Just last week – on Wednesday, September 23, 2020 – we were shocked to learn that none of the five police officers involved in the death of Breonna Taylor will be charged for fatally shooting her in her own home. This is a miscarriage of justice and a painful reminder that law enforcement must be held accountable for their killings of Black lives.
The grand jury in Louisville, Kentucky, where Breonna lived, indicted one officer for shooting into her neighbor's apartment. That officer – now former officer Brett Hankison – was indicted on three counts of wanton endangerment. The two officers who opened fire in Breonna’s apartment – ultimately killing her – were not indicted and none of the officers were charged for anything related to their role in her death.
This week it was revealed that the Kentucky Attorney General did not present homicide charges to the grand jury. While the recording of the grand jury has been ordered to be released by the presiding judge – a rare order – the Attorney General has sought delays to the release to redact personal witness information.
This verdict does not hold any of the officers involved to account for her death. This verdict also comes exactly 65 years after Black America was told that two men were acquitted for the killing of a 14-year-old African American boy who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955. This young boy’s name was Emmett Till. He was accused of offending a white woman in her family's grocery store. The brutality of his murder and the fact that his killers were acquitted drew attention to the long history of violent persecution of African Americans in the US. The men later admitted guilt. Emmett Till subsequently became an icon of the Civil Rights Movement. Now 65 years later, many African Americans feel as if these injustices still exist.
The racial injustice disparities we see in nearly every part of society are not accidents. They are the result of racist systems that impose burden after burden on Black lives and people of color.
A Supreme Court ruling on the Fourth Amendment of the US constitution allows for no knock warrants and was used in an affidavit by the Louisville police to enter Breonna Taylor’s home. “The idea [with the Fourth Amendment] is that to avoid the evils of general warrants, each search or seizure should be cleared in advance by a judge, and that to get a warrant the government must show ‘probable cause’ a certain level of suspicion or criminal activity – to justify the search or seizure,” explains African American activist and educator Charity Croff.
However, as an op-ed in the Washington Post argued in June, “The no-knock warrant for Breonna Taylor’s home was illegal.” Radley Balko’s article concluded, “Breonna Taylor’s death wasn’t some unimaginable accident. Nor were the deaths of people who have since died in similar raids. Her death was the entirely foreseeable consequence of a police department feeling free to callously and carelessly ignore the Fourth Amendment and the Supreme Court’s decision to prioritize the integrity of drug prosecutions over the Fourth Amendment right of Americans to feel safe and secure in their homes”.
As Candice Norwood’s reporting notes, “Taylor’s death is still a part of the national conversation about police practices, specifically those that target or disproportionately impact people of color.” The Louisville City Council banned no knock warrants following Breonna’s killing, in a law named after her.
The organization I work for – Global Witness – supports our allies fighting for racial justice and the urgent call for police reform in the US.
We must do better. We cannot accept this. We must demand change.
Our organization is not perfect. Our country is not perfect. We are not perfect. Precisely because of this, we all have work to do. Far too often, the burden of seeking equality rests on the shoulders of those most marginalized. This simply won’t work. The change we need is broad and deep and requires us all to be active – as friends and colleagues, and as allies and advocates.
Three months ago at Global Witness we asked ourselves, ‘what can we do to ensure our work doesn’t propagate racism and legacies of oppression? What role, as a global non-profit based in London, Brussels and Washington, D.C., do we play in the structures of the violent white supremacy playing out at home and abroad. We identified four key areas for action outlined in Our Commitments to Racial Justice. We are not there yet but we have made some changes, and are actively working to be fully accountable:
Diversity and inclusion accountability: We have allocated time and resources for a group of dedicated individuals for the creation of a formal mechanism to hold management to account on diversity and inclusion. Importantly, this has now been embedded within job roles, and is no longer something simply “added on” to already existing and full workloads.
Safe spaces: We have not yet achieved this commitment but are working to do so. Speaking out on racism and microaggressions should never leave an employee feeling isolated, alienated or as if their reputation or career is at risk.
Recruitment review: We have carried out a broad review into the end-to-end process of our recruitment. As a result, all interview panels will now have at least one person of color on them, and that person will be supported by HR at all times to ensure their voice is heard.
Campaign successes: We have and will continue to leverage our voice to expose injustices and inequality around the world, but we also recognize that we need to do more. We need to increase our accountability internally and externally, continue to improve our reporting on how well a campaign considers systemic power imbalances, biases and inequities, includes and uplift local partners, amplifies marginalized voices, and aligns with the advocacy goals of local communities.
Now is an important moment for listening, empathy and action. I encourage and invite each of you to reflect on the actions you personally can take to make a difference with your colleagues and within your communities.
At Global Witness, we choose to be supportive advocates in full recognition that our success is grounded in the success of our employees, supporters and communities.
While we cannot control what happens outside of Global Witness, we can speak up and help create the world in which we want to live. One tweet at a time. One conversation at a time. One action at a time.