A Reminder that the System Supports Police when They Act like Soldiers whose Enemies are The Very People they Swear to Protect
The decision on the Breonna Taylor case is disrespectful to American citizens, especially Black women, and all of the ensuing outrage, incredulity, and grief is entirely warranted. Let’s start there.
And then, when we go from there, where do we go?
Here’s where my mind keeps going: We’re asking for “justice” from the very system that perpetrated the injustice in the first place. We’re shouting “abolish the police and the carceral state” while also shouting “arrest the cops.”
Breonna’s case has reminded me to reckon with this dichotomy. Because as much as this verdict hurts, why did we expect anything different?
Breonna was sleeping in her bed, not bothering anyone. The cops were looking for someone who didn’t live at her house. Breonna was a responsible person with a “good” job. She did everything “right.” And still, she was murdered by the state.
When we reduce the scope of the narrative like this, we teeter on the edge of respectability politics, I know. But the reason we keep seeing these facts about Breonna’s life come to the surface is that they prove a point. No person should be killed by police. But if the system allows a person who didn’t break any laws to get killed by officers, and those officers still don’t face any consequences for her death, then surely we can no longer deny that our criminal justice system is broken. Surely we can no longer deny that reform is not enough.
But. Respectability politics aside. Even if Breonna WAS selling drugs, even if her ex-boyfriend DID live at her apartment, are our police officers trained to be so scared of their targets that they need to ambush them with guns and battering rams in the middle of the night? When Breonna’s partner fired one shot out of self-defense could the officers not just take cover and deescalate? Do they have to fire over THIRTY SHOTS in return? Do they have to run around to the back and fire blindly into the apartment building? Are these really the best ways they can think of to protect, serve, and maintain peace? Or do they panic because they are afraid. Do innocent people die because police are too often just vessels of unchecked internal bias paired with authority and a weapon.
Our criminal justice system treats Black and Brown communities the way our military treats literal enemies of war. Police enter under-resourced Black and Brown communities with two things in mind:
- Protecting “their own” against everything because they perceive everything to be a threat in these spaces that are essentially foreign to them
- Enforcing the law in a vacuum without any regard for the law’s justness or its actual impact on lived experiences of peace and safety in a community. (Google “policing by consent”)
I’m not a police officer, I’ve never been inside their brains. But they’ve given me too much evidence that this is in fact the case for me to believe anything else. Too many of them literally act like they are at war.
The policing system is designed to treat low-income Black and Brown communities like they are insurgent states. The individuals in these communities were not considered American citizens when the institution of policing was born in this country, and that has not changed to this day. We are inundated day in and day out with rhetoric about how the utmost priority of our criminal justice system is to serve and protect the safety of Americans. But the cult of power in this country has not and still does not recognize Black and Brown citizens as full Americans. When they talk about protecting and serving “the American people,” Breonna Taylor is not who they have in mind.
This goes all the way from the president to the prosecutors to the cops on the streets blindly taking orders from up the chain of command in the name of “Law and Order” and pretending it’s about peace and safety.
Seeking “justice” for Breonna from this system is like seeking “justice” from the enemy for a casualty of war. Her death, to this criminal justice system, is basically like the incidental death of a civilian near an Isis fighter: she wasn’t the target, but her death is a price they’re willing to pay in the name of the (very fraught and unnecessary) mission.
I’m not even trying to be melodramatic. I’m comparing police to soldiers at war because that is how so many of them act in our American communities. They view the people they swear to protect as their enemies. They are afraid of the people they serve. How much more evidence do we need that this is in fact the case before we put an end to this institution and try again.
If you find yourself having an adverse reaction to my message here, please go listen to the Codeswitch episode called “The Protests Heard Round the World” and honestly go listen to J cole’s “Neighbors” one more time, too. Then, let’s talk.
Rest in peace Breonna Taylor.
*Please don’t come for me about “good cops.” OF COURSE THERE ARE GOOD ONES. But they are operating within a bad system. It is what it is.