Into Injustice for Breonna Taylor
Daniel Cameron: Good afternoon and thank you for joining us today. I know that many in Louisville and across the Commonwealth and country have been anxiously awaiting the completion of our investigation into the death of Miss Breonna Taylor.
Trymaine Lee: Six months after Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by police in her Louisville apartment, a Kentucky grand jury decided that none of the officers involved would be held responsible for her death. On Wednesday, Attorney General Daniel Cameron announced the grand jury's decision to charge one former officer, Brett Hankison, with first-degree wanton endangerment. He's accused of firing into nearby apartments and endangering Taylor's neighbors. But Attorney General Cameron said the other two officers involved, Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove, would not face any charges.
Cameron: According to Kentucky law, the use of force by Mattingly and Cosgrove was justified to protect themselves. This justification bars us from pursuing criminal charges in Miss Breonna Taylor's death.
Lee: 26-year-old Breonna Taylor was killed on March 13th, when officers from the Louisville Metro Police Department burst into her apartment with a battering ram during a botched drug raid. Police say they announced themselves. But according to her boyfriend, they didn't. So he fired a shot, hitting an officer in the leg.
Then officers returned fire and struck Taylor multiple times. Taylor's family had been hoping for a minimum charge of manslaughter, but Attorney General Cameron, who is a Republican and the state's first Black attorney general, said the outcome was appropriate.
Cameron: The decision before my office as the special prosecutor in this case was not to decide if the loss of Miss Taylor's life was a tragedy. The answer to that question is unequivocally yes.
Lee: In response, the city of Louisville rose up.
Protesters: Breonna Taylor.
Protest Leader: Say her name.
Protesters: Breonna Taylor.
Protest Leader: Say her name.
Protesters: Breonna Taylor.
Protest Leader: Say her name.
Protesters: Breonna Taylor.
Lee: Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer had been bracing for this moment.
Protesters: Shut it down. Shut it down.
Lee: On Tuesday, a state of emergency was declared to prepare for potential unrest. Police set up barricades, and the judge ordered a federal courthouse closed this week in anticipation of a decision. On Wednesday, the mayor announced a 9:00 p.m. curfew. Still, protests spread through downtown Louisville last night.
Protesters: Breonna Taylor.
Protest Leader: Black lives matter.
Protesters: And that is a minimum.
Protest Leader: Black lives matter.
Lee: In some moments, the scene turned violent. Two police officers were shot, about 100 people were arrested. And protests spread throughout the country, too, to places like Denver, Portland, and Buffalo.
Hannah Drake: Every single system that could've stood up for her, every single one failed Breonna Taylor.
Lee: (MUSIC) I'm Trymaine lee, and this is Into America. Breonna Taylor has become a face of a national movement for racial justice, with her image gracing the covers of O Magazine and Vanity Fair. Today, we're discussing the grand jury decision not to bring criminal charges in her death and asking whether justice for Breonna is still possible.
Louisville activist Hannah Drake has been fighting for Breonna Taylor for months. As a speaker and author, she helped elevate Breonna's story on social media and she was part of an effort to push the city council to pass Breonna's Law, a ban on no-knock warrants. The Louisville Metro Police Department had received court approval for this type of warrant, meaning they could enter Breonna's apartment without warning.
The orders were later changed for police to identify themselves. Now, whether or not they did is part of what's been disputed in this case. But I wanted to talk with Hannah about how she's doing right now and what it was like to hear the grand jury grand jury's announcement.
Drake: I was disgusted. I think inherently, you know, as a Black person in America you understand how most of these things go when there is a police shooting. But it was still disgusting to hear this announcement, for people that had been protesting for over 100 days. Out of the three officers (well, really four if you count Joshua Jaynes, who wrote the initial warrant), only one of those officers was fired.
So it was obvious if they haven't fired the other three then they're certainly not going to charge the other three with anything because they're still on the job. Hankison was the only one that was fired, and I think essentially many people, even some officers, could agree that this was a bad police officer. This wasn't his first incident.
I think it was expected that it wouldn't be favorable, but I think it's just another insult to injury for him to be charged with wanton endangerment for firing into an upper apartment and not firing into the home of Breonna Taylor.
Lee: Y'all have showed up and showed out, pushing to elevate Breonna Taylor's name. But here we are. How is the city doin'?
Drake: I think the city is disappointed and angry. But I do believe this is also a city that is divided. This is a city that has been divided, and Breonna Taylor just made that even more evident. But I think there are a certain group of people, certainly the protesters and others, that are very disappointed in what happened yesterday.
And it just proves that the road we have to travel to even reach some semblance of justice is going to be a very, very long road. I don't think this city will ever be what it was before Breonna Taylor was murdered. I certainly am not the same person that I was several months ago.
It has changed me as a person. And sadly, you understand racism. You understand that Louisville has very polite racism here. Literally when I say a city divided, they've put in a four-lane highway called the 9th Street Divide that divides the west end of Louisville from the rest of the city. And the west end of Louisville is predominantly African American. And so this city is divided by physical barriers, certainly divided by racism. And it's gonna take a lot to bring the city together.
Lee: So Breonna Taylor was killed on March 13th, coinciding with the official start, as we consider it, of the lockdown, right? Two days after the NBA suspended its season 'cause of coronavirus.
Lee: And I wonder, you know, from being there on the ground, you know, what the response had been like, right? What the reaction had been like. Because it hadn't really made national news. It was in the news, but it hadn't become the "say her name" moment that it is today. What was that initial reaction and response?
Drake: The initial reaction was very silent. And I particularly do not let our leadership off the hook because it was COVID or still is COVID but because we were in the process of shutting down because as a leader you're supposed to be able to handle more than one thing at one time.
And when the police are involved in a shooting, then it's important that we know that. But that certainly wasn't how it was reported. In my mind, there was this active cover-up. All we were told in this news briefing was there was a shooting, and an officer was shot, and, "We hate when officers have to fire their weapons," and there was someone that was killed in the shooting.
And then as more things came out just over a couple days it was the LMPD killed a Black woman. My friend told me that, and I said, "Repeat to me what you just said." And he said, "The LMPD killed a Black woman." And so then I started looking into, "Okay, what happened?" and started sharing this on Twitter and Facebook and tryin' to get attention around it.
And it really just was not getting any attention. It actually didn't get any attention until after the tragic murder of George Floyd. Once that happened with George Floyd when he was murdered, and then it was like the nation paused and started looking. Then I believe Breonna Taylor's case started picking up steam.
And I've always said Breonna Taylor had two things working against her. She's Black and she's a woman. I think for far too long in this nation and this world Black women have simply been disregarded. Black women have been the help. Black women have been the cleanup women. Black women have been the person that's supposed to fix it.
Black women are always seen and tagged as being the "strong Black woman." And so we're never allowed to cry or say, "This is hurting me," or, "You have done something to me that is an injustice." We're never given the opportunity to simply just be the victim. And those two things working together will always be an uphill battle to get justice. And now, we see even now, even with all the "say her name" efforts, she still in the end did not get justice in Louisville.
Lee: You know, Breonna Taylor's killing kinda brings to the surface a bunch of issues, systemic issues, policy issues in policing, right? You have the no-knock warrant. You have the way, you know, warrants are delivered and the way we police our communities. Were there certain aspects of this case in particular that you think reveal the holes and flaws in the system and the way Black folks are policed?
Drake: I do. I certainly think even when we start with Breonna Taylor and the gentrification of this Elliott Street neighborhood where Jamarcus Glover, which is the person they were essentially looking for when they got these no-knock warrants lived and constantly was getting told to leave this house and was told, according to him, "You can take your business elsewhere, but you can't be in this house."
And so I went to that home and put a sign on the door that said, "A Black woman was killed for this home," because this unit was working with the city to remove people from Elliott Street. So when we think about that, we need to think about the gentrification that has happened in this community.
We need to think about how the no-knock warrant was signed, that five were signed in less than 15 minutes. Did you even bother to read them? The day Judge Mary Shaw signed that warrant Breonna Taylor didn't even know that she was a dead woman walking. And from the top down, I think the leadership needs to change.
And so now of course they've gotten rid of Chief Conrad. Chief Schroeder is here until he retires October the 1st. And now Yvette Gentry, who as a Black woman will be the police chief, but I believe it's just for six months. And then they will see what happens as they do this national search for a police chief.
And so now we have a Black woman in that position, and I still challenge her. Because even though you are a Black woman, I understand that you are a police officer and you've been a police officer, I believe, for 20 years. And so this is your family. And so I want to still hold her accountable. But I think from the top down, some of the leadership in Louisville certainly needs to change because they've just been floating and comfortable. And I think it's time for many people in leadership here to be uncomfortable.
Lee: So much of the contention around this case has focused on this issuing of a no-knock warrant so police could go to Breonna Taylor's home, kick in the door, and serve this warrant. But police also say that later it was changed to a knock-and-announce where they were gonna go to the house and announce themselves. With all this back-and-forth, neighbors, you know, most of 'em say they didn't hear police announce themselves. The police say they did. What role does that play in all of this?
Drake: When I think about the no-knock warrant, even to serve the warrant I believe it was after 1:00 a.m. I think it's easy. We understand the police having a warrant to arrest somebody or a warrant to search a home. But you simply announce yourself, and that would have avoided much of these problems.
I think when people even listen to the 911 call from Kenneth Walker, which was so heartbreaking to me that he is screaming, "Help." You can tell he is screaming it so loudly. And I always wondered. He's screaming for help, and I wondered how he felt to realize that it was the police that killed Breonna Taylor. While he's in his house screaming for help, you hear him saying, "I don't know who came into the house."
Operator: 911. Operator Harris. Where is your emergency?
Kenneth Walker: I don't know what's happening. Somebody kicked in the door and shot my girlfriend.
Operator: Okay. Where are you located?
Walker: I'm at 3003 Springfield Drive, apartment four.
Operator: 3003 Springfield Drive, apartment number four?
Drake: So I think people have to realize that this was a no-knock warrant, that Kenneth Walker says all they heard was banging at the door. This is a state, as many states, have the castle doctrine. If you enter someone's home, they do not know who you are, you have a reasonable time to defend yourself and your loved ones. This is what he was doing.
If the castle doctrine is applied in Kentucky, then it needs to apply to everyone. It needs to apply to all people to have the right to defend their homes. You can't have no-knock warrants and the castle doctrine together because they're juxtaposed. Because if you don't knock and you enter someone's home, nine times out of ten they're going to defend themselves.
So Kentucky, at least Louisville did, made up its mind that these two things don't go together. And now, we're trying to push for Breonna's Law to be statewide. And this is what people need to understand. Even when we speak about race, when we started discussing Breonna's Law, it was not, "This is Breonna's Law and this applies to Black people." It was Breonna's Law to ban no-knock warrants and it applies to everybody in Louisville because we don't want anybody to go through this again. And what this world needs to understand is when Black people get justice, everybody gets justice.
Lee: (MUSIC) After the break, Hannah and I talk about how the news will impact her work and that of other activists as the city of Louisville looks to move forward after the grand jury's decision. Stick with us.
Lee: (MUSIC) We're back with Hannah Drake. So Attorney General Cameron yesterday announced that the two officers who shot Breonna Taylor would not be charged and that only one of the officers, Brett Hankison, the same officer who was fired from the department, would be charged with wanton endangerment for shooting his gun and endangering Taylor's neighbors, not Breonna Taylor. For all of those folks in Louisville who were waiting for this day, for some announcement, what was the reaction to that announcement?
Drake: You know, I was down at Injustice Square Park, and they were playing the announcement on a loudspeaker. And I just sat, and put my head down, and waited to hear what we knew would be coming. There was a silence in the park like it was calm before the storm. You were waiting for this moment.
And to hear people crying and people yelling about how unfair this was. But to look around and see so many Black women just crying broke my heart. It was like we knew that this city has once again said, "You do not matter here." There was an attorney there, and they asked for the attorney, "Come explain what he just said," because I think for some people it was truly just unbelievable that this officer will be charged for shooting into an apartment upstairs from Breonna Taylor's.
And then to hear the bond, $15,000, it's just another insult after insult after insult. And the energy was so sad. It was just like a realization of the inevitable had come over. And then I think after that people got angry. And that's when we decided to march.
I don't want the city to think people were angry last night and, "Okay, let's have mint juleps now." People are angry. They're angry today. They will protest today. They will be angry the next day. They will protest the next day. This city is broken, and I don't think the leadership understands the extent to which it is broken and needs healing.
But before you have any type of healing, you have to have a realization and an admittance that we have done something wrong here. And for people to continue to say, "This is a tragedy," it is a tragedy that somebody should have been held responsible for.
So like yesterday when people were asking me, "What do we do?" and I said, "You tell me." I'm 44 years old. And at what point will I get a chance to just breathe in this city, will I get a chance to just be, will I get a chance to be at my house and it's okay? At what point? When is that going to come for me? Another 40 years? I may not have another 40 years. When is that gonna come for my daughter, who's scared? When will that happen for my niece who's eight years old? Will she see it? Because I know I'm fighting for something, clearly, every single day, that I will never see the fruits of, ever.
Lee: You know, I want to dive back into the moment where Attorney General Daniel Cameron announced the grand jury decision. And Cameron is a Black attorney general, he's 34 years old, and he's a Republican. And I want to get your reaction to what he said. "Criminal law is not meant to respond to every sorrow and grief, and that is true here. But my heart breaks..."
Cameron: But my heart breaks for the loss of Miss Taylor.
Lee: "And I've said that repeatedly. My mother..."
Cameron: My mother, if something was to happen to me, would find it very hard. And I've seen that pain on Miss Palmer's face. I've seen that pain in the community.
Lee: "I've seen that pain in the community." Coming from this attorney general, what was your reaction?
Drake: Laughable. (LAUGH) I just--
Lee: Didn't take it serious at all.
Drake: I don't buy anything that Daniel Cameron says. I just don't. He's not someone that I voted for. And in fact, he's someone that I actively worked against people voting for. And let me tell you, let me say this. That was difficult as a Black woman. Because I love my people and I want to stand with Black people.
And it was difficult that this would be one of the first positions, one of the highest positions that a Black person would be elected to and I could not celebrate that because your policy is against my very livelihood, that you stand with people such as Mitch McConnell (you're his protege) that are doing things to actively harm people that look like me and in fact look like you.
And so to say he would be upset, I find that laughable. I do. I think Daniel Cameron held this city hostage for months, held its emotions hostage, caused us a lot of trauma, caused Breonna Taylor's mother yet more trauma, for her to travel all the way to Frankfurt to hear that, "We will not be charging anyone with your daughter's murder." Why even ask her to make the trip? Why bother? Once again, insult to injury. So I think what he said is laughable.
Lee: You talk about this idea of what we've seen changing you, you know, and you moving through this space and this moment changing you. How have you actually been changed? And was there a moment when you realized that you would never be the same?
Drake: I think probably after Breonna's Law passed and we were on the front steps of Metro Hall and people were celebrating. And I was happy that Breonna's Law passed in Louisville that bans no-knock warrants. So hopefully we will never be here again because of the police entering someone's home and killing them. But in that moment, I started to cry because I realized this came on the back of a deceased 26-year-old Black woman. I have a daughter, and her name is Breonna. So--
Drake: --this has been very difficult, just to even look at my daughter and see her and think, "This could have easily been my Breonna."
Lee: Just how much of this case and the sense of grief and loss and all the work and feeling that, you know, there's a burden on your shoulders, how much of all of this is consuming your mental space, your emotional space, your well-being? How much of this has kind of embodied you?
Drake: Probably 100% of who I am. I eat, sleep, and drink it. And I dream about it. But to hear my daughter, it's very difficult when I hear. She says, "I had a dream last night that I was in a traffic stop and the police killed me." And so this is all-consuming, where you even dream about it.
It's all-consuming because it's who you are. You're a Black woman. My daughter lives with me. There are many times I tell her, "I'm leaving." I would go outta town a lot before COVID. And I said, "The gun is on the dresser. If anybody comes in the house, you know what to do."
You know, these are the directions I've given her when I'm not in the house. And so it could have easily been my daughter. And that's the problem that a lot of people don't see with Breonna Taylor and really and truly with Black women, Black people in general but particularly Black women.
She's just this thing that that happened to. And, yeah, it's tragic. And they don't see that could be me. They don't see that there's something fundamentally wrong that you can be sleeping in bed one minute and dead the next minute. And they don't understand that because they never saw the humanity in Breonna Taylor. They never see Breonna Taylor as someone that could be their daughter. But when I look at Breonna Taylor, I see my daughter. I see myself as a Black woman. And so it consumed me greatly and will continue to.
Lee: What do you make of the kinda memeification of Breonna Taylor? Obviously we know to elevate the names of those who are killed by police, you know, many have turned to social media and hashtags. But there is also to me sometimes something that's not, say, undermining, or devaluing, or commodifying of these victims, but I want to hear from you. What do you make of it?
Drake: I do agree with that. And I've seen a lot of memes about Breonna Taylor. And I understand that in that moment many people think they may be helping. But I think that it makes Black women like caricatures. I think it's okay for people to just say, "We want justice for Breonna Taylor," and say her name. Like, that's okay to say that.
And you don't need to attach anything funny to it. You don't need to attach anything witty to it. That's simply what it is. And I think it's up to us to reclaim that narrative. Breonna Taylor isn't a meme. Breonna Taylor was a 26-year-old innocent Black woman that was simply living her life. And I think we have to show some reverence for that. Breonna Taylor wasn't a product; she was a person. And that's what we have to remember.
Lee: Where do you go from here? What happens next?
Drake: Immediately when this happened, I keyed in on the judge. I keyed in on some members of Metro Council that were silent. And so I know as best that I can that this is a country that supposedly, as they say, believes that people should have the right to vote, exercise their right to vote, and voting is how we change things.
And so on a local level, that's my focus, is how do I work on who will be the next mayor. Our mayor will be out of office in two years. They've asked for him to resign. They've given him a vote of no confidence. He won't resign, I'm sure. He will finish out the last two years.
But we think now how do we put people in position that care about the people and that really want to see the city move forward. And so anything that I can do to start getting people to think about running for Metro Council, running for small elections, that's where I really want people to focus on.
It's not just who we elect for governor and president. We need to think about even who's elected to the school board. All of these governing bodies play a part in your day-to-day life, oftentimes if not always even bigger than someone like the president or the United States. And we don't pay attention on a local level to things that we certainly should be paying attention to.
Even in the midst of this, even in the midst of the protesting and Breonna Taylor, our Metro Council voted to increase the police budget. So that shows you where they stand when it comes to our calls for justice. All they did was give the police more money. So I think that needs to change.
Lee: In these dark times in America, or we could just call 'em times in America 'cause times are often so dark, is there anything that gives you light?
Drake: The only thing that really gives me hope is when I look at my niece, who's only eight years old, and I think there's something that I can do to make this world better. Or I look at someone like my daughter who said, "When I have children, my kids will not be protesting these very same issues."
And so it's my job to do whatever it is that I can do to make the world a better place. And it seems like pie in the sky, but I tell people, "Just focus on your small corner of the world and change that space." If you have to change your block, work on that.
But everybody has the ability to do something. What isn't an option is to not do anything. There are people that are hurting. There are people that need help. We've seen through COVID some of the best of us and we've seen also some of the worst of us. And I still believe inherently that humanity is good and that things can change.
Lee: (MUSIC) Hannah Drake, thank you so much for your time. I know and your city are going through a lot right now, so thank you very much for joining us.
Drake: Thank you very much for having me.
Lee: That was Hannah Drake, an activist, writer, and speaker in Louisville, Kentucky. Hannah was one of the people behind Breonna's Law, the move to ban no-knock warrants in the city of Louisville. Into America is produced by Isabel Angel, Allison Bailey, Aaron Dalton, Max Jacobs, Barbara Raab, Claire Tighe, Aisha Turner, and Preeti Varathan. Original music by Hannis Brown. Our executive producer is Ellen Frankman. Steve Lickteig is executive producer of audio. I'm Trymaine Lee, and we'll be back on Monday.