by M. Anthony Davis
The family of Breonna Taylor will receive $12 million in a settlement with the City of Louisville, and it is important to remind ourselves that this monetary win in court does not mean any significant level of justice has been served. The police who killed Taylor are still free, and even with the family being awarded $12 million, the police officers responsible for her death have not been held accountable. The police department itself has also managed to evade any significant level of accountability.
But you know who will pay the price for Taylor’s murder? The people of Louisville. The ordinary citizens like you and me. The people who go to work, pay their taxes, and somehow manage to do their jobs without murdering anyone in the process. There are a lot of words that can be used to describe situations like this, but justice is not one of them.
I understand that the settlement came with changes to policing in Louisville. These include a housing credit for cops who live in the areas they serve, the use of social workers on certain police runs, and the requirement of commanders to review and approve search warrants before seeking judicial approval. The City also banned the use of no-knock warrants on June 11. All of these changes are positive steps toward increasing public safety, but how much credit does the City deserve for doing the right thing? Especially when all of these steps are so easy to implement. None of these changes are particularly outlandish and none of these steps will put an end to the underlying issue: police are killing Black people with impunity. And I don’t just mean individual officers — I mean police departments as a whole.
The $12 million awarded to Taylor’s family is the largest settlement the City of Louisville has ever paid. But when cities are forced to pay settlements on behalf of police officers instead of passing the financial burden onto individual cops or police departments, we are charging taxpayers for the misconduct of the police force. Why should it be on us to pick up the bill when one of us gets murdered by cops?
The idea that the public needs to be responsible for the malfeasance of police officers is ridiculous. Where is the justice in a system that charges citizens when cops wrongfully murder citizens? We are literally paying them to kill us. This injustice is amplified in current times when we are witnessing “defund the police” movements emerging in nearly every major city in the country. Local governments are not only ignoring demands by the public to defund law enforcement agencies, but in some cases they are doubling down by allowing bloated police budgets to move forward even as cops continue to cost taxpayers millions in settlements.
In Louisville, the 2020–2021 council-approved budget for the Louisville Metro Police Department is $187 million. In comparison, Public Health & Wellness is allocated $22 million and the Office for Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods receives $1 million. The police already receive the biggest portion of the City’s budget, yet somehow when the City is sued on behalf of the police it becomes the City’s responsibility to find the settlement money.
This has to change.
It is important to give some credit to the City of Louisville for finally prohibiting the use of no-knock warrants. This is a significant step that prohibits the policy that directly led to Taylor’s death. But the policies that followed Taylor’s death fall short of creating the necessary accountability to deter cops from being so quick to take our lives. We need to put an end to qualified immunity. We must be allowed to hold cops accountable for their actions. It should not be up to the public to cover the cost of lawsuits filed because cops have killed members of the public. In major cities, where the police already take the biggest portion of budgets, we need the ability to hold them accountable for their actions.
I’m happy to see a record breaking settlement in the death of a Black woman, but I would much rather have Breonna Taylor’s life. She didn’t have to die. There are so many of us who didn’t have to die. What we need is not inflated settlement checks that burden city budgets that are already dwindling due to COVID. What we need is justice. And how can we even imagine justice when the cops responsible for her death still haven’t even been arrested?
M. Anthony Davis (Mike Davis) is a local journalist covering arts, culture, and sports.