The Breonna Taylor injustice reminds us that America still disregards Black women
One of the greatest blessings of my life is that I’ve spent much of it surrounded by incredible Black women.
From my mother, aunts and grandmother to my fiancée, close friends and colleagues, Black women have been paramount in shaping me into the man I am today. I credit them with loving me, nurturing me, teaching me and holding me accountable when I’ve said or done things that have made them feel disrespected, diminished or misunderstood.
So, when weeks like this happen, when men in suits say their lives don’t matter, it troubles me. The decision to not hold a single police officer accountable for Breonna Taylor’s death sends a clear message: We still don’t care enough about Black lives, especially Black women’s lives.
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron shocked no one I knew on Sept. 23 when he announced that a grand jury indicted only one of three Louisville police officers involved in Breonna’s shooting death in March.
Brett Hankinson, who the city fired in June, has been charged with first-degree wanton endangerment because he recklessly sprayed Breonna’s apartment with bullets, potentially endangering her neighbors during his fusillade of gunfire. But, his charges don’t hold him responsible for killing Breonna, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician who was asleep when police stormed her apartment to execute a search warrant.
The other two officers, Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove, haven’t been charged with anything.
Cameron, who shucked and jived during a press conference while flanked by white people, said the officers’ use of force was justified because Breonna’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired the first shot. Walker has maintained he thought intruders were breaking in, so he grabbed his firearm — which he says he’s legally licensed to carry — and did what droves of Second Amendment devotees clamor about every few months: he used his gun for protection.
But, all that is inconsequential. It doesn’t matter who fired the first shot. It doesn’t matter if drugs were ever in the apartment (they weren’t). It doesn’t matter that the city paid Breonna’s family a $12 million settlement in a wrongful-death lawsuit as placation money.
What matters is that Breonna was killed and there’s still no justice.
The indictment comes more than six months after five bullets tore into Breonna’s body and extinguished her life. Six months after protests, marches, rallies and petitions. Six months after Tamika Palmer laid her child to rest. Six months after Breonna lay bloody on the floor for at least 20 minutes before emergency officials attempted to render medical aid.
Breonna’s life didn’t matter for more than 120 days, and it still doesn’t. As infuriating as that is, it’s nothing new. The disappointing outcome of Breonna’s case underscores how Black women have long been treated in America: Their lives have always been a little more insignificant.
First, there’s the fact that they’re women, which automatically places them at a grave disadvantage in a society that favors patriarchy. Add Blackness into the equation, and their very existence is a relentless siege of terror, aggression and indifference.
Slavery did them no favors. Black women were widely abused by their white owners — both men and women. They were raped, beaten, starved and forced into demeaning, backbreaking labor. They were caricatured as the nurturing mammies who nursed white women’s babies at the same cadence they birthed the children of the plantation owners who violated them. They were ruthlessly battered and treated cruelly thanks to erroneous beliefs that Black women were genetically predisposed to endure harsher physical violence. Even in their own homes, among Black men, they weren’t all completely safe. Because white supremacy was just as psychological as it was physical, some emasculated Black men directed the rage they wished to inflict on their slave masters onto their wives and daughters instead.
Those cycles of abuse and trauma have rippled across generations, afflicting us still today as Black men and women wrestle with a legacy of violence, mistreatment and misunderstanding. I’ve heard from many Black women who, despite their success, toil and unflinching support for Black men, feel abandoned, unappreciated and unseen. On top of that, they contend with a discriminatory healthcare system that treats them as expendable and a prejudicial job market that pays them a pittance.
I’m no fan of oppression olympics, but I do believe this is true: If things are bad for Black men, they’re always a bit worse for Black women.
As a man, I enjoy a certain degree of masculine privilege, despite my Black skin. When I walk down the street, I don’t worry about being catcalled, sexually harassed, heckled or fondled. No one’s ever tried to pet my hair because they were fascinated by its appearance. For the most part, I don’t feel like I’ve ever been the object of someone’s fetishized desires for an “exotic” romantic partner. Even at work, I feel like I can be a tad more assertive, decisive and demanding without being dismissed as angry, volatile or retaliatory.
Yes, being a Black man in America is tough and potentially fatal. But, being a Black woman who lives in the crossfire of both racism and sexism is a load I can’t imagine carrying. I know many intelligent, strong, beautiful Black women who rightfully bask in their melanin and womanhood. But, I recognize that for every point of pride and moment of joy, there’s a brutal counterforce reminding them their lives are devalued by the greater society.
When my fiancée and I discussed the indictment, I was numb and she was heartbroken. For the first time in a long time, I struggled to find words of comfort in her lament. In a year stained with Black death, what else can one say at this point? “I’m tired” just isn’t enough.
The next morning, she told me she cried herself to sleep. All the deaths hurt but, for her, Breonna’s is harder to shake.
Perhaps it’s because she sees herself in Breonna, another Black woman working, dreaming, taking care of business, living her life. Perhaps it’s the shooting happened in the dead of night when Breonna was most vulnerable and unaware that the boom of her door flying off its hinges would sound a death knell.
Or, perhaps it’s simply because again she was reminded that, in this land her ancestors were stolen to, in this republic that took so much from Black women and never apologized for it, her life doesn’t count as much.