Updated: Jan 6
In case you weren’t aware, there are two American justice systems – one for White folks, and one for BIPOC. There is a different set of rules and a different reality. Many try to deny this; many try to look away when it’s pointed out to them. We are constantly reminded that these worlds are different and real. We were reminded of that again when we were once waiting for justice for Breonna Taylor.
You can see the two worlds I reference when taking a step back and looking first at the case of Justine Damond. Justine Damond was a 40-year old white, Australian-American woman who was fatally shot by Officer Mohamed Noor, here in my hometown of Minneapolis, on July 20th, 2017. Justine had reported a crime, waited for the police to arrive, approached the squad, and was fatally shot by the officer. In response to her shooting, the officer who shot her was arrested and charged with second-degree manslaughter and third-degree murder on March 20th, 2018. Not only was he charged with those two offenses, Officer Noor’s charges were also upgraded to second-degree murder. The officer was tried and convicted of third-degree murder and manslaughter but was acquitted of that upgraded charge of second-degree intentional murder on April 30th, 2019. Keep in mind, folks, the point I am trying to make here wasn’t if they could convict him of that elevated charge, the point is that the effort was made to seek justice on this woman’s behalf. Officer Noor’s sentence was 12.5 years in prison. Justine’s family pursued a civil lawsuit against the City of Minneapolis and was awarded a hefty payment of $20,000,000. This was one of the largest settlements for a police-involved shooting, ever.
Let me state the obvious: No amount of money is ever going to make this family feel whole after losing Justine. You cannot replace a soul with dollars.
Now in comparison, let’s look at the shooting of Breonna Taylor. This shouldn’t be news to you unless you have been in a coma, but let’s recap.
Breonna, a 26-year old Black woman, was fatally shot on March 13th, 2020, while sleeping in her bed when three Louisville, Kentucky Police Officers entered her apartment while executing a no-knock warrant. Breonna’s boyfriend believed intruders were breaking into their home, so he fired at the officers, who then returned over 20 shots. Breonna’s death certificate lists her manner of death as a homicide.
The aftermath of Breonna’s case is very different than that of Justine’s.
The Kentucky Attorney General, Daniel Cameron, has stated that “State law bars us from seeking charges in Breonna Taylor’s death.” His position is that the three officers announced themselves and did not execute a “no-knock” warrant, were following proper procedure, and they acted in self-defense. Breonna’s family and her neighbors say this is untrue; officers did not identify themselves. One of the officers, Brett Hankison, was fired from his job on June 23rd, 2020. Being fired from his job is not justice for Breonna’s death, and, in my opinion, as an HR professional, it certainly reflects that his employer acknowledges he wasn’t doing his job correctly. His termination would also contradict Daniel Cameron’s position of following procedure, wouldn’t it? Weird.
On September 23rd, 2020, 194 days after Breonna’s death, the Kentucky grand jury indicted Hankison on three wanton endangerment counts. Unlike Officer Noor, the State of Kentucky did not charge Officer Hankison with second-degree manslaughter, third-degree murder, or second-degree murder. His charge was wanton endangerment after firing ten rounds into Breonna’s apartment.
What is wanton endangerment? Stated in the most basic terms, it means “extreme indifference to the value human life which creates a substantial danger of death or serious physical injury to another person.” The charge of wanton endangerment isn’t about the death of Breonna Taylor. The state of Kentucky is taking the position that the officer put Breonna’s neighbors in harm’s way, and that is the crime; those are the lives that were he was indifferent about, even though Breonna Taylor’s life is the life that was taken.
While no criminal charges have been pursued, the City of Louisville settled a civil lawsuit with the family of Breonna Taylor on September 16th, 2020, for $12,000,000. In addition to the monetary payout, the settlement includes the condition that the Louisville Metro Police change policy and practices related to the community. Reforming the search warrant process, officer accountability, transparency in officer disciplinary information, and many other reforms were all part of the settlement conditions.
Let’s consider for a moment the specificity to this: That while news reports and legal documents can say Louisville Metro Government does not admit any wrongdoing on the part of the city or the police, they paid Breonna Taylor’s family $12 Million. There are always several reasons why parties settle lawsuits. Real Talk: It’s because one party is woefully wrong, want it all to go away, yet still be able to say, “We do not admit to any wrongdoing.”
Can someone cue Alanis Morrisette, please, because we have some irony to talk about…
The other big take-away from this is the police reform as part of the settlement. Again, the irony of this: No criminal charges, yet, there is acceptance of police reform on a civil lawsuit. (Yep, this is the Upside Down, y’all!)
You know what? I’m just going to leave you with some points to ponder on this one, folks, again from my HR leader brain:
If Mitch McConnell’s protege, Attorney General Daniel Cameron, is being truthful and the Louisville Police department acted in self-defense, would they agree to reform their search warrant policies?
If they were following best practices and adequately holding their officers accountable for their choices, why would they need to amend their practices?
If they were already forthright in providing transparent records in their officers’ disciplinary records, why would this need to be addressed?
Would the Louisville Metro Government have agreed to over a dozen reforms if those officers had done everything by the book such that state law would bar the Attorney General from bringing forth charges?
So, there you have it. Two tragic stories made even more tragic.
Two women: Both beautiful, both young, both accomplished, both loved, both with their whole lives ahead of them. Both killed by police officers. They both lived in the same country yet lived in two completely different set of justice systems. #SayHerName #BreonnaTaylor #JusticeForBre