Julian E.J. Sorapuru is a junior media studies major.
While the grand jury’s decision in the Breonna Taylor case did not surprise me, it did hurt me.
Neither Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly nor Detective Myles Cosgrove, the two officers who shot and killed Taylor, will face criminal charges. A third (now former) detective, Brett Hankinson, who blindly let off shots into Taylor’s apartment but did not strike Taylor, was charged with wanton endangerment (a close equivalent to reckless endangerment) because his bullets went through Taylor’s wall and into her neighbors’ home.
The charging decision of the grand jury was gut-wrenching because it reiterates what has been a common theme throughout American history: that the law will permit the unjust killing of Black people.
The law permitted Black people to be worked to death when slavery was legal and allowed countless mob lynchings of Black people across the country during the Jim Crow era. And in modern times, the law has continued to enable police killings of Black people. It would be shortsighted to call this a new issue; it is, in fact, the same ongoing issue of human rights disguised differently.
Many held out hope that justice may be served in Taylor’s case, considering the national attention it garnered coupled with the months of protests and cries for police reform in the name of the Black Lives Matter movement. Another reason for optimism was the ruling in George Floyd’s case, which saw an officer charged with second-degree murder and the three other officers involved charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder. Despite these factors, and what had the potential to mark the beginning of a new chapter in American history, Taylor’s killers have avoided legal repercussions for extinguishing her life.
This charging decision begs the question of how I, as a Black person, or any citizen with regard for basic human rights, can trust the American justice system to actually be just. This decision asserted, by way of the wanton endangerment charge, that property is more valuable than human life. This sentiment is especially troubling when we consider that for more time than not in American history, Black lives were permitted to be the property of another by this very same justice and legal system.
Despite its defeating and disgusting nature, we should not let the grand jury’s decision do what so many people in power hope it will — exhaust our resistance.
Make no mistake, those who would like to see the foundational ideology of white supremacy continue in the U.S. are not only the Confederate flag bearers, neo-Nazis, and Klansmen, but they are also, in many cases, our politicians, bosses, neighbors, and even family members. White supremacist ideology often does not manifest itself in an obvious manner for those in the latter groups, but appears more covertly by way of insensitive comments or ideas, such as calling for “law and order.” But how can there be order when the law refuses to be applied in the same manner for all citizens?
The answer is that there should not be. As long as there is a clearly defined racial caste system in America, white privilege, and the power inherent in it, will continue at the expense of equality and safety for non-white citizens.
Many are afraid of the outrage, mass protests, and uncomfortable household conversations police killings have brought about in our country because these are usually precursors to change — a change that would also inextricably mean a loss of power for those who currently have it.
All of our major institutions continue to dictate that white supremacy is acceptable and normal. These institutions, left unchecked, will continue to reproduce justifications for the deaths of those like Taylor, Floyd, and an excruciatingly long list of others. It is our responsibility to change them.
It may feel as if no matter what we do, nothing changes; that for every triumph there are 100 setbacks, like the refusal to charge any officers for Taylor’s death, each more heartbreaking than the last. But, this is exactly how those in power want resistors of the status quo to feel because without hope there can be no dream for a better future.
The devaluation of Black lives is not a status quo we can afford to accept, as its implications are morally bankrupting not only for white Americans, but for all Americans.
Our systems of power are structured to maintain the status quo and should be criticized for this reason. If our long-term goal is to radically redistribute power to create a more equitable America, not only must we vote, but we must also continue protesting, educating ourselves and others on the exploitative nature of our systems of power, and donating to causes that are resisting and reshaping these systems.
The grand jury’s decision in Breonna Taylor’s case was unjust, but that does not mean the millions who cried out her name this summer have failed her. We will have failed her only if we stop saying her name, only if we forget how precious her life was and how brutally it was taken, only if we give up her fight that is representative of so many others.
We must support each other, now more than ever, and never forget that our resistance is our power.