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Breonna Taylor and America’s wanton disregard for Black lives

A memorial in Louisville, Ky., pictured Sept. 23, with a portrait of Breonna Taylor, who was shot and killed by Louisville police on March 13 when they rammed in the door of her apartment after midnight to execute a search warrant.
A memorial in Louisville, Ky., pictured Sept. 23, with a portrait of Breonna Taylor, who was shot and killed by Louisville police on March 13 when they rammed in the door of her apartment after midnight to execute a search warrant.Xavier Burrell/NYT

The country made a commodity of Breonna Taylor. It’s always exploited Black lives.

A $12 million settlement with her family in a wrongful death lawsuit was cheaper for Louisville than it would be to charge and indict any cop for killing the 26-year-old. Buying, selling, using, and abusing Black bodies is America’s oldest business.

To acknowledge our humanity and right to justice would cost liberation and equity. But that would threaten supremacy.

So Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron stood up in front of America and called the killing of Taylor a tragedy while holding no one accountable except protesters.

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“Justice sought by violence is not justice,” he warned. The occupant of the White House later restated this quote while celebrating Cameron as “a star.”

They’re right about that. Justice sought by violence is not justice. Which is why we never should have thought the American government could provide justice to Taylor’s family. Kentucky’s attorney general may be Black, but he is complicit in a system designed to use brutalization and incarceration to enforce law and order.

They will tell protesters to be peaceful and call their killers patriots and just. Donald Trump won’t commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the presidency. He expects peace from the disenfranchised and threatens military violence if he doesn’t get it.

This is our American life and Taylor’s American death.

Ex-officer Brett Hankison has been charged with first-degree wanton endangerment charges –– but not for Taylor’s killing. He’s already out on $15,000 bail for recklessly firing through a glass patio door and endangering the family in a neighboring apartment. The pregnant woman, man, and child in that home were unharmed. Drywall and glass were damaged. You know, property?

The other two officers, not charged, were Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove. It was Cosgrove who unloaded the fatal shot that killed Taylor. They considered her a “soft target.”

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The police believed she was home alone. She wasn’t violent or a criminal. No drugs were found in her home. They already knew her ex-boyfriend, the actual suspect, was not there and did not live there. He had been arrested elsewhere that same night.

So why did they show up with a battering ram? Why bust down her door after knocking for a minute? Police found one lone witness to back up claims that they announced themselves, despite numerous accounts that say otherwise.

The police defense hinges on the fact that Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, opened fire when they entered. Walker was licensed to carry a gun and believed the plainclothes officers beating down his door after midnight were burglars. A 911 call released after the incident registered his confusion, as he said “I don’t know what happened ... somebody kicked in the door and shot my girlfriend.”

If someone bursts into your home right now, you have the right to defend yourself. Unless you are Black.

“I think it is worth repeating again that our investigation found that Mattingly and Cosgrove were justified in their use of force after having been fired upon by Kenneth Walker,” Cameron, unqualified yet on Donald Trump’s short list for Supreme Court justices, said on Wednesday.

Worth. They count it in dollars and cents. $12 million to erase their slaughter of Breonna Taylor and never convict her killers. $8.25 million for Aiyana Stanley-Jones. $6 million for Tamir Rice. $3 million for Philando Castile. $6 million for Massachusetts native Danroy “DJ” Henry. The cops who killed them walked free.

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The African American Policy Forum, founders of the #SayHerName campaign, know cash isn’t justice.

“A settlement is not and cannot be a substitute for accountability and justice,” the group said in a public statement Wednesday. "Justice requires dismantling the systems that allow police to terrorize, brutalize, and kill Black people.”

We can start with enacting The Breathe Act, supported by Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley and led by the Movement for Black Lives, a coalition of more than 150 organizations.

The proposed legislation aims to divest federal resources from incarceration and policing, allocate money to building healthy and equitable communities, hold political leaders accountable, and invest in noncarceral approaches to community safety.

We need to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020, introduced by Representative Karen Bass. It limits qualified immunity, makes it easier to convict cops, and creates a national registry of police misconduct.

Much like the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court did last week, the bill seeks to create a legal framework that makes racial profiling illegal.

We need to acknowledge that police violence is gun violence, too. It is easy to see thrown water bottles, busted windows, and fires as violence. So why is it hard to call a murder a murder when the killer is a cop?

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Two officers were shot Wednesday night as protests rose in Louisville. Both are in stable condition. One suspect is already in custody. There will be no confusion about whether to charge the shooter.

Shooting police is not the path to justice. It’s scary. It’s brutal. It’s a mirror of what’s done to us.

Unfortunately violence and money are America’s native tongue. The language of freedom is too expensive.


Jeneé Osterheldt can be reached at jenee.osterheldt@globe.com and on Twitter @sincerelyjenee.