That traditional symbol of justice, the balanced scale held by the Roman goddess of justice Iustitia, represents for African Americans nothing close to reality in our current “justice” system.
On Wednesday a Kentucky grand jury met to decide whether the three white police officers who raided Breonna Taylor’s Louisville apartment and killed her on March 13 were responsible for her death. Their answer was no.
How could this happen? Indictments are easy to obtain; a New York judge once said that a district attorney could get a grand jury to “indict a ham sandwich.” This makes one wonder how well Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a Republican, was doing his job, or if he was doing it at all.
The balanced scale held by “Lady Justice” symbolizes the weighing of evidence. What evidence did the prosecuting attorney present to the grand jury?
The following evidence should give anyone pause:
Breonna’s partner, Kenneth Walker, called 911 when the police, not in uniform, busted into the apartment. Is this the action of someone knowingly shooting at police or a person shooting in self-defense?
Although the death certificate says five bullets were found in Breonna’s body, Attorney General Cameron recently revealed that a sixth bullet was found in her foot, an indication that she had already fallen to the ground when that shot was fired.
Police obtained a no-knock search warrant but claimed they decided to knock on the door anyway (“knock and announce”). Eleven out of 12 witnesses say otherwise. The no-knock warrant and other aspects of Breonna’s death are being investigated by the FBI.
Despite this evidence, the grand jury failed to indict the police for Breonna’s killing. This result was shocking but not surprising: it follows a long-established pattern of police getting away with murdering people of color. They did indict Brett Hankison on three counts of wanton endangerment for shooting into the neighbor’s apartment. But the other two officers, Myles Cosgrove and Jon Mattingly, got off. Their actions were considered justified — in a raid where 32 shots were fired, six of them at the unarmed Breonna.
We agree with Sadiqa Reynolds, president and CEO of the Louisville Urban League, who said, “The lack of indictments in the grand jury process is an indictment of the system itself. They have created a completely separate grand jury system for police officers.”
Justice is not blind. The scales of justice are not balanced. There is one system for the police, another for people of color, the poor, and the working class. As Reynolds said: “If a white woman . . . was killed in this country, and six months later you could not answer the question about whether or not police went in with a good warrant, this country would burn itself down. But somehow we are supposed to act with all of this restraint and be ready to move on and heal.”
This country cannot move on. We need to radically reform the entire criminal justice system, including the police. Since the 2014 police murder of Michael Brown, some police departments have instituted sensitivity training, de-escalation models, oversight boards, and the use of body cams, but these modest changes have not stopped the killings. Effective justice reform means defunding and demilitarizing police departments; implementing community control of the police; ending mass incarceration; treating drug addiction as a health and societal issue, not a criminal one; and abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement, among many other actions. The massive savings from defunding police and abolishing prisons could be used to invest in African American communities, which have been long under-served.
The public — more enlightened than ever about the violence African Americans have faced for hundreds of years — is not simply moving on. Shortly after the attorney general announced the grand jury’s decision, protesters in Louisville and across the country hit the streets. We urge everyone to join the demonstrations and demand justice for Breonna, the complete overhaul of police departments everywhere, and funding for jobs, education, housing, and health care instead of repressive, militaristic policing.
“Equal justice under law” should mean something.