Still No Justice for Breonna Taylor

Artwork by: Ariel Sinha @arielsinhaha

116 days and counting…

After the untimely assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968, tensions grew across the country. Two weeks earlier, hostilities in Louisville, KY were already bubbling over as Michael A. Clifford, a White police officer, was reinstated after using excessive force against a black schoolteacher named Charles Thomas. Three weeks after the injustice against Thomas, a rally was organized. During the demonstration an altercation ensued between those who attended the rally and the officers patrolling the area. The skirmish escalated into a full-fledged riot. Six units of the national guard and over 2,000 guardsmen were ordered to Louisville. There was looting and shooting, buildings burned, two teens were killed, and 472 people were arrested.

52 years later, Louisville is still hurting and grappling with vigilante police tactics that led to 20 rounds of gunfire hurled into 26-year-old Breonna Taylor’s home. In the wee hours of the night on March 13, 2020, her body was filled with eight fatal bullets. In fact, Sam Aguiar, the family’s lawyer, is quoted in a recent New York Times article stating that “In the six minutes that elapsed from the time Breonna was shot, to the time she died, we have no evidence suggesting that any officer made entry in an attempt to check and assist her. She suffered.” Such a devastating tragedy rests in the hands of officers Brett Hankison (terminated), Jonathan Mattingly, and Myles Cosgrove. These officers claim they were executing a “drug raid” with the sanction of a ‘no-knock warrant.’

The three Louisville Metro Police officers who fired their guns that night – officer Brett Hankison, Sgt Jonathan Mattingly and officer Myles Cosgrove LMPD (courier journal).

The Dominos of Injustice

Just before her death, Kenneth Walker, Taylor’s boyfriend, assumed intruders were invading their sanctuary. He exchanged gunfire with the Louisville Metro Police Department officers as they entered the apartment. Walker was arrested and charged with attempted murder as he allegedly shot an officer in the leg. Once the altercation subsided, it was discovered that the LMPD investigation centered on two people who were already in police custody and were suspected of selling controlled substances from a drug house more than 10 miles away. Breonna Taylor was linked to this search because one of the people in custody, Jamarcus Glover, had a prior relationship with Taylor. Over two months later, the prosecution dropped the charges against Walker – Friday, May 21st.

As of this publication, it has been 116 days and counting and none of the police officers involved have been arrested or charged for the shooting and killing of Breonna Taylor.

Justice for Black and Brown bodies moves very slowly and at times even grinds to a screeching halt. Such gradual justice is further perpetuated as COVID-19 has aided in the stymy for structural progress in Louisville. But while the officers continue to go about their lives, the community remains deeply infuriated. Reminiscent of 1968, Louisville has erupted in protests, vigils, rallies, and riots. Looting has ensued, businesses set ablaze, and another unsuspecting African-American pillar of the city, David McAtee was struck in the chest, causing his death, during the melee. The dominos of injustice continue to fall over a community that has not recovered from systemic racism in the forms of Jim Crow, redlining, white flight, and segregation.

“If you see something, say something”

New Yorker and advertising executive Allen Kay came up with the phrase: “If you see something, say something.” The slogan was born after international terrorists slammed airplanes into the heart of America’s symbol of economic superiority. This tragedy, which took place on September 11, 2001, has been forged into America’s consciousness. A few months later, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority needed a catchy safety slogan. Allen Kay forwarded other slogans such as: “Be suspicious of things that look suspicious” and “If you see a package without a person, don’t keep it to yourself.” The mantra “If you see something, say something,” resonated with MTA, and was immediately plastered on billboards and public transportation. It became a rallying cry to vigorously report anything that appeared suspicious and made Americans vigilant in a post-9/11 world.

The Showing Up for Racial Justice network held a rally in front of Louisville Metro Police headquarters to ask white people to end their silence over the recent deaths of African-Americans at the hands of the police. Reverend Anthony Bradley knelt in the middle of Seventh Street with fellow protesters during the rally. June 11, 2020
(Pat McDonogh / Courier Journal)

Similarly, when God’s people see something suspicious, they should say something. Just like the airplanes that crashed into the twin towers, injustice crashes into the everyday lives of Black and Brown bodies. People of color live on a constant collision course of brutality. It’s not enough to merely issue statements and offer condolences. Instead, in the spirit of Isaiah 58, we must “cry aloud, spare not; Lift up our voices like a trumpet.” In this chapter the prophet Isaiah addresses the pleasure the people of God derived from the spiritual disciplines of fasting, seeking Him daily, and knowing His ways. Still, they ignored the fast God had chosen, which was: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, to break every yoke, to share bread with the hungry, to bring the poor and outcasts to our houses, and cover the naked (Isaiah 58:4-7).

God’s people were content with committing themselves to the task of spiritual growth and development without the responsibility of saving and liberating those around them. Still, God expected His people to serve as conduits of justice to those who daily experienced injustice. The prophet admonished God’s people to start by saying something. According to verse 10, if we extend our soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, then our light shall dawn in the darkness, and our darkness shall be as the noonday.

I Am My Sister’s Keeper

Many of us know the feeling of burnout and recognize the need to experience rest, regeneration, and refreshing. The prophet in Isaiah 58 was keenly aware that the hungry, needed rest from their hunger, the naked from their nakedness. Black and Brown bodies need rest from injustice. In Hebrews 4:1-10, God extends the divine invitation to all of humanity to enter into a sabbatical type of rest. Fighting for the world’s spirituality is vital. Fighting for the humanity of the world is critical. Paying attention to the timeline of earth’s prophetic movements is necessary, and speaking prophetically to horrific times of injustice is just as necessary.

Howard Thurman, in his book, Jesus And The Disinherited, declares, “Those who need profound succor and strength to enable them to live in the present with dignity and creativity, Christianity often has been sterile and of little avail. The conventional Christian word is muffled, confused, and vague” (Thurman 11). Thurman estimates, many and varied are the interpretations dealing with the teachings and the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Still, few interpretations deal with what they have to say to those who stand, at a moment in human history, with their backs against the wall. How does the religion of Christ answer the charge of Donna F. Edwards, contributing columnist of the Washington Post? She writes, “There seems to be nothing our black sons and daughters can do to remain alive.” Breonna was killed while in the safety of her own home. God asks us what He asked Cain: “Where is thy brother?” Where is thy sister?

The Cost of Silence

My maternal grandmother Leola Solomon, who never received an education beyond the third grade, gave me my first lessons in theology. She used to say, “don’t pay attention to what people say, pay attention to what they don’t say.” Many times, during critical moments in history, our silence has been deafening, and people are paying attention. But now, we have to say something.

Many years ago, while a student at Oakwood University, I had on-air duties at the campus radio station. On one particular occasion, I was running late for my 6 am shift.  I arrived at the station at about 6:10 am. The overnight system’s programming called for it to shut off promptly at 6:00 am, which meant there were 10 minutes of silence. As I frantically made my way into the studio, the phone rang, and right away, I knew who it was. When I picked up the phone, a bright voice vibrated through the receiver. It was the general manager of the radio station. She politely let me know that we could not afford to have dead air because someone in the form of a sponsor was not getting value for their money as they were paying for that silence.

Whenever we are silent about injustice, someone pays for it. Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Atatiana Jefferson, Botham Jean, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, Ahmaud Aubrey, and George Floyd, they and their families pay for our silence. What about the Black and Brown bodies that were beaten, raped, stabbed, shot, dismembered, lynched, incarcerated, burned, and dragged to death who did not have the benefit of a viral video? Who has to pay next?

A Prophetic Life

Luke’s Gospel records that Jesus went to His hometown synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read Isaiah 61:1-2:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me Because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” Luke 4:18-19

In these verses we see that Jesus recognized His mandate was prophetic. After announcing that He was the fulfillment of this passage found in Isaiah, Jesus refers to Himself as a prophet rejected as all prophets are in their own country. Notice some of the verbiage used in Luke 4:18-19: preach the gospel to the poor, proclaim liberty to the captives, and proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. In carrying out His social justice agenda, a big part of His docket was saying something. When He sees the poor, He preaches the gospel. When He spots the captives, He proclaims liberty. Jesus speaks loudly in partnership with healing the brokenhearted, recovering the sight of the blind and setting at liberty those who experience oppression.

The prophet Micah declares: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” We are required to do justice. According to the Jesus model, we do justice and advocate for justice. I am giving a personal and dire call to mobilize your voice, heart, and energy. Sound a clarion call against the forces of injustice.  Speak truth to power. Henceforth, let us determine with our entire being that whenever we see any form of injustice, that we will say something. When we do, we will fulfill Amos 5:24: “Let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

How to Speak Up for Breonna Taylor and Victims Like Her: 

1. Call elected officials and demand justice

2. Donate to organizations working on the front line of these issues: such as NAACP, Black Lives Matter, Urban League, and any local organizations that are unique to a particular city. You can also donate to the #LouisvilleBailFund to get protestors released.

3. Donate to the family adversely affected by tragedies of injustice. You can donate to the Taylor family and their justice fight for Breonna directly.

4. If you are White, use your voice and influence to amplify the voices of those who society seeks to silence and ignore. Continue to learn, engage in dialogue, and move beyond your comfort zone to understand your privilege.

5. Recognize that this work needs to be ongoing for a long time to come. Systematic racism is not limited to police precincts. It is also present in our churches.

6. Finally, seek to answer the question: how does love act?

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