Justice for Breonna Taylor means changing the systems that killed her

Cassia Herron and Aja Holston-Barber, Opinion contributors
Published 6:29 a.m. ET Oct. 2, 2020 | Updated 6:30 a.m. ET Oct. 2, 2020

Breonna Taylor should still be alive today. 

The people and institutions that killed her are incapable of giving us justice. Black women deserve better than what Louisville has given us. Everyone who lives in Louisville deserves better than what can be given from systems more focused on maintaining unjust power than meeting our needs. 

The only remaining role for this failed leadership is to practice accountability. This means it is our collective responsibility to ensure they are held responsible and no longer in charge of making community-wide decisions.

Mayor Greg Fischer, Louisville Metro Police Department, Metro Council. These people and systems have not been proactively transparent nor action-oriented in practicing accountability for Breonna’s murder. They did not support Tamika Palmer as she grieved and waited hours for answers about her daughter immediately after her death. They did not protect Kenneth Walker when they kept him in jail for weeks during a pandemic. They have not been transparent about this investigation nor repentant in their subsequent inactions. Their posture set the stage for the grand jury decision. Their leadership has not brought justice.

Read more: Judge says she is ‘concerned’ detective may have lied to get Breonna Taylor search warrant

Protesters and supporters continue to call for and win justice. Brief highlights of a long list include Kenneth Walker’s release and dismissal of local charges, a civilian review board workgroup and subsequent independence from the office of the mayor and LMPD (we’re claiming the latter now), Breonna’s Law, Brett Hankison’s firing and removal from the Louisville Metro Merit Board, and so much more. 

What Louisville Metro Government is doing under the mayor and the dominance of LMPD is wrong. Instead of rallying every local government staff person to ensure every resident has everything they need during an unprecedented pandemic, the mayor’s administration unnecessarily rushed a reopening in the middle of a pandemic, offered insufficient eviction relief and other community support, furloughed hundreds of library employees and paid police officers overtime to tear gas residents protesting for justice for Taylor.

And as we braced for the grand jury decision, this administration prepared for war rather than to emotionally and meaningfully respond to the collective trauma they are inflicting. 

Justice for Breonna Taylor requires we transform the society and systems that killed her. The only way to win is to invest our resources — our bodies, voices, time, analysis, money, creativity — into building the world anew. 

So, what could justice look like?


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The people want the officers involved in the killing of Taylor fired and indicted. The call is also clear for Mayor Fischer and his team to be gone: Deputy Mayor Ellen Hesen, Communications Director Jean Porter and Louisville Forward Chief Mary Ellen Wiederwhol. As Yvette Gentry has been appointed to serve as the interim police chief, so does the community deserve an interim mayor. We want this interim mayor to support immediate reinvestment of Louisville Metro Government resources to provide necessary support through this pandemic and beyond, as any government should. We call upon Metro Council to proceed with removing Fischer of his duties by the end of the year so the community can work together to co-create a fiscal year 2021-2022 budget that reflects defunding the police department and significant investment in Black and brown people and the older parts of our city. 

For too long, people driven by white supremacist values have dominated leadership spaces. We are the leadership we deserve and we will claim the Louisville we deserve by loving, supporting and protecting each other. 

Publicly supporting and protecting each other is more important now than ever. We are at the intersection of a national movement for Black lives, an unprecedented pandemic, and trying to survive a failed federal response — all during an election year that will bring us to new heights of our confrontation with white supremacy. We need to fight for each other with the clarity that nothing is normal and everything is at stake. 

More coverage: Breonna Taylor’s Western High School teachers remember a ‘natural-born leader’

This is our time. There are more of us who want to live in a better world than those who want to cause violence to maintain this one. Building the Louisville we deserve requires as many of us to contribute to the work in our unique ways. We must align our skills and resources with others so that we can win. Another world is possible, if we fight for it. 

For example, what if more houses of faith, unions, health care, service nonprofits and more followed the lead of First Unitarian and created sanctuary around Injustice Square and across the city? This is our time to support protesters with intentions to learn from, share with and fight for justice together. 

We need all strategies to be utilized that demonstrate the will of the people — participating in this election, protesting for justice and building just systems. In the same way protests have shown a beautiful array of leaders we have in our community, the election is an opportunity to choose the leaders we want — or the ones we prefer to hold accountable. Our efforts must be grounded in the pursuit of truth and justice and a vision of democracy based on co-governance.

We are the leaders we are looking for. We must find our lane, organize and support each other with the intention our future world deserves.

Cassia Herron is a freelance writer and urban planner and serves as chairperson of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth. Aja Holston-Barber is a narrative strategist and organizational development consultant with expertise in public health and racial equity.

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