UPDATE: My Chicago colleague Brian Leiter has a short post on his website about the indictments, which he thinks constitute a fair resolution. He blames the death of Taylor not on the involved cops, but on the system, which includes guns, a history of racism that leads to poverty and crime, and no-knock warrants. A brief excerpt:
The media, unfortunately, have linked these cases of police killings, even though they have almost nothing in common. And now, unsurprisingly, a Louisville grand jury has failed to indict any of the officers involved in the no-knock raid that led to Ms. Taylor’s death (by contrast, the officer that killed Mr. Floyd was quickly and rightly indicted, although he is planing an aggressive defense). The failure to indict any officer for the killing of Ms. Taylor is unsurprising because: (1) a judge had authorized the raid and the warrant to search the apartment because of Ms. Taylor’s sometime-boyfriend, a suspected drug dealer, and (2) when the police entered the apartment, the boyfriend fired on the police (he did not know they were police), wounding one officer; the police returned fire, resulting in Ms. Taylor’s death. On these facts, it’s hard to see how any officer was culpable for Ms. Taylor’s death. Louisville subsequently banned no-knock raids, which undoubtedly contributed mightily to the cascading calamity resulting in her death.
. . . Since that is the reality in the U.S.–extreme poverty and desperation, combined with a proliferation of weapons–the real question has to be what institutional and systemic reforms will minimize situations ripe for tragedies like the killing of Ms. Taylor. Eliminating the no-knock raid is probably one, and the sociologist Randall Collins has identified some others. Of course, eliminating poverty and restricting access to firearms would be even more important, but that would require real political and economic change in the country that elected Donald Trump.
I don’t consider myself particularly well informed on the Breonna Taylor incident, which, as you know, prompted big protests in Louisville, Kentucky (and the rest of America) last night. I’ve read the newspaper articles about it (e.g., here, here, and here, and many others), as well as the Wikipedia page, and still don’t know how to regard the killing of Ms. Taylor.
As you know, Taylor, 26, was killed on March 13 of this year after being shot six times by one police officer, part of a group of three executing a search warrant on Taylor’s apartment, where she was staying on that night with her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker. The search was authorized because Walker was thought to not only be a drug dealer, but also to hobnob with drug dealers, and because Taylor had dated one of the other drug merchants before taking up with Walker. (The police tracked Walker to Taylor’s apartment.) When the police entered Taylor’s apartment, Walker, thinking the intruder might be Taylor’s former drug-dealer boyfriend,T fired a legal weapon in self defense, he says, and the police fired back, killing Taylor. Several shots from one cop also went into an adjacent apartment, leading to the sole charge in the case: three charges of “wanton endangerment” against the single cop who fired the errant shots. Each charge carries a maximum of five years in jail. The other two policemen were not charged, and this apparently lenient result led to the protests.
I’m on the fence about all this because the details are hazy and because of the absence of evidence that could have been there, and the secrecy of the grand jury, I don’t know them. Perhaps, given the absence of bodycams, none of us will ever know the important details.
On the side of the charges being way too light we have this:
- The warrant was originally a “no knock” warrant in which the cops could simply bust their way into Taylor’s apartment. Before the raid this was changed to the requirement that the police announce themselves and knock before entering. Some neighbors testify that they did not hear police announce themselves.
- The city has settled a civil suit by paying the Taylor family $12 million, which (though standards of evidence are lower for civil suits) implies that Louisville recognized that the police bore some culpability.
- If the police didn’t announce themselves and didn’t knock as per the requirement, then Walker would seem to have been justified in firing at police. In that case, the ultimate killing of Taylor would be a result of police misbehavior.
- The city waited for months before charging the police with a crime (I understand, though, that a federal investigation is underway.)
- No drugs were found in Taylor’s apartment (apparently there wasn’t even a concerted search for them), and there’s this from Wikipedia about the supposed involvement of Walker in drug dealing, which bears on the validity of the search warrant:
Specifically, the warrant alleges that in January 2020, Glover left Taylor’s apartment with an unknown package, presumed to be drugs, and subsequently went to a known drug apartment with this package soon afterward. This warrant states that this event was verified “through a US Postal Inspector.” In May 2020, the U.S. postal inspector in Louisville publicly announced that the collaboration with law enforcement had never actually occurred. The postal office stated they were actually asked to monitor packages going to Taylor’s apartment from a different agency, but after doing so, they concluded, “There’s [sic] no packages of interest going there.” The public revelation put the investigation and especially the warrant into question and resulted in an internal investigation. No drugs were found in Taylor’s apartment after the warrant was executed.
and, finally, this:
- The real person suspected of drug dealing was already in police custody by the time they executed a warrant on Walker’s apartment.
On the side of the charges being appropriate, or not involving racism, we have this:
- One neighbor said he did hear the police announce themselves. We don’t know for sure because the cops weren’t wearing bodycams. (Why isn’t this required for all cops in situations like this one?)
- The protests, if not the killing of Taylor, is deemed “racist” because she was black and the three police officers were white. Yet the charges were brought by a grand jury that likely included black jurors. Who, then, is the object of the protestors’ ire? The cops, the grand jury, or the system?
- We don’t know what evidence was presented to the grand jury, and it may not emerge during a trial for “wanton endangerment”.
- The attorney general of Kentucky who announced the charges, Daniel Cameron, is black. (Against that people will say, well, he’s a black Republican, which he is.) Cameron was visibly upset when announcing the charges, choking up when he talked about his own family as well as Taylor’s.
- Legal experts in Kentucky, including some black ones, say that the cops were justified in defending themselves once someone had fired at them.
- Some of the jurors who voted to bring the lighter charges were likely black, though we won’t know.
So we have conflicting claims about several items bearing critically on what happened, and no tangible evidence in the form of bodycam footage. Presumably a grand jury brings charges if they think there might be sufficient evidence to convict the cops of homicide, and apparently they didn’t think sufficient evidence existed. The proceedings are sealed, so we won’t know what happened.
What I’ve written above is what I’ve distilled from reading about the case, and I may have made a few errors or left out crucial information. If so, please correct or supplement what I’ve written.
I can conclude only that I’d know better what to think had I been on the grand jury. But I’m not at all convinced that the killing of Taylor was a racist act. How could it be, when the cops opened fire at an unknown person who was shooting at them? Taylor’s killing might be seen as part of a pattern of white police killing black citizens, but this is not a George Floyd-like incident in which accusations of racist cops are at least plausible.
Anyway, I’m sure many readers have their own opinions of the police’s guilt, and about whether the protests, which were largely peaceful but did have some violence (two police officers were shot), were justified. Weigh in below.
Here’s Taylor, who was formerly an emergency medical technician: