Column: NBA players are demanding justice for Breonna Taylor’s death. We should join them
The killing of Breonna Taylor illuminates so many of our country’s flaws that it’s almost hard to know where to start:
The callous disregard for Black lives, the misguided war on drugs, the (literal) overkill employed by local police departments, which treat law-abiding citizens as if they were terrorists in the mold of Osama bin Laden.
Just as the execution of George Floyd sparked a national reckoning with systemic racism and police brutality, the March 13 death of Taylor, who would have turned 27 on June 5, has inflamed the conscience of people who have had it with senseless and systematic police assassinations of Black Americans, and who are in a position to do something about it.
I admire the many Black athletes who, instead of answering questions about their teams and performances, have insisted on focusing attention on Taylor. Using their uniquely high profiles, they have decided it’s more important that the officers involved in Taylor’s death be held to account than to explain to sports reporters and fans how it feels to be playing in quarantine conditions.
Last weekend, the WNBA announced that it would dedicate its 2020 season to Taylor, and to the #SayHerName movement, a 6-year-old effort to make sure the world does not forget the names of Black female victims of police violence. Some, like Taylor and Sandra Bland, are familiar. Most others are not.
Last week at Disney World, where the NBA has created a $150-million COVID-free bubble for its teams, some Black players made it clear they had a higher calling right now than basketball.
“Breonna Taylor, rest in peace. George Floyd, rest in peace,” said Clippers forward Paul George when asked about the scrimmage his team had just finished with the Orlando Magic. “There are so many others that have been brutally murdered by the hands of the police. That’s my message. That’s all I’ve got.”
Tobias Harris of the Philadelphia 76ers ignored a question about whether he would wear T-shirts with social justice slogans made by Russell Westbrook of the Houston Rockets.
“We want to make sure that Daniel Cameron”— the Kentucky attorney general — “will arrest the cops and the officers involved with Breonna Taylor’s death,” replied Harris, “and that’s all I got to say.”
Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart had one answer to every question posed to him by reporters: “Justice for Breonna Taylor.”
And after the Lakers played the Dallas Mavericks, the NBA’s biggest star, LeBron James, said, “We want the cops arrested who committed that crime. As one of the leaders of this league, I want her family to know and the state of Kentucky to know that we feel for her and we want justice. That’s what it’s all about.”
He spoke about Rodney King, Trayvon Martin, Floyd, Taylor and about how Blacks are racially profiled “from the time you come out of the womb.”
And, he added, “I don’t like the word ‘movement’ because, unfortunately, in America and in society, there ain’t been no damn movement for us.”
When a trio of Louisville police officers in plainclothes broke down Taylor’s door after midnight last spring, she was in bed watching a movie with her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker. The officers were executing a “no-knock” warrant, which had been signed by a judge. Police said they identified themselves before they violently entered the home. Walker, and neighbors, said they never heard any such thing.
The couple leaped out of bed, believing their home was being invaded by strangers. Walker shot once, wounding an officer in the leg. Officers responded by firing 20 rounds at the couple. Taylor died on the floor of her hallway.
The 911 recording buttresses Walker’s account.
“I don’t know what’s happening,” he told the operator. “Somebody kicked in the door and shot my girlfriend.”
Despite some reports that police were in the wrong place, the Louisville Courier-Journal examined the warrants and reported that the police were indeed at the correct address. Taylor’s name, address, birthdate and Social Security number were all on the warrant.
Taylor was an emergency room technician who worked at two local hospitals.
She had, according to a lawsuit filed by her family against the police, a couple of speeding tickets to her name and no criminal record. And yet in the affidavit for the search warrant, the Courier Journal reported, a detective on the narcotics case said he’d seen one of the investigation’s primary targets, a man named Jamarcus Glover, pick up a package from Taylor’s home, and that Glover used her address as his own on documents.
After Taylor was killed and her boyfriend was arrested and charged with attempted murder of a police officer — a charge that was later dropped — a search of the apartment turned up no drugs.
She was killed for absolutely no reason other than criminally shoddy police work.
She was killed by men in plainclothes who pounded down her door in the middle of the night and sprayed her with bullets as her boyfriend tried to defend her with a gun.
I mean, in the same situation, what would you have done?
The officer who returned Walker’s fire, Brett Hankison, has been fired for “blindly” firing 10 rounds into Taylor’s apartment. He is appealing his dismissal.
The other two officers, Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove, have been placed on “administrative reassignment” while the Kentucky attorney general and the FBI continue to investigate the debacle.
On June 11, the Louisville Metro Council unanimously enacted a ban on “no-knock” arrest warrants.
And another Black mother finds herself an involuntary member of a terrible club, thrust like her daughter into a fight she did not pick.
Earlier this month, Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, spoke with “Good Morning America.”
“I’m new into this position,” said Palmer. “I don’t think I ever really understood my position in this fight prior to what happened to my daughter. I am now learning I have a higher position in this fight, and whatever I have to do to remain in it is what I am going to do. It should never happen to another Black daughter, son, another Black person, period.”
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