If you’re surprised, you haven’t been paying attention.
This afternoon, a Louisville grand jury indicted one of the three officers involved in Breonna Taylor’s murder, Brett Hankison, on charges that had nothing to do with Taylor’s death. Hankison was indicted on three counts of wanton endangerment, a Class D felony with a maximum penalty of five years in prison. If found guilty on all charges and given the max, Hankison would spend, at most, 15 years in prison. The other two officers involved in Taylor’s killing will face no charges.
The charge of “wanton endangerment” is typically used in a case where a person acts recklessly, but rarely used in cases that end in death. Wanton endangerment in the first degree is defined as “under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life, he wantonly engages in conduct which creates a substantial danger of death or serious physical injury to another person.”
What’s more, assuming the indictment was read out correctly, Hankison was not charged with firing his gun into Breonna Taylor’s apartment, thus killing her. Instead, Hankison is charged with firing a gun “wantonly” into the apartments surrounding the one Taylor was sleeping in, but not the apartment she was in. Meaning the grand jury found that Hankison and his fellow officers have basically been legally absolved by a grand jury of any wrongdoing. In fact, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a fast-rising star in the Republic party, stated at a press conference this afternoon that there was “no evidence” that Hankison fired the bullet that killed Breonna Taylor.
Let’s be clear: No officers were charged with any crimes related to the death of Breonna Taylor — not even the officer who fatally shot her.
So, what would it take for a grand jury to find a police officer guilty of killing a Black person in America? If sleeping in your home when police burst in and shoot you won’t do it, what will? We already know cops can kill a Black person for checking to see who is creeping around the windows outside their home. Or while detaining them for potentially minor crimes. Or when pulling them over for a traffic stop when they do everything right. Taylor’s case, in which the police kicked the door to her apartment and shot her as she jumped out of bed, was literally the best-case scenario, in terms of holding a police officer responsible for the killing of a Black person. And yet here we are again.
For the past several months, athletes, most notably those in the NBA and WNBA, have been vocal about Taylor’s murder – frequently making sure her her name was front and center before, during, and after games. The WNBA players, who dedicated their season to Taylor back in July, linked arms and wore identical shirts saying “Arrest the Cops Who Killed Breonna Taylor” during their day of reflection in August.
LeBron James and the Lakers wore hats meant to keep the focus on getting justice for Taylor. Actresses Regina King and Uzo Aduba both wore Breonna Taylor shirts while appearing at the Emmys just this week. It was hard to go an hour, much less a day on social media without seeing the hashtag #ArrestTheCopsWhoKilledBreonnaTaylor.
While we wait for the reaction of the sports world, it’s worth asking white America, “Under what circumstances would you consider the killing of a Black person by a cop to be murder?” Because the way it stands right now, I don’t know that most white people have an answer.
And let’s not put all the blame on the grand jury. Attorney General Cameron could have handled this case much differently, arresting and charging the officers involved with crimes relating to homicide, held a preliminary hearing before a judge, and then proceeded to go to the grand jury for an indictment. That’s how most felonies are prosecuted in Kentucky, and it lets the grand jury know that the prosecution is backed by the approval of the State. But putting the entire thing in the hands of a grand jury has become the modus operandi for prosecutors too afraid to hold police accountable for their actions. Easier to just wash your hands of it.
If Cameron et al wanted the officers who killed Taylor charged with murder, they would have been. But Cameron, who appeared at the Republican National Convention with President Trump, is on the shortlist to fill the Supreme Court seat vacated by Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death. With a prosecuting attorney beholden to the most blatantly white supremecist president since Andrew Jackson, Breonna Taylor never had a chance.
The outrage from athletes, many of whom championed justice for Taylor, have started to roll in, including former Louisville star Donovan Mitchell:
There will be protests tonight. Maybe riots. Hopefully, there will be discussion and growth for our country. But for Breonna Taylor, there will be no justice.