Which of your children would you lose for $12 million?
“We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was ‘legal.’” -- Martin Luther King
In other words, what is legal is not necessarily what is right.
With that in mind, I find myself struggling to imagine what justice for Breonna Taylor would have looked like. After all, last week’s refusal by a grand jury to indict the Louisville police officers who killed her in March during a bungled midnight drug raid is likely defensible on narrow legal grounds. When someone shoots at you, as Taylor’s boyfriend did, firing a single shot at what he thought were home invaders, you have the right to shoot back.
But narrow legalities do not address, much less resolve, the sense of visceral wrong that has made Taylor’s death a cause celebre from the streets of our cities to the stratosphere of renown occupied by the likes of Oprah Winfrey, LeBron James and George Clooney. They don’t confront the apparent failure of police to adequately identify themselves before breaching the door. They don’t tell us why there was no ambulance on scene, as is standard procedure. They don’t explain why officers allowed Taylor to lie mortally wounded for at least five minutes without rendering first aid. They don’t help us process the fact that this 26-year-old African-American woman was not safe from police overreach in her own home.
Most of all, narrow legalities do not give us what we so desperately need and so seldom receive when police kill unarmed African Americans. Meaning accountability, the assurance that someone will answer for this.
In place of that, cities offer money. Breonna Taylor’s family settled a civil suit for $12 million. But what is $12 million? Which of your children would you lose for $12 million?
There’s always a payout, and it always feels more like a cop out, a consolation prize in lieu of accountability. As expressions of deep regret go, it falls well short.
We shot a 12-year-old boy for playing with a toy gun in a public park? Oops. Here’s $6 million.
We shot a man who was only reaching for his driver’s license? Oops. Here’s $3.8 million.
We shot a teenager who was walking away? Oops. Here’s $5 million.