Police Brutality is on the Ballot

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How Senator Kamala Harris Highlighted the Families and Victims of Police Brutality

Towards the end of the highly anticipated Vice Presidential Debate, moderator Susan Page asked the candidates, starting with Senator Kamala Harris, whether or not justice was served in the case of Breonna Taylor.

Justice for Breonna Taylor

Image for postOn March 13, 2020, 26-year old EMT worker Breonna Taylor was fatally shot in her Louisville, Kentucky apartment. Asleep when police officers Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison, and Myles Cosgrove of the Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) broke into her home for the purpose of a drug raid, Taylor’s boyfriend Kenneth Walker, a man with a license to carry, says the officers did not announce themselves and so he thought the officers were intruders. He fired a warning shot. According to officials that shot hit Mattingly in the leg. The officers subsequently fired 32 shots in return, 6 of which hit Taylor and she subsequently died. According to police, Taylor’s home was never searched.
A case concerning an innocent, unarmed Black woman serving as an essential worker during the COVID-19 pandemic, many around the country are outraged by the story. These feelings only intensified on September 25, 2020 when Attorney General Daniel Cameron announced that the grand jury decided that only one officer, Brett Hankinson, would be indicted for “wanton endangerment” because his shots went through the wall and into the neighboring apartment. Ultimately, no officers would be charged in the direct killing of Taylor, merely the potential endangerment of her neighbors.

Distress & Civil Unrest

Reports chronicle Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, was heard weeping after hearing the grand jury’s decision. In addition to her disappoint, CNN reports that “the grand jury’s ruling sparked protests as thousands walked the streets crying for justice from the afternoon hours well into the night in Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington DC.”

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People march for the third day since the release of the grand jury report on the death of Breonna Taylor on Sept. 26, 2020 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

These are the details that come to mind whenever the name Breonna Taylor is mentioned. To African Americans watching the Vice Presidential Debate, this is a sensitive case. Breonna Taylor is not a debate question. She is an all too familiar reality. She is paralyzing truth that Black people in America cannot even sleep without the burden of suspicion of guilt. Such a reality has many pained, even angry and afraid. It is these emotions that national president for the NAACP Derrick Johnson believes “we must channel to change the system and get the right people in office in order to prevent this from happening again.”

The Affects of a Black VP

With this in mind, it is critical that Americans understand that police brutality is on the ballot. Debate moderator Susan Page understands this and so she asked the question, “in the case of Breonna Taylor was justice done?”

In this moment, Senator Kamala Harris, former California District Attorney, second African American woman and the first South Asian American to serve in the United States Senate, and the first African American to appear in a Vice Presidential debate as a nominee, showed why it’s so important that we have a Vice President who knows the names of the families and victims of police brutality. Tonight, Senator Harris showed us that a vote for the Biden Harris ticket is a vote for criminal justice reform, police accountability, and understanding and compassion for the terror of systemic racism that still plagues our country.

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Senator Kamala Harris at the 2020 Vice Presidential Debate. AP Photo/Morry Gash, Pool.

With a heavy sincerity, Harris declared, “I don’t believe so. And I’ve talked with Breonna’s mother, Tamika Palmer and her family. And her family deserves justice. She was a beautiful young woman. She had as her life goal to become a nurse and she wanted to become an EMT to first learn what’s going on out on the street.” Immediately, the Democratic nominee for Vice President humanized a young woman victimized by police brutality, and politicized by a country desperately debating police reform and law and order.

Committed to justice for her life, Senator Harris gave validity to her family, her dreams, and showed a divided country that this young woman is not an isolated incident. But instead, she is the latest case in an ongoing machine that choked Eric Garner, hung Sandra Bland, and knelt on the neck of George Floyd. With boldness she declared, “…and I was a part of those peaceful protests,” a necessary declaration to counter the constant narrative that every protest was violent.

Vote for Police Reform

Tonight, when Senator Harris answered the moderator’s question she showed us what it means to have a Black woman on the ticket for Vice President of the United States. Tonight, Senator Harris made sure that those who resonate with the cases of police brutality were seen, heard, and spoken to directly. She pushed passed a moderator seeking to count her time and declared,

“We need reform of our policing in America and our criminal justice system. Joe and I will immediately ban choke holds…We will require a national registry for police officers who break the law. We will get rid of private prisons, cash bail, decriminalize marijuana, and expunge the records of those who have been convicted for marijuana. This is a time for leadership on a tragic issue of unarmed Black people in America who have been killed.”

Without missing a beat, Senator Harris declared her commitment not just to compassion, but to reformed law and order. She asserted herself as the Vice President who will go into office with criminal justice reform on her mind.

Justice for Law & Order

Contrastingly, her opponent Vice President Mike Pence chose instead to deny systemic racism and reiterate the importance of law and order. Pence responded, “The family of Breonna Taylor has our sympathies. But I trust our justice system, a grand jury who refused the evidence. Really it is remarkable that…a grand jury got it wrong. And with regard to George Floyd, there’s no excuse for what happened and justice will follow. But there’s also no excuse for the rioting and looting that followed…” In these opening comments, Vice President Pence was clear, the concern for the Trump administration is that of law and order. They care more about property damage than the loss of life. Hence, Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s announcement of justice for Taylor’s walls and not Taylor’s life.

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Vice President Mike Pence at the 2020 Vice Presidential Debate. AP Photo/Morry Gash, Pool.

Furthermore, Pence reiterated his disbelief in systemic racism, implicit bias, and the possibility that “a grand jury [could] get it wrong.” His unwavering belief in the justice system reveals his unwillingness to even consider the broken humanity often accompanied with the policing of Black and Brown bodies. In fact, he implied that whatever consequences come to Black bodies whether death or detaining they are all justified because according to Pence the system is always right.

Justice for Public & Private Property

In this moment, Vice President Pence shifted the focus from justice for Breonna Taylor to justice for public and private property. In addition, he asserted his support, not to the innocent, unarmed victims of police violence, but instead to the police themselves. He declared,

“This presumption that you hear consistently from Joe Biden and Kamala Harris that America is systemically racist, and as Joe Biden has said that he believes that law enforcement has an implicit bias against minorities, is a great insult to the men and women who serve in law enforcement. And I want the men and women who put on the uniform of law enforcement everyday to know that President Trump and I stand with you.”

Such a statement reveals that the current administration does not believe in systemic racism. They do not believe in implicit bias. And furthermore, they invariably believe that to even suggest such exists within our policing and criminal justice system is to insult the very men and women of our local police departments. Such a statement implies that insulting a police officer in service to law and order is a worse crime than killing an unarmed driving, walking, jogging, sitting, even sleeping African American.

To American Voters

What we as American voters must understand is that police brutality is on the ballot. Who we intentionally re-elect or permit continued access to the Oval by virtue of our inactivity will directly impact our current police brutality issue. Lack of engagement or an outright vote for a Trump-Pence ticket directly means further support of police and property over the lives of Black and Brown people. Contrastingly, the Democratic ticket of Biden and Harris currently espouses a plan to address not just police reform, but mass incarceration, and the re-entry of the formerly incarcerated.

This is not the election to sit out. We must vote. Political scientists record that Trump won the 2016 election not because of an out pouring of votes for him, but because of an overwhelming number of citizens who did not engage at all.

This is not the time to distrust the system. We have never and will never have a perfect ticket, or the perfect candidates. But, if we are going to see reform in the systems that are killing Black and Brown people, then we must vote in officials willing to reform that system on our behalf.

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