On June 19, three months after Louisville, Kentucky police murdered Breonna Taylor in her own home, the city finally announced it is taking initial steps to fire one of the three police who sprayed her apartment with bullets.
Taylor was a 26-year-old Black emergency room technician. Just after midnight on March 13, the Louisville Metro Police Department obtained a “no knock warrant” to immediately raid and search her apartment. At least five cops participated. They came in plainclothes while Taylor and her boyfriend Kenneth Walker were in bed, and they used a battering ram to break down the door. The police insist that they knocked and identified themselves in spite of getting a no knock warrant, but Walker and multiple neighbors testify they did not.
When the police burst in, Taylor and Walker believed they were being burglarized, and Walker fired one shot with his licensed handgun in self-defense, hitting one cop in the thigh. During the incident, he called 911 and said, “Somebody kicked in the door and shot my girlfriend.” After Walker fired one shot, three of the cops fired more than 20 bullets into the apartment. They hit six different rooms of Taylor’s home, and bullets passed into the neighboring apartment where a mother and her five-year-old child were at home. The police hit Taylor with eight bullets, and she died— a clear police murder of a woman who was sleeping in her own home.
After months of increasing public outrage, the new Police Chief Rob Schroeder and Mayor Greg Fischer finally presented Officer Brett Hankison with a letter of intent to fire him from the LMPD. Hankison had fired 10 rounds. The LMPD admits that he shot “wantonly and blindly” through a covered patio door and a window with no view of whom he was shooting at. On June 11, the city council passed what it called Breonna’s Law — an ordinance banning future no knock warrants and requiring police to wear body cameras when carrying out warrants, which the narcotics squad that killed Taylor did not do.
Firing Hanikson is not Enough
Authorities have chosen to do the minimum possible in response to Taylor’s murder, hoping to pacify some critics and move on with few real consequences. The decision to fire Hankison raises many sharp questions:
- Why is Officer Brett Hankison not charged with murder, and why are the other two cops who sprayed Taylor’s apartment with bullets neither charged nor fired?
- The day Taylor was killed, then-Chief Steve Conrad (removed over the subsequent killing of Black restaurant owner David McAtee during protests) told the media the LMPD did not know whether she had been armed, how many shots were fired at cops, or how many shots the cops fired at Taylor and Walker. Why was the police chief permitted to lie about easily proven facts to cover for officers? Why are there no consequences for these lies? Conrad called both Taylor and Walker suspects even though the police search found nothing illegal in Taylor’s home and the actual “suspect” had already been apprehended at the time police shot her. These lies allowed the police to arrest Walker and charge him with attempted murder. Prosecutors dropped the fabricated charge only after two months of public mobilizations
- The LMPD wrote an Incident/Investigation report on Taylor’s death that is literally blank except for naming the three cops who fired, stating that there was “no bias” motive in the killing, and, written under the Notes/Narratives section merely “PIU [Public Integrity Unit] Investigation.” In a warrant application for the home immediately after the shooting, the LMPD wrote that police had “struck the subject” who fired at them, another lie. Why was the department permitted to give false reports on the shooting that served to cover up police actions?
- The three officers who shot into Taylor’s home have been suspended. But they have all continued to receive their paychecks. A city lawyer has ruled that their salaries cannot be cut off without further investigation. This attorney, Annele Taylor, objected to public condemnation of the killer cops. She wrote on June 15, “There is disputable evidence as to whether misconduct occurred.” Why have public officials been allowed to use vague dismissals to cover for this brutal murder?
- The decision to fire Hankison is subject to an astonishing review process that allows police to resist firings for brutality. Hankison and his lawyer were allowed to present a defense at a “predetermination meeting” before the police chief, who ruled against him. Now they are allowed to appeal to the so-called “Police Merit Board” of five people appointed by the mayor and two people elected by the police force. The city police union claims this process is “to ensure everyone gets their right to due process.” Shockingly, Brett Hankison himself is one of the two elected cop members of the “Police Merit Board.” He is unlikely to preside at his own appeal, but it is unclear whether he will be replaced with another cop. Hankison has been previously accused of several dozen acts of brutality and misconduct, including sexual assault. The fact that the police force elected such a person as their representative shows that police brutality and racism are not about exceptional “bad apples.” Other openly brutal cops have been elected by their fellow officers in cities including Minneapolis and Chicago. This board has the power to stop a firing and give an alternative penalty. While this process is going on, the police chief and the mayor are legally banned from speaking outside the hearings about the case against a cop. Why is it easier for many workers to be fired for being late to work than for a cop to be fired for murdering a Black woman? Can a mayor seriously say he wants to have accountability and reform for the police and then consent to follow such a nakedly corrupt law designed to shield police from scrutiny?
- Protesters have asked why police decided to search Taylor’s apartment at one o’clock in the morning. Even more disturbingly, police got their warrant simply by telling a judge that Taylor allowed her ex-boyfriend Jamarcus Glover to pick up packages mailed for him to her home. Police said Glover was a drug dealer. They said that Taylor was guilty by association for allowing him to get mail at her home. And then they asked for the no knock warrant because, “these drug traffickers” have a history of monitoring for incoming police, destroying evidence and fleeing. Who are “these drug traffickers?” Will anyone believe that police would have been able to get a warrant in this way against a white healthcare worker? Police located Glover to arrest him ten miles away from Taylor’s house shortly before they broke into her home. Despite portraying Glover as a big time drug pusher, they caught him with merely “several ounces of suspected crack cocaine [and] marijuana.” (What is hidden by counting them together?) The operation that led to Taylor’s death poured untold police hours and deadly force into catching an alleged small scale seller of recreational drugs. Meanwhile, police took it on themselves to call Breonna Taylor a drug dealer over some closed packages and then murder her. Did this happen because of one inappropriately aggressive cop, or was the system to blame? Will authorities admit that the police and judges use the War on Drugs as an excuse to target and destroy Black people’s lives?
The explosive nature of the current Black Lives Matter protests have forced prosecutors to press charges when they are too afraid to go about business as usual. Prosecutors in Georgia had to press charges for murder against both the police killers of Rayshard Brooks and the racist vigilantes who killed Ahmaud Arberry while he was jogging. The movement needs to force authorities, specifically Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who is now in charge of the case, to charge all three of the cops who shot Breonna Taylor with murder.
We have heard politicians and companies say they respect workers for doing vital jobs during the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet the U.S. system did almost nothing to stop the virus as it hit Black and Latino communities several times harder than whites. Bosses everywhere said they were going to treat health care workers as heroes. What about Breonna Taylor? She was both an innocent Black woman and a hospital worker, and officials have been accomplices to the cops who killed her.