Dahleen Glanton: Justice in Breonna Taylor's death fell victim to 'law and order' politics

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Activist Tamika Mallory, from the Until Freedom organization, speaks ahead of the grand jury verdict on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020, in Louisville, Kentucky. - Brandon Bell/Getty Images North America/TNS

There will be no justice for Breonna Taylor. Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron made sure of that.

He failed to make the case that Taylor’s life mattered. So a grand jury in Louisville, Kentucky, did what panels in the police shootings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York did — give killer cops a pass.

It is more than a miscarriage of justice. It is a blatant disregard for human life.

One of the officers who burst into Taylor’s apartment and began firing wildly was indicted Wednesday on three counts of wanton endangerment — but not for killing Taylor. He is being held accountable for the bullets that made their way into a nearby apartment, where a pregnant woman, her husband and their 5-year-old child were sleeping.

Those three people’s lives were endangered by no fault of their own. The evidence also clearly shows that Taylor did nothing to provoke police officers to kill her in a hail of gunfire. Yet no one will be held responsible for her death.

All six of the bullets that struck Taylor were deemed irrelevant. A 26-year-old woman’s life was cut short and, in effect, declared irrelevant too.

Under Kentucky law, the first-degree wanton endangerment charge against Louisville police Officer Brett Hankison means that he showed “extreme indifference to the value of human life.”

There’s no question that Hankison showed no value for Taylor’s life by blindly firing 10 times from outside a sliding glass door and window. Neither did Detective Myles Cosgrove, who fired 16 times nor Sgt. Jon Mattingly, who fired six times.

It should come as no surprise that this grand jury would render a decision that frees the officers from criminal prosecution in the botched drug raid. Consider who presented the case.

Cameron is a “law and order” politician. He made that clear in his speech last month at the Republican National Convention, where he called himself a “proud Republican and supporter of Donald J. Trump.”

Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with law and order. But under Trump’s racially divisive interpretation of law and order, there is no room for questions. Police officers can do no wrong. Their account of a killing is gospel. And anyone who says otherwise is an anarchist.

When prosecutors follow Trump’s lead, it not only raises questions about the investigation but also contributes to the growing mistrust of law enforcement by marginalized groups.

Cameron should have remained quiet and stayed away from the national political spotlight. He chose instead to reveal his allegiance to Trump’s politically inflammatory brand of law and order in the midst of the Taylor investigation.

Nothing short of an indictment in Taylor’s death could have convinced the masses that the process was fair. So once again, the demand for justice has threatened to throw our cities into chaos.

Grand juries are supposed to be fair, but everyone knows that they often are not. Though they initially were formed to protect the public from an oppressive government, some say they have moved too far away from that mission.

In recent years, there have been calls for the United States to completely abolish grand juries, as they were in England in 1948. The Supreme Court has held that nothing in the Constitution requires the use of a grand jury.

In some cases, they have become a convenient tool for prosecutors who are too scared to make the tough decisions they were elected to make.

It’s true, as Cameron said in his news conference Wednesday, the grand jury is supposed to be independent of the prosecutor and free from outside influence. But prosecutors present their side of the events with no input from the opposing side. They only get to see and hear what the prosecutor puts in front of them.

When a reporter asked Cameron if the grand jury was asked to consider charges against Mattingly and Cosgrove, he evaded the question. He also wouldn’t clarify whether manslaughter was officially presented as an option.

It is much easier for prosecutors to blame a secretive panel of everyday Americans for failing to indict rather than suffer the fallout from having made an unpopular decision.

Clearly, much of the evidence presented isn’t as solid as Cameron contends.

The question of whether the officers were acting on a no-knock warrant remains unresolved. Cameron said that a witness corroborated the officers’ claim that they knocked on the door and announced that they were police officers.

However, a single witness in a building full of people is hardly enough to remove any doubt. It is just as easy to believe other witness accounts that police tore the door off its hinges with a battering ram and burst in without saying a word.

Cameron said that Mattingly entered the apartment and confronted Taylor and her boyfriend standing in the hallway. Her boyfriend was holding a gun and shot the officer in the upper thigh.

The officers fired shots all over the place, even into another apartment. That was necessary, they insisted, because they feared for their lives.

But it is just as easy to believe Taylor’s boyfriend’s version that he thought an intruder was breaking into the apartment and fired his legal weapon in self-defense. Charges initially filed against him in the shooting were dropped after the case gained national attention.

There is no police body camera footage or cellphone video to prove exactly what went down, but there are things we know for sure.

Taylor was in her own apartment, minding her business when her killers came calling in the wee hours of the morning. The suspect they were looking for wasn’t there. Taylor was a hospital emergency room technician, not a drug dealer. Her new boyfriend wasn’t either.

This young woman’s life may not have been of any value to Cameron or the people on the grand jury. But for those who are pouring into the streets to protest the decision as well as many other Americans, Breonna Taylor’s life mattered greatly.

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ABOUT THE WRITER

Dahleen Glanton is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.

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©2020 Chicago Tribune

A protestor raises his hands in the air during a standoff with law enforcement on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020, in Louisville, Kentucky. - Brandon Bell/Getty Images North America/TNS
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