“You must not distort justice…”
Deuteronomy 16:19, NRSV
Washington, DC, September 25, 2020 – Breonna Taylor was murdered on March 13 by police. More than 6 months later, it appears that justice delayed was also justice denied. The National Council of Churches finds the outcome of the investigation into Ms. Taylor’s death, which holds no one directly accountable, unconscionable and unjust. We grieve for her family and loved ones who have borne the burden of fighting for justice for her. We call on all people of faith and conscience to continue the fight for justice and to end systemic racism so that this kind of tragedy never happens again.
The facts of the case are harrowing. Using a faulty “no knock warrant” and improperly executing that warrant police entered Ms. Taylor’s home as she slept. In a matter of minutes, she was shot multiple times. She lay dying, but still breathing, and the same police officers did not render any medical assistance, but instead, issued a report indicating that there were no injuries sustained as a result of their actions. Truly, justice has been distorted.
It is not lost on us that September 23, 2020, was 65 years to the date when the white men who killed Emmett Till were found not guilty by an all-white jury. Daniel Cameron, the Attorney General for the State of Kentucky, declared that the police actions were justified, also rendering them not guilty. A grand jury found that one of three officers involved, Detective Brett Hankison, would be charged with a minor Class D felony of Wanton Endangerment for shots fired in the home of Ms. Taylor’s white neighbors, who were not injured. It is clear that the prosecution of this case by Mr. Cameron, and the resulting grand jury charges, are woefully insufficient.
The handling of this case has been a gross miscarriage of justice from the the execution of the warrant to the police actions on the scene, and the prosecutorial review and processing of the violation of Ms. Taylor’s civil rights and the circumstances of her death. We call for a full independent investigation of the facts. We demand a pattern and practice investigation of the Louisville Metro Police Department. We call on the U.S. Department of Justice to immediately intensify its investigation and include a review to determine the extent to which Ms. Taylor’s civil rights were violated.
Furthermore, we are dismayed that Det. Hankison, charged with actions that could have resulted in the death of a person, was granted bond of only $15,000 while protestors, exercising their First Amendment rights, have been arrested in Louisville and elsewhere are given bonds of up to $1,000,000. We are especially troubled that the Kentucky Attorney General did not even investigate whether Taylor’s civil rights were violated when she was killed. This is a glaring abdication of responsibility and is inexcusable.
The halfhearted response by the legal system in Kentucky to this tragedy is sadly, not surprising. For generations, our country has sought “law and order” at the expense of Black lives. This has created the reality of two systems of law, one for white people and one for everyone else. Blame for this is bi-partisan. Both parties, in all levels and branches of government, have over the past decades repeatedly targeted Black, Indigenous, and People of Color under the guise of being tough on crime. This has resulted in the mass incarceration, legal lynching, and continued oppression of millions of Americans.
Police should use restraint in responding to any nonviolent protests and protect the First Amendment rights of the people of Louisville, and not just the property. Reports that officers in the Louisville Metro Police Department have shared messages with one another describing protestors as thugs and criminals betray bias and a questionable intent. In addition, the police department should not use weapons of war such as tear gas, pepper spray, armored vehicles, and flash bang grenades in response to nonviolent protests. We also condemn the vigilante actions of extremists seeking only to use tragedy to engage in murderous violence as has happened in Kenosha, Austin, and Portland.
We commit to continuing to work toward a system of justice that is applied to all fairly and brings us closer to God’s vision of the Beloved Community. And, we again pray for Breonna Taylor’s loved ones and for her memory to be eternal!