I filed this column late. Very late. I couldn’t find the words — an unsettling experience for a writer. The words I did conjure failed, not because the message was difficult to convey, but rather because the conveyance is maddeningly depressive in repetition.
The killing of Breonna Taylor reveals yet again how easy it is for the state to take a Black life and how hard it is to hold the state accountable for its transgression. That is in part because the system is designed to make it nearly impossible for the state to transgress.
Taylor was an innocent woman, sleeping in her own home, breaking no law. The state broke down her door and shot her dead.
Most of what the state did in her home that night was in fact, outrageously, legal. According to the state attorney general, the two officers who shot her were justified in using lethal force because her boyfriend, believing that people were breaking into the house to harm him and Taylor, deigned to defend himself by shooting at the intruders.
That, according to the state, allowed the officers to then act in self-defense. But here’s the problem: The bullets went into Taylor, not her boyfriend. How can you justify killing me while defending yourself from something my friend did?
When the grand jury charges were announced, only a third officer, who was fired in June, was charged, and not with anything that had to do with the killing of Taylor. He was charged with wanton endangerment because he shot so randomly that some bullets entered adjourning apartments.
Put another way, the bullets that provided the material for the crime were the ones that did not enter Taylor’s body. In essence, a former officer was charged for the shots that missed her.
That grand jury, the system, the state, erased Taylor as if she had never existed. Her death was simply a “tragedy,” a regrettable mistake for which no punishment was merited or required.
For the state, her body fell like a tree in the forest. For us, it landed like a thunderclap and shook the earth. It was a horror. It could have been us. It could have been someone we knew and loved.
Taylor was just 26, the same age as my oldest son is now. Taylor was a certified E.M.T., and her mother said she planned a lifelong career in health care. My son is in medical school. She could have been my daughter. My son could have been her.
They are both adults, to be sure, but to us, their parents, they are our children, our babies. You can’t just cut down someone’s baby and say, “Oh well.” No amount of money can fill the hole that loss would leave.
It was so egregious, like so many of these police shootings, and for months we waited to see if justice would be served, hoping against hope, knowing that history had trained us in trauma, knowing that justice was unlikely.
And, in the end, the system performed precisely as expected: It disregarded the Black body and defended the state bodies.
When you are injured or killed by community violence, the law is on your side, or on the side of the loved ones who grieve you. Justice in those cases can be swift and brutal. But, when it is the state doing the hurting and killing, the law is on their side. They are the law.
That is why state violence is so insidious: because you are nearly helpless to protect yourself from it.
People have to chant “Black lives matter” — to assert it, to make it hang in the air so that both the person speaking these words and the person hearing them can remember it — because the system demonstrates continually that those lives don’t matter to it.
Taylor was killed by the disastrous war on drugs that is itself hopelessly racialized. She was killed by the judicial system that granted the warrant. She was killed by militarized hyper-policing that is too often dangerous and deadly. She was killed by public indifference that lets all this play out without demanding correction.
This is a woeful ritual. This is a perpetual parade of anger and astonishment, of loss and longing, of demanding justice and being denied it. It is weighing on the souls of Black America and all Americans of good conscience.
America has created an unsustainable condition, one that I fear will one day explode, and yet the country lacks the will or inclination to right its wrongs. America, sadly, will regret this.
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