My family knows her family’s pain. My brother, Jacob Blake Sr. — father of Li’l Jake, shot in Kenosha, Wis. — has met several times with the Taylor family and her mother, Tamika Palmer. My brother met with Palmer and the Taylor family again on Friday in Louisville to lend his support during this critical time.
But the dehumanization of Black lives isn’t new. Kentucky has a long history of violence, massacres and lynching of African Americans.
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Alabama has found that between 1877 and 1950, 168 African Americans were lynched in Kentucky, largely at the whim of privileged Whites. While the Kentucky lynching numbers vary according to source and the dates included, an interactive map by state details the brutality of white supremacy with the numbers for Kentucky at 169 lynchings from 1866 to 1950. More of this history can be found in George C. Wright’s book, “Racial Violence in Kentucky, 1865-1940.” Taylor’s case is another part of this bloody saga.
“Racial violence in Kentucky (was) evident in many forms,” Wright wrote. Public whippings, lynchings, shootings, the destruction of Black schools and property, the denial of the right to fair trials, and “in the cold-blooded murder of blacks, often at the hands of lynch mobs.”
“Although poor, young, uneducated blacks were the primary victims of white violence, no black person within Kentucky was immune from attacks by whites,” Wright wrote. “The entire legal system upheld white violence by refusing to apprehend, charge, and convict white offenders of blacks, thus ensuring that all Afro-Americans were at the mercy of whites.”
Wright’s book was published in 1996, and it covers the period from the end of the Civil War to 1940, although this work could have been written today. But who is left to say their names? Apparently not the Black Kentucky attorney general, Daniel Cameron, who could not — in the best traditions of the White South — bring murder charges against the officers who killed Breonna Taylor. At least say her name and link it to substantial charges against those who killed her. But no, Kentucky is living up to its bloody heritage. Cameron said that there was no evidence to pursue further charges other than “wanton endangerment” against one officer — a relatively minor charge.
Cameron said the investigation showed that the officers were “justified” in shooting when Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired his gun as police charged into their apartment, looking for someone else. Walker thought they were thieves, he said. The grand jury agreed with Cameron, and no further charges have been imposed in Taylor’s death.
The rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and the sustained marches in support of Taylor, George Floyd and others — including my nephew — has some Whites lamenting that African Americans in this generation are “getting uppity” by standing up to oppression in their communities, as Wright also chronicled in his book on Kentucky lynching. The “proof” today is how the state has handled the Taylor case. It has used a Black man — Cameron — to bar the door to justice — an ironic twist on George Wallace’s actions in Alabama.
Previous generations of White people expressed similar sentiments in the wake of violence against Black people. “Many white observers lamented the passing of the loyal Negroes that slavery had produced,” Wright said in his book. In Louisville, Atlanta, New Orleans and other Southern cities, this attitude led to increased police brutality toward Blacks. “The lynching and burning of one black became a vivid and violent reminder to all Afro-Americans of the dire consequences of ‘getting out of their places.’ ”
While Cameron spoke of “pursuing the truth” for Kentuckians, African Americans know what he really means: Another unjustified killing in our nation’s two-tiered system of justice goes mostly unpunished. Perhaps Cameron can make a career for himself as a self-professed Black Republican in the South, but will he ever be able to say their names — all of them from 1866 to the present day?
Kentucky now wants another “study,” as reported in the local news. But enough is enough. Fifty-two years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson created the Kerner Commission to learn the causes of violent unrest in Detroit, Newark and other cities, which killed more than 80 people, injured about 1,800 — mostly Black — and cost about $100 million in property damage.
The commission concluded that “our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal,” which is significantly more honest than Kentucky’s sham statements about Taylor.
The Kerner report asked for more assistance to African American communities and expressed the need to remediate violence in communities to stop further polarization. That commission gave a remarkably prescient warning: Unless these remedies take place, there will be “continuing polarization of the American community and, ultimately, the destruction of basic democratic values.”
Cameron should have read the Kerner Commission report. Our nation and the states of Kentucky, Wisconsin, Minnesota and many others need to define justice to fully emancipate people of color.
The Constitution’s preamble opens by saying “We, the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, (and) insure domestic Tranquility.” That doesn’t support two systems of justice — one for the privileged and one for others.
Democracy demands only one standard of justice. For Taylor, for my nephew, for Floyd. For all those who have died or have been afflicted by the terrorism of racism.