OPINION: No Justice for Breonna, Only “Justification”

by M. Anthony Davis

Former Louisville detective Brett Hankison, one of the officers involved in the murder of Breonna Taylor, was charged today with three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment. The other involved officers, Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly and Detective Myles Cosgrove, were not charged with any crimes.

Brett Hankison, the lone cop facing charges, was not actually charged with Taylor’s murder. He was charged with wanton endangerment for firing the bullets that entered an adjoining apartment. None of the bullets fired in Taylor’s apartment, or into Taylor herself, led to any criminal charges. So a no-knock warrant led to the unnecessary murder of an innocent citizen and the only charges filed are for bullets that entered an adjoining apartment. Had those bullets hit Taylor instead of entering her neighbor’s apartments, Hankison wouldn’t be facing any charges at all. 

I’ll let that sink in.

In the days leading up to the announcement of these charges, reports began coming from Louisville that hinted at this outcome. First it was reported that Louisville police officers were canceling vacation days and issuing a state of emergency in preparation for the announcement. Then it was reported that Louisville police were setting up barriers in downtown Louisville to prepare for riots. It was impossible to shake the feeling that the City was knowingly preparing for a decision that would outrage the community. 

When Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron spoke to the press Wednesday, he urged the public to not be swayed by celebrities, influencers, or activists who do not “understand the facts” of the case. He also said that the use of force by officers Mattingly and Cosgrove was “justified.” AG Cameron cited Kentucky law that states both officers were within their right to use deadly force once they were fired upon by Taylor’s boyfriend Kenneth Walker, who was also in Taylor’s apartment at the time the warrant was executed. 

This “justification” highlights one of many flaws in the legal system that aids police officers in cases where citizens are killed. The officers entered Taylor’s apartment on March 13 with a search warrant for a drug suspect. However, the man they were looking for did not live in Taylor’s apartment. In fact, that man had already been arrested hours earlier and was currently in police custody. When police batter-rammed the door to Taylor’s apartment, Walker used his legally owned handgun to fire a single shot at what he perceived to be intruders. The officers returned more than 20 shots, killing Taylor in the process. 

Instead of these events leading to an investigation into how the police went to the wrong apartment, how it was possible the police didn’t know the intended suspect was already in custody, why they were using no-knock warrants in the first place, or why a single shot led to more than 20 shots in return — officers instead immediately arrested Walker and charged him with attempted murder of a police officer and aggravated assault. There was no consideration for the circumstance of Walker and Taylor being in bed sleep when police officers entered the apartment unannounced to search for a man who was already in police custody. There was no consideration of self-defense. Just an immediate arrest and a justification for a murder that seems to hinge on a series of mistakes and miscommunications by the police. 

And now, more than six months later, the fate of the three officers has finally been announced. Even with the glaring inconsistencies and egregious mistakes made by the police, we have arrived at the conclusion that many of us expected the whole time. No murder charges will be filed. It doesn’t make it right. It doesn’t make it hurt any less. It unfortunately just makes it feel typical. As if this very injustice is what our legal system was created to do.  

This is a legal system that paid $12 Million in a wrongful death civil case, then ruled that same death justified in criminal court. Which means tax payers paid the price for Taylor’s murder in one court, while the police department has escaped guilt for the same exact crime in another court. Somehow in this tragedy where Breonna Taylor lost her life, Kenneth Walker was arrested — and even Jamarcus Glover, Taylor’s ex-boyfriend, was arrested — before any of the cops involved were arrested. Charges against Walker and Glover were ultimately dropped, but that’s not an example of justice being served. The fact that they were charged in the first place only shows how far police departments are willing to go to escape accountability and how our legal system supports officers seeking to evade accountability for their actions. 

In the end, a Black woman was killed and the only party being held accountable are the taxpayers in Louisville who were left with a $12 Million bill for police misconduct. Two of the involved officers will walk free and the third will face a class D felony (for mistakenly firing bullets into the wall of neighboring apartments), which is the class that also includes shoplifting and stealing mail. It is highly unlikely he will spend even a night in prison.

This shows the value of Black life in America. This shows how unprotected and disposable we truly are. I wish I could say this surprised me. I wish I could say I expected more. The only thing this leaves me with is a question:

How can the same system that killed Breonna Taylor be trusted to provide justice for any of us?

M. Anthony Davis (Mike Davis) is a local journalist covering arts, culture, and sports.

The featured image is attributed to Terence Faircloth under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.