Despite the lack of justice for Breonna Taylor and the pain that has caused, activists urge the nation to continue fighting racial injustice—that includes speaking out, showing up, and voting.
For months, activists, organizers, celebrities, and ordinary people across the country have embraced the same slogan: ‘“Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor.”
On Wednesday, they learned that only one of three officers would face charges—and not for killing Taylor, a 26-year-old Black EMT who was shot and killed in her own home by three Louisville police officers in March.
Instead, a Kentucky grand jury indicted Officer Brett Hankison on three counts of “wanton endangerment’ in the first degree for shooting a bullet through the wall of a neighboring apartment.
The grand jury decided not to indict the other two officers involved in Taylor’s death, Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove, and Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who was appointed as a special prosecutor in the case by Gov. Andy Beshear, said the investigation showed Mattingly and Cosgrove’s actions—shooting and killing Taylor—were justified.
The decision not to charge the officers with murder, or even manslaughter—as sought by Taylor’s family’s attorneys—sparked widespread anger and condemnation, leading to massive protests in Louisville and cities across the country. Wednesday left many people feeling a sense of hopelessness and marked something of a low point in the months since George Floyd’s killing at the hands of Minneapolis police officers re-ignited a massive movement for racial justice.
With that in mind, COURIER spoke to two leaders in the fight for racial justice to get their thoughts on how to move ahead.
Amrutha Jindal is the chief defender attorney at Restoring Justice, a grassroots non-profit organization based in Houston, Texas, that is dedicated to ending mass incarceration and provides legal representation to vulnerable individuals facing criminal charges.
Seft Hunter is the Director of Black-Led Organizing at Community Change, a national organization that aims to build power and improve the lives of low-income people, especially low-income people of color.
Here’s what they had to say:
What Would You Say to People Who Might Be Feeling Hopeless or Defeated After Wednesday’s Announcement In the Breonna Taylor Case?
Jindal: It is completely natural to feel defeated and hopeless right now. We all feel defeated, hopeless, outraged, disappointed, and hurt by the grand jury’s decision to indict only one officer for something unrelated to Breonna Taylor’s death. It isn’t justice. It isn’t right. It isn’t fair. And it highlights the cruel reality that the justice system doesn’t protect, treat, or serve all people equally. But, now more than ever, we must all unite and channel our emotional energy to keep up the fight—we need to keep talking about the injustices that occurred and continue to demand change for Breonna.
Hunter: The pain that you are feeling is real. There has been nothing close to the kind of systemic change we need. Black people in this country can’t even get a modicum of justice. Meanwhile, the death, violence, and dehumanizing tactics directed at Black people continues. The brutal murder of Breonna Taylor and the lack of justice against the white vigilante officers who killed her is part of a continued practice of not recognizing the value of Black life. There is no culture of accountability for violence against Black people and this is part of what we are fighting for right now in the current election.
How Can People Who Want Change Engage and Respond in Times Like This?
Jindal: First, study up on all of the candidates on your ballot and vote (and encourage others to do the same). From the top of the ballot all the way down, people that you will be voting for this election season control the policies and decisions that make up our criminal justice system: whether it’s legislators who write the laws, district attorneys who choose who to charge, or judges who sign warrants and impose sentences. Changing the criminal justice system starts at the ballot box.
Second, join the chorus of people across the country demanding more and better from those in power. Whether it’s protesting, writing letters, making phone calls, or participating in social media campaigns, we need to make sure our voices are heard. Finally, continue to educate yourselves on the issues and engage with organizations that are fighting for causes you believe in. Find trusted sources to give you information and learn and share what you learn about the criminal justice system. Find nonprofits and other organizations that are doing the work on the ground and get involved with them, whether through donations or volunteering.
Hunter: As difficult as this moment is, we cannot withdraw from public life. This is the time that most requires that we engage. This is the time where—in spite of the pain—we must draw courage from the ancestors to persist and keep fighting. This is the most important election in our lifetime not just because it is a buzzword that is commonly used but the very right for Black people to safely exist is on the ballot. This election is a fight for Black humanity and whether our country is prepared to see Black people as full citizens worthy of the rights and privileges so extended.
And it is not just the presidential election that is important—local races can determine attorney generals, judges, and legislators who we must hold accountable. These are the people who apply the law and determine state and local budgets. If we want to make systemic changes we cannot ignore or relinquish this avenue of power.
What Do You See as the Path Forward in Terms of Fighting for Racial Justice and Real Change With Regards To Police Reform and Accountability?
Jindal: The path forward will involve advocating to our leaders to implement policies and pass legislation related to police reform. We need to demand more investment in our communities instead of in the police. We also need to support legislation that curbs qualified immunity to improve police accountability.
Hunter: We need to see reforms at all levels of government. At the federal level, we must reform systems such as ending qualified immunity that underpins the lack of accountability we have right now when police officers kill Black people and get away with it. At the state level, we must see radical shifts in the scope of policing. Police departments account for more than half of some municipal budgets and this must shift. We need these dollars to shift to a caring economy that funds programs like childcare and public education. Cities are spending millions of dollars to settle police misconduct cases and this responsibility must shift to officers who act outside of the law.
And at all levels, we must call for investments into a caring economy that makes us all safer—we must divest from our police state and invest directly into Black and brown communities.
Editor’s Note: COURIER interviewed Jindal and Hunter individually in the days following the grand jury announcement in the Breonna Taylor Case. Their responses have been lightly edited.