Lest We Forget: Breonna Taylor

“Is Turing Over in Her Grave!”

The saga and aftermath of Breonna Taylor’s story told from the perspective of an Adventist Pastor, living in Louisville Kentucky.

What a strange thing to say, “Breonna Taylor, is turning over in her grave,” especially, coming from a Seventh-Day Adventist Pastor. After all, since one of “28 Fundamental Doctrinal Beliefs” is the “State of the Dead.” Adventists believe that death is a state of unconscious sleep until the resurrection. This belief is based on several texts like Ecclesiastes 9:5 which states, “the dead know nothing” and I Thessalonians 4:4-17, which talks about the first resurrection of the dead.

So, how then can I say, “Breonna Taylor is turning over in her grave?”

Serving the historic Magazine Street SDA Church, founded and established in 1890 in Louisville, Kentucky, I believe Breonna Taylor would turn over because after eleven months there has still been no justice for her. Violated and murdered in the privacy of her home Breonna is another victim of police violence.

The phrase “Turning over in One’s Grave,” is synonymous to persons sleeping uncomfortably “rolling around in one’s bed.”

The expression turning in one’s grave is an idiom that describes a level of unrest, shock, and surprise that would cause even a dead person to take notice.

This hyperbolic figure of speech also speaks sociologically to the disgust, horror, dismay and anger of a deceased person if they were alive to hear of certain news, or actions.

The sanctity of Black Lives

“The voice of your brother’s blood (our sister) is crying to me from the ground (Genesis 4:10).” What hast thou done?

This text is referring to the “Cry of Abel’s Blood” at the murderous hands of his brother Cain. Human violence, however, did not stop with this biblical story of homicide, fratricide, and sororicide.

The Cain and Abel story is a precursor to the murders of the many countless young and innocent black lives where there has been “No Justice” on their behalf. The Criminal Justice System in America has failed to avenge the innocent bloodshed of such persons as Rayshard Brooks (27), Daniel Prude (41), George Floyd (46), Atatianna Jefferson (28), Aura Rosser (40), Stephon Clark (22), Botham Jean (26), Philando Castille (32), Alton Sterling (37), Michelle Cusseaux (50), Freddie Gray (25), Janisha Fonville (20), Eric Garner (43), Akai Gurley (28),  Gabriella Nevarez (22), Tamir Rice (12), Michael Brown (18), and Tanisha Anderson (37). These are just a few of the Black Americans who have been killed by police. There are many, many more, including Breonna Taylor (26).

The premature death of these victims are still crying out to God, and society remains in a desperate plea for a reckoning and justice. No wonder, they are restless in their graves.

How would Breonna Taylor feel, if she were alive today?

I am sure, if Breonna Taylor were alive today, she would be horrified and greatly disturbed (like so many of us were) over the grand jury’s decision, not charging any officers with her death. I wrote about my disappointment in this verdict in an “Open Letter” to City Officials and the Mayor’s Office, expressing my displeasure on behalf of the Magazine Street Church and the community of the West End citizenry, wherein the church is located. Many were applauded and shocked that none of the three White police officers were indicted or charged for her death. To make matters worse, the grand jury’s decision was guided and led by an African American Attorney General of the State of Kentucky, Daniel Cameron, who served as “special prosecutor.”

Breonna Taylor turned over, when she saw a Black man speaking with interposition and nullification of her rights to life, liberty, and happiness.

Recap Miss Taylor’s Last Moments of Life

Three police officers, Johnathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison, and Myles Cosgrove arrived at Breonna Taylor’s apartment after obtaining a “no-knock” search warrant. This warrant was obtained because of the Louisville Police Department’s investigation into Taylor’s ex-boyfriend, Jamarcus Glover who had been suspected of selling illegal drugs. At the time of her death, Breonna Taylor was in relationship with Kenneth Walker.

Kenneth Walker and Breonna Taylor were asleep at Taylor’s apartment when the police arrived shortly after midnight.

While LMPD (Louisville Metro Police Department) states that they “knocked on the door several times and announced their presence as police,” this was heavily contested by Kenneth Walker and others.

Walker and Taylor were awakened by a banging at her apartment door, and were, at first, concerned that the knocking was Taylor’s ex-boyfriend. According to Walker’s testimony, both he and Breonna called out to ask who was at the door, but after no response and the door being broken down, Kenneth Walker fired his gun once.

This shot hit officer Jonathan Mattingly in the thigh. In response, the officers fired several shots, with Brett Hankinson “firing ten rounds blindly into the apartment.” Breonna Taylor was shot five times and died shortly after the event.

“No Justice!”

For months, none of the officers faced any charges or disciplines for killing Taylor. June of 2020, Brett Hankinson was fired from his position at LMPD, and in September he was indicted by a grand jury on three counts of wanton endangerment. It had been reported that these charges are not in relation to the death of Breonna Taylor, but rather to the fact that he fired ten rounds blindly into the apartment. Both Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove remained employed by LMPD and were not charged, despite the investigation finding that Cosgrove fired the shots that killed Taylor.

The Kentucky Attorney General (Daniel Cameron), who served as a “special prosecutor” stated the officers were “justified to protect themselves and the justification bars us from  pursuing criminal charges.”

In late October (2020), Jonathan Mattingly filed a lawsuit against Kenneth Walker with the claim that he had committed battery and assault, and caused him emotional distress. The suit argues that Walker “willingly or malicious” fired at the officer.

“Say Her Name!”

At the time of her death, Breonna Taylor had been working full-time as an ER technician. Before this, she worked as an EMT. She was 26 years old with plans for the future, including buying a house and becoming more serious with her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker.

She had no criminal record yet she was shot and killed by police in her own home. For months, her name was chanted at protests of the Black Lives Matter Movement as people petitioned for her to receive justice.

A shrine and mural was created in her honor in the downtown area of Louisville at Jefferson Square Park, where many came to cry into one another’s arms and chant, “Say Her Name!”

Lest We Forget

Now, her story has died down in coverage from mainstream media, regardless of the fact that no officers were ever charged for her death. The idea that the police are able to shoot a completely innocent Black woman and not be held accountable is a scary reality. It shows the injustice that takes place in American criminal justice system every day.

Ask yourself the question: Were the police officers’ actions in Breonna Taylor’s case justified on the grounds of self-defense?

National and Community Outraged

People across the country and in the Community of Louisville Kentucky are still outraged that no police officers were charged with killing Breonna Taylor. But people should not be shocked! For years, the cries of protesters have made it noticeably clear: “You cannot reform a system that is working the way it was designed to.”

In other words, the law itself places Breonna Taylor’s life below the “duty” of the police officers who entered her property on March 13th. Thus, making the police officers “justified” in their actions because the law, and those sworn to uphold the law, make it so. The criminal justice system is inherently designed to protect law enforcement officers, rather than serving justice in a system that has been systemically cruel to Black lives. That’s enough to make anyone “turn over in one’s grave.”

Making Matters Worse

So much for reform. For months, Ms. Taylor’s family pleaded for justice pushing for criminal charges against the other officers. Breonna Taylor’s story drew national attention in May of 2020, and became the center of attention for campaigns from several celebrities and athletes, keeping Breonna Taylor’s name in the spotlight.

In September, Louisville officials agreed to pay $12 million to settle a wrongful-death lawsuit brought by Ms. Taylor’s mother to reform and to institute reforms aimed at preventing future deaths by officers.

Fast Forward

Today, the trust between police and many in the Black community has frayed since Taylor’s death. It even sparked months of protests, potentially even police reforms in the firing of longtime chief, Steve Conrad and two interim chiefs. Albeit some reforms did come about at the leadership of Former LMPD assistant chief Yvette Gentry (an African American Woman) as interim Chief Officer. In the words of Mayor Fischer, he stated that Chief Gentry brought the city through, “one of the city’s lowest points, you stood up, you stepped forward, and you help lead Louisville out of the darkness and toward the light…we are better for your service.”

Still, critics say progress in the Breonna Taylor’s case has been slow, especially when compared with the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis where officers were swiftly fired and charged.

Since the national demonstration over police brutality calling for reforms and defunding of the police and systemic racism, Louisville officials have banned the use of no-knock warrants which allow the police to forcibly enter people’s homes to search without warning.

In addition, in January 2021, two more officers involved in the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor had been fired, but no one charged for her death.

A New Sheriff in Town

However, the announcement came ironically moments after city officials announced the hiring of a new Chief of LMPD (which she happens to be white), after months of unrest over Taylor’s death.

Who is the New Chief? Her name is Erika Shields.

She severed in Atlanta Georgia, for 25 years, including more than three years as Chief of Police in Atlanta. Her tenured ended when she resigned in June after Atlanta officers fatally shot a Black man named Rayshard Brooks in a fast food parking lot.

Shields will be the fourth person to lead the police force in Kentucky’s largest city since Taylor’s was shot.

Many of Louisville residents were upset over the hiring of Shield’s at the helm. Shields was the unanimous pick of a panel tasked with selecting a new chief.

And as we come upon a month that celebrates the lives and contributions of women, all I hear is Breonna’s blood is crying from the ground. Many are wondering, how can you rebuild community trust when the new chief hired was engulfed in controversy over the killing of another black person, under her watch, and then resigned in another city?

Erika Shields’s hire has been met with unbelief and skepticism from some social justice activists, protesters, and concerned citizens of Louisville. Many wonder aabout Shield’s leadership during Brook’s death and how she is now being ask to lead this city and community out of the wake of the death of Breonna Taylor’s saga and aftermath.

For Breonna’s family, and for a society that claims it wants to do better by Black lives, questions linger. How many years behind bars would have been sufficient retribution for Taylor’s life? What would the arrest of Brett Hankinson, Mattingly, and Cosgrove really mean for the hundreds of other cops who have taken the lives of other Black people just last year? What would it mean for the families of victims whose names haven’t risen to national prominence? These are questions America is grappling with as we consider what is justice in a criminal system that has been systematically cruel to Black and Brown people of Color.

Can Breonna Taylor rest in peace? Maybe or maybe not? As the saying goes, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” R.I.P. Breonna Taylor.

More from Dr. George E. Thornton Sr.

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