is “Say Her Name,” and bring her justice.