Your life meant more than you were likely ever told when you were alive. That’s how it often goes. Folks love you, revere you, want to sop you up with a biscuit, but never really show you or tell you while they can. And then, one day, they can’t. How we all wish you were alive. None more than your family. But perhaps even those of us that never knew you feel like we do, and wish we could have shown or told you how amazing you were… how amazing and valuable Black girls are, Black women are, Black women named Breonna are. We hope in that last hour you were held, told you were beautiful, felt your heart beat to the rhythm of your favorite song.
Yet in death, I want to try to educate our brothers and sisters on some very important legal truths to give some clarity to your fate and the aftermath. A fate, again, that was sad, unnecessary, baseless, negligent, reckless, and unjustifiable. However, now it is your legacy that is left. Your legacy should shape how we are treated in our own homes. You, Botham Jean, Korryn Gaines, and Atitiana Jefferson. Police reform is mandatory. No knock warrants should be forever banned. Black lives should AT A MINIMUM matter. Black people must understand the law, their rights, and their legal options.
You were a 26 year old emergency room tech, a first responder, someone to be exalted and honored. Instead, because you once had dealings with someone with a criminal past, a no knock warrant to find that person, who was already in police custody and lived over 10 miles away from you was issued. A battering ram was used to break down your door, two police officers entered without warning, and you were killed. One former detective went outside of your apartment shot into the window covered with blinds and neighboring apartments. That was March 13, 2020. We have marched, protested, hash tagged, wore tee shirts, and loudly called for justice for you for six months. Today we heard from the Attorney General… the same one who spoke at the RNC.
This case might be legal chaos, but it is not morally or systematically complicated. Yet, no charges were brought against the officers in your killing. Today the former detective, whose weapon was not involved in your murder, was charged only with wanton endangerment for shooting into neighboring apartments. This is not an uncommon result in the killing of Black men and women by police officers… no justice. I guess Daniel Cameron does turn a blind eye to unjust acts. Black people are simply not treated justly or fairly in the exercise of thwarting crime by police officers, police departments, and courts. It is due to the very sad reality in America that the lives of Black people in the criminal justice system are deemed valueless. Your precious life was cut short and he gets charged for shooting at a wall?!?
Yet again, this isn’t new. This is the very real reality of the state of white privilege, racism, and the lack of justice in America. Wanton endangerment sounds like an ’80s cover band and not the indictment in the death of a human being in her own home. This is a state sanctioned homicide at its worst! The issues here are not so much what happened after police got to your home, your murder was the direct result of what happened prior to the police arriving at the scene. A haphazard investigation into the case that brought on said warrant. A negligently issued no knock warrant. A virtual crutch to police officers feeling a duty to act reasonably. Everything about this was wanton.
The decision to issue this type of warrant and the failure to adequately research the circumstances surrounding the warrant are directly related to the racist systems and policies in place across the country. Judges most often approve no knock warrants in urban drug cases. The brainchild of a Senate staffer during the Nixon era, they are historically one of the tools used in the 1980s war on drugs in America’s Black neighborhoods. According to Radley Balko, an investigative journalist and the author of the book Rise of the Warrior Cop, about police using the so-called no-knock warrants, about 10 innocent people and 30 potentially drug involved individuals are killed during these raids. Moreover the reckless use of such a dangerous tool sheds further light on the unimportance of protecting and saving Black lives. These warrants also insulate police by allowing them to use practices that limit their responsibility to use deathly force. Police should always be and must always be held accountable for firing their weapons. They should not ever be relieved of their duty to protect.
Yet, here we are yet again. Another Black life left to perish with no consequences for the obviously flawed and biased system that is supposed to protect and serve Americans, especially the innocent. You were innocent, unprotected, and underserved.
You deserve justice of every kind.
In April 27th, 2020, your mother filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the three police officers involved in your killing. The suit also alleged the police used excessive force and the issuance of the warrant was grossly negligent. The result was a $12 Million settlement in the civil suit. This is larger than any settlement paid in Kentucky’s history and larger than those settlements for Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, or Freddie Gray. An unprecedented act, the suit also resulted in the commitment to make police reforms including officer review of search warrants, mandatory paramedics in search warrants, identifying officers with red flags, social workers on dispatch cases, keeping investigative files into officer conduct open, among other things.
What is important here is the understanding that civil justice is not the settlement of a criminal case. They are two completely different types of jurisprudence that have very little to do with each other. Civil wrongful death suits need only prove by a preponderance of the evidence (51%) that the defendant caused the death. A criminal case, particularly murder needs both intent and must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, a very very high burden. So a person can be RESPONSIBLE for the death but not have criminal intent and be found not guilty. They are two very different lines of inquiry. It is important that we understand this, and are not sitting in judgement or shaming families who seek civil justice.
Families of people killed by the police, racist state actors, or as a result of the racist systems and policies in place that attempt to justify the death of a Black people should be able to put their lives back together. Many of these people sacrifice their jobs, savings, and livelihoods waiting and advocating for the indictments of their children, sibling’s, spouse’s and parent’s killers. They are often unprepared and go into debt burying their loved ones. Families such as your own deserve to send their fallen soldier’s children to college, or pay for their spouses and parents to dedicate their lives to advocacy and activism against police brutality, racism, the politicalization of criminal investigations and indictments, and the oppression of marginalized people. They also deserve a means to get commitments from police departments and States that will prevent the continued death of Black people at their hands. It is not settling to accept this money – settling for money instead of justice. In many instances, it’s the tool to continue living.
And keep living we must. The fight is too big. We need all the soldiers we can muster. There are too many names. Too many dead Black people. Too many unconvicted police officers. Too many excuses. Too many failures. We deserve justice of every kind.
Please know, we said your name. Breonna. We said your name deliberately, loudly, often, and with passion. Breonna means noble, virtuous, and strong. Everyone who knew you well says you were all of those things and more. We can see it in your eyes and your smile. We honor you. We remember you. We will continue to fight for you. We mourn you. You deserved justice of every kind.