By ERWIN FREED
Protests erupted nationwide on Sept. 23, after a grand jury in Kentucky decided that the officers involved in the shooting death of Breonna Taylor in her Louisville apartment would not go to trial for the attack. Three of the four officers on the scene fired shots, yet none of them were charged with Taylor’s killing.
One police detective, Brett Hankison, was indicted on the relatively mild charges of “wanton endangerment” for recklessly shooting into a neighboring apartment, which threatened the lives of three residents. Earlier, Hankison was dismissed from the police force, with a letter that said he had shown “an extreme indifference to human life.”
The grand jury decision came over six months after Breonna was shot six times as she stood in her hallway. Following the incident, her boyfriend Kenneth Walker was indicted on the charges of first degree assault and attempted murder of a police officer for firing his legally owned gun in self-defense when officers busted down the door to the apartment in which he and Taylor were watching a movie.
No justice …
The grand jury decision represents another case of killer cops acting outside of the law. The three counts of wanton endangerment that Hankison is charged with carry a maximum total of 15 years behind bars. Meanwhile, because Kenneth Walker shot a single warning shot, he faced potential charges that carried a minimum of 10 years and had the possibility of a death sentence. After a public outcry, Walker was released from jail and the charges were dropped.
Sergeant Jon Mattingly and Detective Myles Cosgrove fired a total of 22 shots into the apartment, hitting Breonna Taylor, while Hankison fired another 10 rounds. Neither Mattingly nor Cosgrove were indicted by the grand jury in relation to Breonna’s death or endangering others in the apartment complex.
A brief from a Bowling Green State University study found that between 2005 and 2019, only 104 on duty police officers had been arrested for manslaughter or murder for on-duty killings. Of these 104 indictments, 35 were ultimately convicted of any crime and only four were convicted of murder. On-duty police officers kill around 1000 people per year.
Breonna Taylor should be alive today. Thousands have been in the streets in Louisville and beyond, demanding “No justice, no peace!” and that the police responsible for her killing be charged with murder. Tamika Palmer, Taylor’s mother, emphasized that the $12 million civil settlement she received from the city of Louisville is not enough; she wants all three officers who shot at her daughter to face murder charges.
Thousands took to the street to protest the decision in cities and towns around the country. The movement will use this as proof of the capitalist state’s disinterest in holding police officers accountable for their actions. This was made even clearer after President Trump thumbed his nose at protesters with a tweet that echoed the words of the Kentucky attorney general: “Justice is not always easy.”
The mayor’s office declared a state of emergency in Louisville, and the police are preparing an all-out offensive against protesters rallying downtown. Cops in riot gear have barricaded roads and are carrying assault weapons as they follow the protest marches. The police reported that they arrested 127 demonstrators in the hours following the announcement of the grand jury’s decision on the afternoon of Sept. 23.
While Louisville police officers were battling protesters on Sept. 23, repeatedly launching pepper balls against them, two cops were reported to have been shot in a nearby area. One, with a leg wound, was released the next morning from the hospital, while the other is still recovering from surgery; the police state that they have a suspect in custody. As of this writing, there is no indication that the shootings were related to the demonstrations. We should expect, however, that local governments, police departments, and right-wing figureheads will use the shootings as a cudgel against the movement. The calls for law and order are nothing but a smokescreen for suppressing our democratic rights to speech, assembly, and protest.
What justice really means
The demand to jail killer cops is only a partial step towards justice for victims and survivors of police violence. U.S. policing was a method of maintaining white supremacy in this country after the formal abolition of slavery in the 1860s and Jim Crow a century later. Perpetuating violence against working and oppressed people is the basic function of capitalist cops. For this reason, the state will always refuse to jail police officers for even the most heinous and one-sidedly violent acts.
Massive mobilizations of thousands in the street can help in the effort to obtain basic accountability measures against the cops. However, the Louisville grand jury ruling shows that even these mobilizations in themselves are not enough to override the entrenched system of capitalist “justice.” The movement must proceed to demand that the entire police and prison systems be changed fundamentally, including raising the demands that the police be defunded, disarmed, and finally abolished.
In order to begin to move towards abolishing the police and the capitalist state they support, working people need a higher level of organization than has so far come out of the heroic Summer of 2020. Given how far ahead the Black masses have been politically, it stands to reason that such an organization would begin within the Black community; a political party independent of the twin parties of white supremacy is awaiting development.
Illustration by General Strike Graphics.