I just want to take a moment to talk about the differences between the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. These are both horrifying and avoidable killings that both demand justice and show the need for dramatic police reform. Both cases present fact patterns that are painful to recite. This is truly a gruesome moment in history.
I think, however, it is important to highlight the differences so that the complexity and breadth of needed reform can be understood and put into action as quickly as possible. We have a video of George Floyd’s murder, several in fact. They are incredibly difficult to watch. The murder occurred in a public space and in broad daylight, which makes the atrocity even more disturbing, as if that were possible.
With Breonna Taylor, the public has far less information. There are body camera videos from one or more of the three police, but those videos have not been released. The homicide occurred at night in a private residence. The parts of the story we do know about, however, paint a picture of incompetence and ineptitude that are so far beyond what is acceptable, that all the anger we see about this killing is clearly justified.
And it’s not as if I don’t think criminal liability should attach. I certainly do. But I am being tempted to join in with knee-jerk calls to arrest the three officers that executed the no-knock warrant and subsequently killed Ms. Taylor. And when I think about arresting these individuals, I need to stop just short enough to consider a few things.
Not that being arrested is something so terrible that Officers Mattingly, Hankison and Cosgrove should not be forced to endure. Based on what happened and everything else that has been going on, the non-lawyer part of my brain says that immediate arrests would make a lot of sense.
But that may not fit with the law in this case. Again, we do not know what the body cam footage shows, what audio may be included. That could change everything immediately. What we do know is that these officers were fired upon when they executed a no-knock warrant that had been authorized by a sitting Judge. Also, despite what I originally thought about the incident, the the warrant was executed at the correct location. That address was covered by the warrant since Taylor had a previous relationship with Jamarcus Glover, who was the subject of that warrant.
The problem, as we all know by now, is that Glover was already incarcerated at the time this warrant for his arrest was being executed at Breonna Taylor’s house. Currently, we have no idea why the investigating officers didn’t know that fact. This represents a fatally negligent communication breakdown within the police force and the prosecutor’s office. The people responsible should be punished to the fullest extent of the law for their part in Taylor’s death.
And it may be that Mattingly, Cosgrove and/or Hankison had a role in that screw up, in addition to being the ones who pulled the trigger(s). We just don’t know.
But if you take the story we are being given now at face value, that these officers broke in with what they believed was a valid warrant, and that they immediately came under fire from one or more unknown individuals, then there is a very strong case that the discharge of 20-22 bullets in response was justified. That is a strong defense.
I am hopeful that the police and prosecutors will be transparent about what happened and that all facts about this avoidable tragedy become public as soon as possible. Based on what little we have, however, it is more clear than ever, even clearer than in the George Floyd case, that SYSTEMIC change is needed immediately. In a very basic sense, the SYSTEM that issues and executes warrants is what killed Breonna Taylor.
And that same system is holding up any arrests. The officers may have been justified in use of force and should not, perhaps, be prosecuted. As I said, more facts will hopefully come out, but based on currently available information, I can understand the reluctance or delay in making arrests. .
As to the ministerial and judicial people who have their fingerprints on this warrant, their immunity is even stronger than that of the police who actually shot Breonna Taylor. Even for a civil case to stick, which would not result in any incarceration, Taylor’s estate would have to prove that issuance of the warrant was done with the intention of harming her or someone else. I don’t see such a conspiracy being provable.
The astute reader who has made it this far will note that I have not yet mentioned race as something that played a role in the killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. I’m mentioning it now and it did, but that is not the topic of this short essay. The facts mentioned above do show unequivocally how the systems law enforcement and public safety need to be torn down to the bones. And if you are wondering how that should be done or what principles should guide a top-down rebuild, I will humbly suggest a starting point: Race.