On March 13, 2020, 26-year-old Breonna Taylor was asleep with her partner Kenneth Walker when they were startled awake by three white Louisville, Kentucky, police officers breaking down their door during a no-knock warrant raid. The medical technician was killed, and her home was never searched. No one has been held accountable.
Murdered just two months before former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd, sparking international uprisings, Taylor also kindled demands to end the unfettered state violence that is the daily reality of Black people’s lives in America.
But unlike Floyd, those responsible for Taylor’s death would never see a court or a jury, and certainly not a jail cell. The only police officer held to any standard of accountability, Brett Hankison, was only indicted for recklessly firing his weapon into the home of Taylor’s neighbor. He was acquitted earlier this month.
Neoliberals and the state seized on the conviction of Derek Chauvin as an opportunity to spin a narrative that America was marching toward post-racial bliss so protesters could stop marching in the streets, quit embarrassing the U.S. on the international stage, and go home. Even President Joe Biden said the Chauvin verdict could “be a moment of significant change.”
Slow down, Joe.
While it is true that more officers have been held accountable for their violence than in past years, the epidemic of brutality our communities face has not diminished. In 2020, police officers killed more than 1,100 people, and in 2021, they killed 1,055 people, and since the start of the year, police have killed 138 people. Only about 140 law enforcement officers have been arrested for on-duty shootings since 2005, and of those, only 44 were convicted, often on charges much less serious than murder.
As the Floyd family celebrated Chauvin’s conviction, 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant was shot and killed by white police officer Nicholas Reardon in Columbus, Ohio. Rather than engaging in de-escalation tactics, Reardon shot Bryant four times in the back and torso. In law enforcement jargon, this is referred to as center mass, where officers are trained to shoot first. When a crowd gathered to protest, an officer on the scene responded by saying “blue lives matter.”
Black people didn’t even have the chance to exhale.
The year following the 2020 summer of rebellions saw a spike—not a decline—in police violence, including the killings of 8-year-old Fanta Bility, 13-year-old Adam Toledo, and so many more whose names rarely—if ever—make national news.
Not only has the war on Black lives continued, we have also witnessed the lengths the state will go to interrupt dissent. In the 1960s and ’70s, those lengths looked like COINTELPRO—the FBI program created to destroy the movement for Black liberation. As a result, hundreds of Black freedom fighters were either killed or incarcerated, and many of them continue to languish in prison.
It would be foolish to believe similar tactics are not in play today. We cannot ignore the mysterious deaths of six Ferguson, Missouri, freedom fighters, the sweeping up of protesters in Portland, Oregon, or most recently, the nationally coordinated disinformation campaign designed to destroy the “defund the police” and “reimagine public safety” movements.
In Oakland, California, Police Union President Barry Donelan told Oaklanders that the defund the police movement was to blame for the city experiencing the highest levels of homicides in years, omitting the lack of resources, trauma supports, housing, and jobs. This was said despite the fact that no defunding happened. The Oakland Police Department received an increase of $38 million in the 2021 budget cycle. A similar playbook ensued across the nation even in the face of facts that reveal more than half of the country’s 50 largest cities actually increased police spending, or—at the very least—maintained levels from previous years.
Desperate for justice, Breonna Taylor’s mother recently met with the Department of Justice urging them to bring federal charges against the officers who murdered her child. Sadly, even if that happens, it will be little consolation for a mother, and a community, that has suffered such violence.
It is tragically ironic that the current pathway Black folks have toward justice rests firmly in the clutches of the system that creates the violence in the first place. We will never find healing there. The only way healing comes, and the only true measure of justice, would require the genocide to end, for Black people to stop living our lives as hunted prey in a country that no longer needs our free labor and so is killing and incarcerating us as fast as it can.
There is a saying, “there can be no healing without justice.” Similarly, there can be no justice without healing. Black folks and other people of color can expect to receive neither from the systems responsible for our trauma and pain.
Only we can provide healing to ourselves through organizing not only resistance, but also interrupting the violence from happening in the first place. And that is happening. Across the country, we see amazing organizers and everyday folks rooting themselves in healing justice practices, developing alternative models to public safety, as defined by us, that disentangle the violence of militarized police and the carceral state from our lives, and rejecting the narrative that police and prisons keep us safe. Thousands of dead BIPOC bodies at the hands of law enforcement tell us that is just not the case.