It’s been a terrible week for those of us in Kentucky. After Attorney General Daniel Cameron announced last week that the officers who murdered Breonna Taylor would walk away from their crime essentially without punishment, I and the rest of my community were left reeling. Breonna Taylor, a Black woman who had devoted her life to taking care of other people, had been resting her head in her own home, guilty of nothing, but died at the hands of police officers whose salaries she helped pay. I stood at a press conference this week and said what I believe to be true: that justice, like it did with Trayvon Martin, and Amadou Diallo, and Sandra Bland, and Eric Garner, failed us.
By which I mean far more than just that Breonna’s door was knocked down, because justice has been failing us for generations. Poverty is pervasive, generational, and heavily criminalized. Inequity is structural and weighing down communities all across our commonwealth. As a Black man living in one of the most segregated cities in the country, found within one of the poorest states in the country, I see injustice every day I wake up. We know we are more likely to be seen as a deadly weapon before being seen as a human being. We know due process is something that never seems to come due for us. We know facts and evidence wont be used to protect us. We know the agencies and institutions can discriminate and hurt us with impunity. We Daniel Cameron’s announcement on Wednesday was likely to happen, as disgusting and crushing as it was. We’ve been telling you we can’t breathe, so we knew not to hold our breath. The announcement by the attorney general wasn’t anything new or unexpected; it just reinforced all of the injustice we had come to know.
It is easy this week to feel hopeless; how can we continue to believe the future will hold anything different, when every week, we watch a new name become a hashtag? How can we hope for justice in the future, when there’s so much injustice around us every day?
This week, though, I stood with and embraced Ms. Tamika Palmer, Breonna’s mom. In her, I see my own mother, a remarkable Black woman who has suffered unspeakable loss, but who is still able to show the strength to put an entire nation on her back. She, more than any of us, has license to want it all burned down. Her tears, her heartbreak have been broadcast on every channel and covered in every publication. Still, she doesn’t want the office of the Kentucky attorney general burned down. Even through her pain, she’s had the incredible fortitude and moral clarity to show us that justice will require system-level change. It won’t happen simply because our humanity deserves it, as her daughter’s unconscionable murder shows; it will come because we refuse to let the light of hope alive within each of our spirits die out. Within a system that wants to crush us, that wants us to stop resisting, keeping that hope alive is the most revolutionary thing we can do.
And there is reason for hope. Public attitudes on racial justice issues have shifted dramatically over the last four years; the average American now no longer finds the phrase “Black lives matter” controversial. We are witnessing and leading a true shift in our city and this county. The fight for justice, for Breonna specifically and Black lives generally, is being lifted as the fight for our collective future. Divisions of race, geography, and class are giving way to a common cause for true healing. Change is possible now more than ever, because we realize that we are that change.
We have to continue to look forward. We must continue to demand justice for Breonna Taylor, and never stop saying her name, for every person fighting to make justice real. For a family and community facing unyielding trauma. We must say her name for every Black woman who battles injustice in silence. Say her name as a declaration to ending structural and institutional racism. Say her name because Attorney General Daniel Cameron didn’t. We must not move past Breonna’s murder; we deserve basic transparency, and people should understand what led to the decision to let her killers off the hook. Kentuckians deserve to see the police file and the evidence presented to the grand jury, and they deserve to see transcripts of the jury’s deliberations. We must demand that justice be made real for Breonna.
And beyond that, we must continue to keep hope alive for a more just future. That hope must be our inspiration to lead. As hurt as we are, I have seen a spark of hope grow in our spirit that reminds me of the stories my grandad told me about the civil rights movement. It makes me think of the ancestors like my own, who had nothing but hope, as they ran their way to freedom on the Underground Railroad. For periods of our history, all we’ve had is the flame of hope, and we’ve done a lot with it. For Breonna Taylor, for our children, for our neighbors, and for future generations, let’s never allow Donald Trump and his allies in hate to take it away from us. Through our love, our organizing, our advocacy, our leadership, and our vote, let’s continue to say her name.
Justice for Breonna Taylor.