Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, was gunned down by Louisville police officers as they executed a search warrant at her home. An emergency medical technician, she was not a suspect in any crime, yet police claimed they had a tip that her ex-boyfriend was stashing drugs in her apartment. Around half-past midnight on March 13, plainclothes officers burst into the apartment, where Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker had been sleeping. Walker legally owned a firearm, and, thinking they were victims of a home invasion, fired a shot that wounded one officer in the leg. Three officers responded with more than 30 bullets — none of which hit Walker, who was their target. Taylor, who was unarmed, was shot six times, and died on the scene.
This week, more than six months after Taylor was killed, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron (R) explained why no police officers will be charged with her death. He said the officers had the right to act in self-defense, after Walker fired first. Taylor’s death was, in the prosecutor’s callous assessment, essentially collateral damage. Cameron said that what happened was a “tragedy,” but not a crime.
One officer, Brett Hankison, is being prosecuted for “wanton endangerment” for firing bullets that reached an apartment near Taylor’s. Hankison is the one cop who did not hit Taylor, but ironically, he is the only one being prosecuted. The attorney general’s theory of the case is more protective of Taylor’s neighbors, who were not hurt, than of Taylor, who was killed.
I’m a former prosecutor, and I would have charged all three officers with manslaughter. I think murder would be overcharging, because the officers did not have the intent to kill Taylor. Still, if three gang members burst into an apartment, were met with gunfire by somebody in the home, and in response shot up the apartment complex and killed an innocent person, they would almost certainly be charged with homicide.
It’s no less of a crime when three cops do the same thing. Self-defense is an issue, but one that a jury should decide. We know the officers continued to fire long after any threat ceased. A neighbor called 911 to report gunfire, and 68 seconds into the call, you can still hear the shots. Further, under Kentucky law, you can’t claim self-defense if your actions placed innocent people in danger, as the police who killed Taylor obviously did.
This is a case about three bad-apple cops. It doesn’t require structural change, reform or a new law — manslaughter and reckless homicide are already crimes. One might expect a conservative prosecutor to throw the book at these officers, as an opportunity to demonstrate his commitment to equal justice under the law.
Cameron is a rising Republican star; he spoke at the GOP convention, and Trump listed him as a possible Supreme Court nominee. At the news conference Wednesday announcing the decision in the Taylor case, Cameron was more critical of “celebrities, influencers and activists” than of the police who killed Taylor. He railed against “mob justice” by protesters but said that the police violence of shooting an innocent woman six times was “justified.” The takeaway was that blue lives rule, and that Black lives don’t matter as much.
The Taylor case is one that should resonate with Republicans. Second Amendment advocates might champion Walker, Taylor’s boyfriend, who used a legally possessed weapon in self-defense. Libertarians should be worried about the overreach of government agents breaking into a home in the middle of the night to look for drugs. Faith-based conservatives might see criminal prosecution as promoting the sanctity of life.
But few in these quarters have spoken up for Taylor, or any Black victims of police violence. Anti-Blackness seems to motivate many conservatives more than their purported principles. Cameron himself is African American, but anti-Blackness wreaks the same havoc when it’s performed for political expediency as when it’s an expression of White supremacy.
This puts African Americans in a position that is, frankly, terrifying. We apparently have no rights that police officers are bound to respect. And the dominant political party in the country — the party that controls the White House and the Senate, the party of 26 state governors, the party of presidents who have appointed five of the eight justices currently on the Supreme Court — that party is cool with that.
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