On Sept. 23,, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron announced the long-awaited grand jury decision in the Louisville police fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor. The grand jury ruled that none of the officers involved in Taylor’s death will be indicted for murder or manslaughter. Only one of the officers, Brett Hankison, is being charged with three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment for firing his gun into a neighbor’s apartment. The attorney general maintained that the use of force by officers was justified because Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, was the first to fire his gun when police burst into the apartment, wounding one of the officers.
Breonna Taylor’s family reacted with anger and disappointment, as they demanded the release of grand jury proceeding transcripts. The decision not to charge the officers who killed Taylor triggered renewed racial justice protests in Louisville and across the U.S.
In addition to leaked police body camera video in the aftermath of the shooting, a grand juror in the Breonna Taylor case has charged that Kentucky’s attorney general may have misrepresented to the public the case he presented to the panel, and urged full publicl disclosure of the proceedings. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Arisha Hatch, vice president of Color Of Change, who talks about her group’s response to the Kentucky attorney general’s decision not to bring charges against police officers who killed Breonna Taylor in her own apartment and the broader issues of systemic racism in law enforcement and the judicial branch.
ARISHA HATCH: Well, the news is certainly devastating and both shocking, but unsurprising, if that’s possible at all. There was no justice for Breonna or her family in this case. And so, you know, we know that our members, as well as many members of our staff feel that this is a very unjust decision, and showed a complete lack of empathy from Cameron. And I think that’s the thing that struck us the most.
SCOTT HARRIS: Some of the commentary we heard about the decision not to go forward on charges against the police officers involved in the raid and the death of Breonna Taylor was that Breonna’s boyfriend was said to fire a shot and therefore the police were justified in firing back. That’s the essential defense of what the Kentucky attorney general did in this case.
ARISHA HATCH: Well, there always seems to be a justification for the murder of black people. We’ve seen many instances where people have been arrested safely, even though there are guns involved. And so, we find that justification to be really unfair to Breonna and to her family. He had the right, as far as we know, to own a gun and have the right to self-defense and defend his property when someone was entering without his knowledge. But we see this time and time again, that there are justifications given when police overstep their boundaries or don’t employ good practices in their investigative work.
SCOTT HARRIS: There’s newly released video of the immediate aftermath of the police raid that killed Breonna Taylor that showed fire detective Brett Hankison, walking into the crime scene after the incident, looking for shell casings with a flashlight. And that seemed to be a very blatant violation of police protocol. What can you tell us about what we’ve learned from this video that was leaked?
ARISHA HATCH: I still personally haven’t seen the video yet, but, we are pushing for more transparency. We’re happy that the video has been released. We also want to see more transparency in the grand jury process that just happened. We want to understand more about what actually happened before and after Breonna’s murder. And we want to be engaged in a deeper conversation about the improper police practices that led to her murder.
SCOTT HARRIS: Arisha, how can we reform the system where police are not investigating themselves when it comes to violating their rules of engagement or protocols? It seems that in so many cases, we have the police investigating themselves where there’s obviously opportunities to taint a case and taint evidence. Have we seen any examples around the country where these types of reforms will prevent the “fox guarding the chicken coop?”
ARISHA HATCH: One of the things that we’re really focused on is really pushing on prosecutors, district attorneys and attorney generals. We believe that they are a key intervention point in holding police officers who overstep accountable. And we just haven’t seen that a lot across the country, although we’re beginning to see it more and more. Color of Change PAC has helped to elect more than a dozen prosecutors across the country who are more progressive in nature, who don’t believe in “tough on crime” rhetoric or policies, and to have pledged to hold police accountable. And what we really saw happen in this case was we had an attorney general in Cameron who was supposed to be a prosecutor for the people. He is supposed to be a prosecutor for victims and victims’ families and not a defense attorney for the police, which is the way that he behaved in this case, we believe.
SCOTT HARRIS: And Arisha, in looking at the election coming up, there are so many issues that our nation is confronting at the moment — this vacant Supreme Court seat, we’ve got the coronavirus pandemic, the Trump taxes. And I mean, there’s so much on the plate of everybody here in this country. What is your group doing to ensure that during the debates that are coming up between candidate Vice President Joe Biden and Donald Trump, that the issues of systemic racism and very real problems of police violence are addressed by these candidates — and not only these candidates, but candidates running for Congress and the Senate.
ARISHA HATCH: Well, part of what we’re trying to do is engage the media. We’re actually running the debates around how they’re going to talk about these issues throughout the debate. We’re obviously watching to see how not only the candidates address the racial justice issues that we care about, but how moderators, how the media actually prompts these questions. And we will continue to be engaged with folks holding futures debates about how they engage politicians about the issues that matter so much to our members and to our family.
For more information, visit Color of Change at colorofchange.org.