5 Black women imagine what true justice for Breonna Taylor would look likeSeptember 25, 2020
In March, police in Louisville, Kentucky, shot and killed 26-year-old EMT Breonna Taylor while she was sleeping, during an early morning raid conducted with a no-knock warrant. Since her murder, Taylor’s name has echoed across the nation as protesters demanded justice. But following Wednesday’s announcement that the grand jury decided not to charge any officers for Taylor’s killing, many have been left feeling disillusioned and lost.
After police shootings, justice in the public imagination often becomes constrained to the boundaries of carceral systems. There is nothing to do but charge the police and hope they get sent to prison. But time and time again, this fails to happen. In rare instances, a grand jury may indict an officer, like in the case of 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley Jones’s death. Joseph Weekly, who shot Jones, was indicted by a one-person grand jury on charges of involuntary manslaughter, a felony, and careless discharge of a firearm causing death, a misdemeanor. Later, a judge dismissed the felony charge, citing a lack of evidence.
In some ways, Taylor’s and Jones’s cases echo each other. Both were asleep — one in her bed, another on her grandmother’s couch — and killed during a raid. There was no justice for them to be found in the criminal justice system. Nobody was sent to prison; nobody was punished. But why do put our hope into prisons? How have these institutions — which detain, surveil, and brutalize Black women and children just like Taylor and Jones — become our measurements for justice?
Once, Octavia Butler, a literary giant often regarded as the mother of Afrofuturism, said the following when asked what good science fiction is to Black people: “At its best, science fiction stimulates imagination and creativity. It gets reader and writer off the beaten track, off the narrow, narrow footpath of what ‘everyone’ is saying, doing, thinking — whoever ‘everyone’ happens to be this year.”
While everyone demands indictments and prison, there is a type of justice that exists far beyond them both. Throughout this summer, we have seen people departing from the narrow tracks set out for them, like in the protests that erupted last night in Louisville or the burning of a police precinct in Minneapolis. Mic spoke with five Black women about their determination to move beyond carceral systems and imagine a new type of justice for Breonna Taylor.
Melody, New Jersey
After hearing the grand jury decision, I cried, a lot. More than usual. There was a really uncomfortable familiarity with Breonna, probably because she was very close to my age (I’m 22) or because she worked in public service (I hope to become a public defender). It is hard to admit that the delusions that you build for yourself around productivity inducing safety can be shattered quite easily. I also attached this naive hope that the amount of press around her story would create some change, some difference, but that was obviously not true. So I cried about it like I think we all should.
Justice for Breonna outside of a carceral system would look like a world without prisons and police. Again, I think my reaction to the charges was visceral, but as I go down my path of learning more about abolition through reading Mariame Kaba, Dr. Gilmore, Angela Davis, and other amazing Black women, I am learning to imagine forgiveness in a world where we are all free from shame and fear. Breonna would not have died if we did not have a punishment system that survives on all that pain and the hope that your fear is stronger than your empathy. The fear of drugs in her neighborhood (whatever that means) was deemed more important than her life and I don’t think that’s right.
The sooner we move away from punishing people for their flaws and for their reaction to late-stage racial capitalism, the further we can move toward a world where the Breonnas of the world can be alive. I would hope that it would feel communal, where we all care for each other no matter our flaws, our addictions, our chosen neighborhoods, etc. I think it would sound like how Black women sound when we laugh, very loud and joyous with a lot of movement and carefree energy.
My final message would probably be to my Black girl law students: We are being taught in a system that proves time and time again that our blood is not worth the justice we are taught. But we are allowed to imagine a world where incarceration is not the answer. We are allowed to imagine a world where such dangerous and evil means of achieving justice are not the answer. For now though, continue to fight for justice pending revolution.
M. Kennedy, Chicago
My initial reaction started in the days before the reading [of the grand jury decision]. Louisville made it painfully obvious that we would not be getting justice as has been called for countless times since Ms. Taylor’s murder. The boarding up of city buildings, the mobilizations of police, and the movement of protesters and “anti-protesters” made it all too clear. When I heard the charges, I was beyond horrified yet not surprised. Our leaders have a tried and true history of protecting and covering up, making excuses, and enabling for bad cops.
The model the U.S. has been employing in order to keep us under their boot has been systematically putting brown and Black bodies in harm’s way for decades. Longer. The only way that we can move past our history of our oppression is to dismantle and rebuild the system in order for it to work for all of our countries people. Reinvesting into neighborhoods that have been cast aside, putting mental health at the forefront, training police in de-escalation, and being an asset to the community is the only way that I believe that we will be able to move beyond deadly police shootings with no consequences. Progressive measures are the way to help those who have never felt the ability to breathe comfortably when existing in a police state. We cannot stand by and accept governmental platitudes. Lukewarm is no longer good enough.
Reakash Walters, Toronto, Canada
After hearing of the grand jury’s decision I felt tinges of despair, but mostly resignation. Again and again criminal legal systems in both Canada and America show us that they are indifferent to Black and Indigenous pain and death.
In a recent Canadian case of police brutality, Dafonte Miller’s assailants were also not adequately held accountable for horrifically beating a Black youth minding his business. We know we deserve better than this.
The only justice I can imagine for Breonna Taylor is that six months ago she was left to finish watching that movie with her boyfriend and woke up safe the next day. Breonna was denied justice, period. Justice for Black communities outside carceral systems I think looks like comfortable housing, good food, blessed music — maybe a dancehall beat — and the tools to manage interpersonal violence and abuse without being exposed to policing, surveillance, or incarceration. Black folk must cultivate a future wherein our exposure to police is slim to none and we transform our relationship to justice, we take care of each other, so we render the police irrelevant.
Sending care, love, and solidarity to Breonna’s mother, family, and friends. We are mourning with you. We are so sorry.
Queen-Cheyenne Wade, Boston
The lack of acknowledgment for Breonna Taylor’s murder within a system that upholds and is grounded in violence against Black women will never be surprising. Yet, the continued mourning and heartbreak from myself, and within my own communities and spaces, was still loud as ever. As it should be. When Black women die, their corpses are used as liberal symbolism, and people push Breonna’s memory into a martyrdom for a cause that was never meant to protect her in the first place.
Breonna Taylor has been used for Biden’s campaign, voting, and police reform. In many ways, the continued use of her murder to justifies the system that protects and funds the officers that murdered her. The same system that won’t even say her name or acknowledge her death as murder. It brings me to the James Baldwin’s quote about how being a Black person in America is to be in a constant state of rage almost all of the time. I am in a state of constant rage by Breonna Taylor’s murder, the lack of indictment and acknowledgment of the police officers that murdered her, but also how the media continues to use the objectification and dehumanization of Black women to further push their own agendas.
My imagining of justice for Breonna Taylor outside of carceral systems — including policing and prisons — looks like the complete dismantling of the systems that that upheld and enforced her murder. That is, the systems of white supremacy and exploitation that continue to facilitate the violence that harmed Breonna Taylor and continues to harm Black women, femmes, and communities around the world.
What this looks like is the centering of Breonna Taylor and the harm inflicted upon her, not as a point of reforming the system but rather as a means of transforming our communities and lives so that this harm can never exist again. That, to me, is abolition. The sound, feeling, and sight of Black feminist and Black queer liberation theory not just as a learning point, but also as a practice and a daily way of engaging in your communities and with the Black women, femmes, and non-binary folks around you. Real protection is proactive, not reactive, and the only proactive choice that can ensure this type of violence never happens again is the complete abolition of the system that created this harm in the first place.
Amorous Ebony, Baltimore
I am a performing artist, arts instructor, and light worker. I have many paths of work as an activist and performer but the most important factor is the radical divine work to free and uplift Black womyn and femmes. My comrade and sista in the struggle, Brittany Oliver, and I are starting the Say Her Name Coalition where we will work directly here in Baltimore to serve the needs of Black womyn and femmes.
My initial reactions to yesterday’s grand jury decision were anger, defeat … but hope, too, because the work continues. Arresting the white supremacists who killed Breonna Taylor was never our sole ask. We demand the dismantlement of systems that silence and perpetuate violence and terror in the lives of Black womyn, femmes, and girls. We already knew the verdict, it’s why they declared a state of emergency, it’s why they created a curfew. They ALWAYS do this to us. They put their silencers on and they shoot us. They expect our complacency. They want our washed up peacefulness mixed with a dash of a Dr. King respectability.
An indictment is nothing to be excited about. Surely a conviction would send a message that you cannot kill us. Black womyn and femmes get murdered while in our homes, sleeping, existing, for saying no, for being trans, and list goes on. Choosing not to hold white supremacists to the “law” they prosecute us for is a slap in the face.
I imagine a place for us. It looks and sounds like global sisterhood and reparations for Black womyn and femmes. It looks like vibrancy and flourishing amongst us all. Everyone gets an equal slice of the pie because we all deserve it. It feels like paradise. It feels like nakedness, being able to receive the fruits without the burden to be anyone’s mammy. It smells of freedom and anti-mysogynoir. It looks like Black girls being seen and truly embraced for who they are without the burden of carrying white supremacy. We deserve buildings burned for us, we deserve riches, we deserve justice.