Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron had a difficult task before him. He needed to communicate a decision of a grand jury that he knew would be wildly unpopular and cause almost certain violence in the streets of Louisville and in other cities across the nation. He could have caved to the pressure from activists on either side of the matter. Others before him had done so on other auspicious matters. Instead, he stood before the public and announced, “In a world that is forcing many of us to pick a side, I choose the side of justice. I choose the side of truth.” Then he challenged those listening: “You have that choice as well. Let’s make it together.”
The case of Breonna Taylor’s tragic death has been a cause celebre among left-leaning activists, especially among the ranks of Black Lives Matter and its respective supporters. As I’m sure almost everyone reading this knows by now, Taylor was a 26 year-old African American woman from Louisville, KY who was killed by police officers on the morning of March 13, 2020 during their effort to serve a search warrant for her apartment. The three officers of the Louisville Metropolitan Police Department (LMPD), Jonathan Mattingly, Myles Cosgrove, and Brett Hankison, were facing possible charges related to her death and Taylor’s own family, after receiving a $12 million settlement from the city, insisted that nothing less than murder charges against all three officers would mean justice for Breonna.
Almost immediately after Taylor’s killing a narrative began circulating about the details of the case. It was said that the officers had gone to the wrong apartment and that they had no warrant to search Taylor’s apartment, that they had executed a “no-knock warrant” and failed to announce themselves, that Taylor had been shot by the police as she slept in her bed, that Jamarcus Glover, the drug dealer for whom the police were looking, was already in custody. As well, other provocateurs began spreading information about Taylor, that she was dating Glover and was herself heavily involved in his illegal activities.
Much of the narrative disseminated about the case has been false. The warrant the police had obtained was, indeed, for Breonna Taylor’s apartment, and her name was on the warrant because they were suspicious of her relationship with Glover and suspicious that she was involved in his illegal activities. Taylor and Glover did know each other, and Glover even used Taylor’s address as his own and kept some personal belongings there, but any romantic relationship between the two or involvement in his drug dealings by Taylor has since been denied by Glover, and when he was later offered a plea deal if he would name Taylor as an accomplice, he refused. While the police did have a no-knock warrant issued, they reported that they did knock loudly and announced themselves before forcing their entry into the apartment only after receiving no response, and this was corroborated by a witness who lived in the same apartment complex. Kenneth Walker, who was in the apartment with Taylor at the time of the incident, reports that he and Taylor were watching a movie in bed when they heard the police knock, but that when he and Taylor loudly asked, “Who is it?” received no reply. Walker, who says he feared for his life, retrieved his gun and, when the police forced entry through the door, fired his weapon thinking he was protecting himself and Taylor against an intruder. One of the officers was hit in the leg by Walker. The officers returned fire, and it was this shooting that resulted in Taylor’s death, who was standing in the hallway with Walker. Walker was not injured. No drugs were found in the apartment.
Despite the tragic result of their actions, the police insist that the warrant to search Taylor’s apartment was justified because of their concerns regarding her relationship with Glover. AG Cameron said that none of the grounds on which Kentucky law allows for a charge of murder apply to Breonna Taylor’s case. Why? Because the police were in the process of attempting to legally serve a legally obtained search warrant and, when fired upon, were justified in using deadly force in self-defense. One of the officers, Hankison, was fired by the LMPD and charged by the grand jury with three counts of wanton endangerment related to his actions of retreating to the parking lot outside Taylor’s apartment after the shooting began and firing into the window and glass door of her apartment, even though these were covered with blinds so no clear shot was available to Hankison. Bullets from Hankison’s shooting passed through Taylor’s apartment and entered the apartment behind Taylor’s, endangering the lives of the two adults and one child present there. It was determined that none of Hankison’s bullets hit Taylor.
Outrage over the grand jury decision rose quickly and violent protests ensued in the streets of Louisville, resulting in the shootings of at least three LMPD officers and the destruction of property.
One can’t but wonder how things might have been different if the narrative about Taylor’s case had been managed more judiciously. Activists, granted, have little interest in the truth. They serve an agenda, and their manipulation of the story in order to further the goals of that agenda is regarded by them as one of many legitimate strategies. But, some have complained that the LMPD was slow in getting out the facts of the case and the fact that there was no body camera footage of any of the proceedings raised suspicions that the police were the ones manipulating the story, either by purposefully not having body cams present or by the films coming up “missing”. Regardless of any particular department’s policies for any particular action or division of their force, or even of the practicality of body cams in some situations, it is in the minds of the general public these days that all interactions with the police with include body cams, and their absence only makes it harder for the police to be taken at their word. As one activist in Minneapolis recently stated, “If there are no pics, it didn’t happen!” Police may be restrained, as attorneys and family members are not, in how much information they can share with the media and the public, but one NPR reporter has asserted that it took “all of my journalistic skill” to obtain even the rudiments of the police’s take on the facts. If the police want to be taken seriously and trusted, they must be more transparent in the information they share. For quite some time the activist’s narrative about what happened to Taylor was allowed to stand with little response. By the time the police reports were made public, it came off as contrived to any ears sympathetic to the BLM movement or those disposed to mistrust the police. The media, as well, too often fail in their responsibility to get it right. Just yesterday, weeks after the no knock warrant myth was debunked, I listened to a reporter include that false bit of information in his story.
Our nation seems a fire keg at this point in our history. Certainly, the divisions that threaten us are worse than any I’ve experienced in my lifetime, and others older have said it’s worse now than even during the contentious years of the 1960’s and the Civil Rights era and Vietnam protests. As it was then, so it is now that many, rather than hoping to quell the strife, hope only to exploit it for personal gain or political/social influence. As such, misunderstandings are portrayed as blatant attacks against preferred groups, while real hatred for others nourished by a relatively few is depicted as if ubiquitous around every corner and first in the minds of every other person on the street, in the workplace, or on the campus. While no one pretends that our society is perfect, the true-ism still remains true: if you go looking for trouble, you’re certain to find it. There are many who want trouble, and who will make trouble out of whatever meager material they can find, because it makes them feel that they’re a part of something bigger. In reality, they are making our culture smaller and our social cohesion weaker. This cannot stand. It will tear us apart. It is tearing us apart, and our enemies, internal and external, will exploit that.
What, as Christians, can we do? More on that tomorrow.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.