The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Our devilish, racist system made it impossible to get justice for Breonna Taylor

People march in Louisville, Ky., on Thursday to protest a grand jury's decision not to press homicide charges in the police killing of Breonna Taylor. (Leandro Lozada/for the Washington Post)

An earlier version of this op-ed incorrectly said The Post reported that nearly 250 Black women have been killed by police since 2015. It should have said nearly 250 women. The op-ed also initially stated that an illegal warrant in the case was issued by means of perjury. This has not been proved. This version has been updated.

Benjamin Crump is an attorney representing Breonna Taylor’s family.

Every time justice is denied to a Black person in the United States, it seems the devil is in the details. We’re told the facts in this particular case don’t support prosecution of a police officer who kills a Black person. But it doesn’t mean the system is broken. It doesn’t mean we have one system of justice for Black people and a different one for White people. Trust us, it doesn’t mean that. It just means we couldn’t reach the far shore of justice in this one case.

And then it happens again. And again. So predictably. And then we have no choice but to conclude that the devil is in a divided system of justice, not in the details of any one case.

When Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron (R) announced at the conclusion of a grand jury’s deliberation this week that only one officer would be charged in the botched raid on Breonna Taylor’s home … and only for three counts of wanton endangerment for firing shots into a neighboring apartment ... and that no charges would be brought in the death of Breonna herself, we were shocked all over again. Though, by now, we shouldn’t be.

This rendition of the poem ‘Black 101’ memorializes the innocent lives poet Frank X Walker says are terrorized by white rage, including jogger Ahmaud Arbery. (Video: Frank X Walker, Joy Yi, Kate Woodsome/The Washington Post)

Wanton endangerment is a charge brought when someone fires a gun in the air, and the bullet could have hit someone but didn’t. At most, each count carries a five-year prison term.

In this case, it applied only to the shots fired into the apartment of Breonna’s White neighbor. No charges were brought for the shots fired into the residence of her Black neighbor. I’m sure we shouldn’t read too much into that — more devil in the details.

And outrageously, no charges were brought for the rain of gunfire that ended Breonna’s life.

Never mind that police were at Breonna’s door in the first place because they obtained a flawed warrant. Never mind that officers broke down her door in the middle of the night, waking her from a sound sleep alongside her boyfriend; and never mind 15 witnesses who said they didn’t hear police announce themselves. Never mind that officers fired more than 30 gunshots, many of which were aimed at Breonna while she was on the ground, with others fired blindly into every room of her home and into neighbors’ homes.

Never mind that the Louisville Metro Police Department orchestrated a clear and documented coverup, and reportedly offered a plea deal to Breonna’s former boyfriend — the real target of the raid — if he claimed that Breonna was involved in a drug ring. In a moment of exquisite irony, the drug dealer had the honor to refuse to discredit Breonna’s memory by lying about her character and involvement.

All this led to the death of an unarmed Black woman, a heroic first responder, who posed no threat and who was living her best life.

As The Post itself reported, nearly 250 women have been fatally shot — 48 of them Black — by police since 2015. Eighty-nine of the women were killed at homes or residences where they sometimes stayed, and 12 killed in their own homes by police who were there to conduct a search or make an arrest.

We don’t know most of their names. We wouldn’t know Breonna’s name if her death hadn’t happened in a season of police killings when America was getting quickly woke to it.

But now that the world knows Bre’s name, we won’t stop saying it until it becomes a kind of incantation to bind the devil in our divided justice system.

Even as the criminal justice system failed Black people yet again, the civil justice system brought an unprecedented outcome — a financial settlement of historic proportions and a raft of police reforms that could serve as a jumping-off point for police departments around the nation. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer (D) exerted a kind of leadership that only puts the state attorney general’s pathetic apologism in even more stark relief.

Civil justice is important. Police reform is necessary. But exorcising the devil in our criminal justice system is essential to our survival as a republic. No justice, no peace. Until Black people are afforded the same rights as White people, until their lives are valued at the same level, until we stop seeing Black people as fundamentally dangerous and criminal, until we stop excusing police maltreatment of Black citizens and until we stop wielding the war on drugs to wage war on Black people, there will be no justice. And until we afford Black people the basic rights promised by our founders — life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — and end the rampage of the devil of racism, we will know no peace.

Khalil Gibran Muhammad and Chenjerai Kumanyika explain how American policing grew out of efforts to control the labor of poor and enslaved people. (Video: The Washington Post)

Read more:

Ben Crump: Another unarmed Black person has been killed. It’s no wonder we can’t breathe.

Radley Balko: The no-knock warrant for Breonna Taylor was illegal

Donna F. Edwards: There seems to be nothing our Black sons and daughters can do to remain alive

Val Demings: My fellow brothers and sisters in blue, what the hell are you doing?

Eugene Robinson: Want riots like the ones in Minneapolis to stop? Stop killing Black Americans.