(Featured Image: Srishti Prabha at the September 23, 2020 protest at San Jose City Hall)
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Imagine you were sleeping in your house and you heard someone break in. Would you protect yourself and your family? Kenneth Walker, Breonna Taylor’s boyfriend, fired his gun in self defense, in accordance with Kentucky gun laws, which permits the shooting of someone trespassing on your territory. He was immediately arrested with an attempted murder charge and his partner was fatally shot.
The three white Louisville Metro Police Department officers Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison, and Myles Cosgrove, who shot and killed Breonna Taylor, roamed free after the incident. Last week, September 23, 2020, they were cleared of the first degree murder charge, with only one officer receiving a lighter indictment for wanton endangerment.
A protest was in order. In a case so clear, how could these men be let off with a slap on the wrist? I took to the streets of San Jose to show my support for the injustice inflicted upon Breonna Taylor’s memory and her family.
A bright and beautiful black woman, who served her community as an EMT, was taken in her sleep.
“Black women matter!,” we chanted as a group at SJ City Hall. A group much smaller than what I had seen earlier this year.
The protest cycle, gaining and losing traction, is not a new one, neither is the information it is disseminating. Michael German, Fellow from the Brennan Center for Justice and former Special Agent for the FBI, spoke about the pattern of white supremacy and far-right militant behavior repeating in 1990, 2006, 2015 at the Ethnic Media Services briefing on September 5th.
“White supremacy and far right violence in the US is a problem that…is poorly understood, partly because the federal government deprioritizes it and the state and local governments don’t want to pick up the slack,” informed German. A consistent issue and a potential threat since the 90s, the ideology of white supremacy cannot be dismantled unless it is understood.
Why do I bring up white supremacy in relation to Breonna Taylor? It’s this simple.
The initial act of entering unannounced and shooting an unarmed black woman comes from the fear of her Blackness. The potential cover up of her murder and the subsequent ruling in favor of the three white cops is the influence and power accrued from fear and oppression of colored communities.
Data presents a clear distribution. For every 100,000 people, 2306 black people are incarcerated to the 450 white people. A number five times higher.
There is always some ambiguity in a case or the possibility of nitpicking a story. Here is the question that should be asked…
Did the warrant put out related to a drug offense that was MAYBE loosely linked to the use of Breonna Taylor’s house require an unwarranted attack?
The fact remains that black people are disproportionately exposed to such encounters or convicted of crimes. Why is that?
Brennan Center for Justice finds that “structural or institutional bias against people of color, shaped by long-standing racial, economic, and social inequities, infects the criminal justice system.” And these systemic inequities are exacerbated and can lead to implicit bias when the law enforcement interacts with the public.
In any ordinary job, negligence would lead to loss of a job, at the very least. Even insider trading has a consequence. And killing an innocent person has little to no repercussion?
“Crime in the United States has been a highly politicized issue,” Michael German very succinctly states. Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison, and Myles Cosgrove did not do their job. A job where their first and foremost duty was to provide safety to the community they served, to the people they served, to Breonna Taylor.
A study by The Sentencing Project provides some historical basis for the drivers of this disparity. They find three recurrent explanations from a multistudy analysis: policy and practice, the role of implicit bias and stereotyping in decision-making, and structural disadvantages in communities of color which are associated with high rates of offending and arrest.
The structural disadvantage for communities of color permeates through and beyond policing. Societal thought and implicit bias are part of the quotidian. Dr. Dorothy Johnson-Speight and her nonprofit organization, Mothers in Charge, work to understand the violence in their communities. Johnson-Speight didn’t need to be part of the criminal justice system to live through the injustices faced in her community. As a mother who lost her adult son to gun violence, she poignantly said, “You don’t really have a clue, if you haven’t walked in those shoes.”
During the briefing, she mentions case after case where there is video evidence that speaks contrary to the police narrative. She uses Breonna Taylor’s murder to highlight the multitude of ways that powerful people use untruths to support the violence inflicted in her communities.
“She has never had any criminal history but to save the face of the corrupt police officers…to get them off [for murder]…they create these untrue stories. These are the kinds of things that have been happening in communities of color for years.”
What needs to happen for these narratives to be revised? Where do we start?
No one understands this better than community activist and CoFounder of Silicon Valley De-Bug, Raj Jayadev. “Communities have been sacrificed in the name of safety”, advocates Jayadev and very quickly makes the adverse correlation between safety and policing. The premise of law and order has been synonymous with policing, surveillance, prosecution, and incarceration, yet, evidence proves those two are antithetical.
Jayadev’s organization runs out of San Jose, a rather progressive city with a low crime rate. Despite this, he points out that San Jose has a relatively high rate of death caused by police. White supremacy is not limited to one particular space, it is national. We are all having the same political discourse.
Jayadev probes, “How do we reimagine safety, safety for all, if law and order isn’t the mechanism to get there?”
“Defund The Police” reads my sign that I hold up to passing cars at City Hall. I hear a call, “What is her name?!” The group responds, “Breonna Taylor!”
In unison we chant, “Black Lives Matter” to anyone who is willing to hear us.
Black Lives Matter. Say Their Names. Defund The Police.
The words are different but the message is one. We are hoping and praying for a reimagined world in which safety means communities of color are part of the whole. A world where safety means equal access to mental health services, education, livable wages, rehabilitation, halfway homes, housing, and social services geared towards the benefit of all.
Deprogramming what we know is difficult and will take time. Together we can reimagine…
Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.