We have posted many, many articles dealing with systemic racism and criminal justice in this country. We have offered news reports, social studies, and judicial opinions that have built a credible body of evidence that systemic racism is prevalent in:
- police decisions to stop and arrest, police brutality, use of excessive force, and police homicides;
- prosecutorial charging decisions, prosecutorial grand jury proceedings, prosecutorial misconduct in pretrial/trial proceedings, prosecutorial jury selection process, and prosecutorial sentencing recommendations;
- judicial bail decisions, judicial handling of pretrial motions/pleadings, judicial oversight of the trial process, judicial sentencing decisions, judicial appellate process, and judicial post-conviction proceedings; and
- prison evaluations and placements, prison institutional job assignments, good-time calculations, prison disciplinary actions, prison parole/clemency processes, prison health care, and post-prison community supervision and reintegration.
In the wake of the grand jury decision not to indict any of the three Louisville police officers involved in the shooting death of Breonna Taylor, Americans are again forced to ask themselves questions about the blatant inequities that exist in the criminal justice system. How could a grand jury indict Detective Brett Hankison for “wanton endangerment” because he fired a series of shots into the residence of Taylor’s white neighbors on the night she was gunned down, but excuse the six bullets that killed Taylor in her apartment?
Extreme Indifference to Human Life, Shock to Conscience, No Charges
It stretches all logic to conclude anything other than Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s handling of the grand jury proceedings was racially and politically motivated. This conclusion is supported by findings of the Louisville Police interim chief Robert Schroeder, who wrote that Hankison’s conduct of “blindly” firing 10 rounds into Ms Taylor’s apartment, displaying “an extreme indifference to the value of human life,” was “a shock to the conscience” that demanded termination.
This conclusion is underscored by the fact that Attorney General Cameron apparently presented false information to the grand jury about the ballistics evidence. AG Cameron has repeatedly stated that a bullet fired by Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, struck one of the officers in the leg as the search warrant was being executed, prompting the three officers to return fire. This assertion has been contested by Taylor’s lawyers, who say a Kentucky State Police ballistics report does not support such a conclusion.
Protesters across the nation continue to express their collective outrage at the racism that has destroyed the integrity of the police investigation and prosecutorial handling of the Taylor murder and continue to demand transparency and accountability.
Racial Discrimination in Application of the Death Penalty
The Death Penalty Information Center (“DPIC”) recently released a report titled “Enduring Injustice: the Persistence of Racial Discrimination in the U.S. Death Penalty” which concluded that white southerners, including those in Kentucky, have used the criminal justice system to “maintain power in a racist society.”
The DPIC report found, “There are strong links between the indelible images of a knee pressed against George Floyd’s neck, the bodies of lynching victims surrounded by jubilant crowds, and the proud onlookers at the last public execution … Exploring these connections is essential to any full discussion of race and the death penalty in the United States.”
It is no coincidence that the last public execution in this country was carried out in 1936 in Owensboro, Kentucky, attended by an adoring crowd of more than 20,000 white people. The crowd assembled to witness the hanging of a 26-year-old black man named Rainey Bethea, convicted for the rape/murder of a 70-year-old white woman. The execution was presided over by a newly elected white female sheriff.
In 2011, a group called the Kentucky Death Penalty Assessment Team prepared an extensive study that proposed 93 recommendations to state lawmakers to remove racism and other disparities from the state’s death penalty process. Nine long years after the study was released, the state conducted a review and audit of the 93 recommendations. This latest review issued this past February found:
- Kentucky continues to experience an exceptionally high error rate in its death sentencing process;
- Seven death sentences have been reversed or lifted from defendants;
- Kentucky courts have imposed two additional death sentences on defendants;
- Kentucky has not executed anyone sentenced to death;
- Considerable disparity continues to exist by county in the imposition of death sentences;
- Kentucky spends an inordinate amount of money that it does not have to implement a flawed and costly death penalty process; and
- Kentucky has not taken significant steps to implement the ninety-three (93) recommendations to ensure the death penalty is administered fairly according to national standards and protocols.
Police Shootings Evidence Racial Violence
The Washington Post has tracked police shooting deaths across the country since the 2015 shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. As of September 2020, the death toll stands at more than 1,000 people—and of those, African-Americans are killed at twice the rate of white Americans. This year alone, African-Americans, who represent 13 percent of the nation’s general population, account for 28 percent of the police shooting deaths.
Historical, systemic racism has infected the criminal justice system since its inception. Another, recent, contributing factor is President Donald Trump’s repeated calls for racial strife by using “law and order” rhetoric to defend systemic violence against black and brown communities. The President has been dogged by credible charges of racism throughout his nearly four-year tenure, increasing the American melting pot’s heat to almost explosive temperatures. Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell has rightfully earned the title as Trump’s “Enabler in Chief,” including endorsing all of Trump’s racist statements and administrative policies. And therefore, it should come as no surprise that Kentucky Attorney General Cameron, described as a protégé of Sen. McConnell and a “star” by President Trump, should insert himself to protect “law and order” versus truth and justice.
The end result?
The Breonna Taylor case now stands for the proposition that it is “wanton endangerment” for the police to recklessly shoot into a white residence but “justifiable homicide” for the same officer, in the same incident, to wantonly kill a law-abiding Black person in their home.
Breonna Taylor was killed by six bullets that tore her body apart. The officer who discharged his weapon acted in wanton disregard for human life. She was Black, and he was White. She was executed, and he was cleared by a grand jury, as has happened consistently throughout American history when a police officer kills a black or brown person. That is racism by any rational definition—and, thus, the Breonna Taylor case reminds us of the undeniable racism that continues to stain our American legal and justice systems.