This isn’t the end. Not by a long shot.
Murder charges against the police officers who fired their weapons in Breonna Taylor’s killing might have been cathartic for Taylor’s family and those who have maintained a 120-day vigil at Jefferson Square Park. But they were never going to happen.
The Jefferson County Grand Jury chose to indict only former officer Brett Hankison on three charges of wanton endangerment for the undisciplined fusillade of bullets he sent flying into Taylor's apartments, through walls and ceilings and into adjoining apartments.
Attorney General Daniel Cameron said Sgt. John Mattingly and Det. Miles Cosgrove were justified in returning fire after Kenneth Walker, Taylor's boyfriend, took the first shot after police broke down the door to the apartment.
While it's easy to understand why Taylor's family and others would want charges against all the officers involved that tragic night, murder charges that likely wouldn't lead to convictions are not the most important thing.
That's because charges against the officers won’t impact the way the Louisville Metro Police deal with African Americans for generations to come.
Those changes are what comes next.
There have already been some changes for the better.
The city has done away with "no-knock" search warrants and it has fired Hankison for his role in the shooting.
Search warrants are powerful and lawful: Grand jury made right call in Breonna Taylor case
As part of a $12 million settlement with Taylor’s family, the city also agreed to end the practice of closing internal investigations of officers if they resign before the investigation is complete, set up an early warning system to root out bad cops, hire social workers to go on some runs and encourage officers to live and volunteer in low-income census tracts.
Plans were announced a week ago for a new requirement that commanders sign off on all search warrants before they go to a judge. Additionally, the city agreed to seek the authority to require drug and alcohol testing of all officers involved in any shooting.
It’s outrageous that isn’t already the case.
But what more?
LMPD has shown it cannot police itself
From the botched investigation of two officers who were sexually abusing teenagers to the department's internal investigation of Taylor’s death that took months to not even complete, the department has shown it needs outside eyes to make sure police are following laws and the department's own policies.
LMPD still hasn’t finished its investigation of the officer who, on live television, fired pepper balls at a television reporter and photographer during a protest in May. The department won’t even release the officer’s name.
That’s why there needs to be immediate action to create a strong citizen’s review board that has subpoena power. Not only that, there needs to be an independent investigative team that answers to the Louisville Metro Council — not the mayor — and the review board, to uncover illegal activity by police.
In the meantime, while state police investigate all police shootings, the state police must amend its policies to require immediate release of body camera footage involving an LMPD officer.
The department needs to end the militarization of the police force
That means getting rid of things like tanks and ending the practice of walking around dressed like the soldiers who patrol the streets in some Third World country ruled by a military junta. Those uniforms are meant to intimidate — which shouldn’t be the job of the police.
It also means reducing the number of military veterans on the LMPD, and if not that, spending a significant amount of time retraining former military to help them unlearn what they learned in the Army or Marine Corps or wherever.
In the military, people are taught to kill the enemy. In policing, we should be training cops to deescalate situations.
The LMPD also needs to end relationships between its officers and extremist militia groups.
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Twice in the past couple of months, the police have given passes to members of those groups — first when two people, including a 17-year-old kid, were found on a rooftop with sniper gear watching protests, and again on Kentucky Derby Day when they allowed an armed militia group — with at least one member wearing Nazi SS tattoos on his shoulders – to confront those protesting police brutality.
A few months ago, an Audubon Park Police officer was found to brazenly have put a “Three Percenter” sticker on his cruiser. He and another member of the group were members of the militia. Both were former LMPD gang squad officers. They can’t be the only ones.
You can be either a police officer or an extremist militia member. You can’t be both.
Courts need on-call rotation for judges to hear warrant requests
Requiring a commander to sign off on all search warrants is a start, but the court’s need to create an on-call rotation for judges to hear requests for warrants. As it stands now, officers can simply pick whatever judge they want to request a warrant.
And officers know which judges will ask tough questions and which ones will sign the warrants, no questions asked.
Additionally, those discussions between officers and judges must be “on the record” — with video or audio recordings — with the recordings to be made public once the warrant is served.
There needs to be a pay increase for starting officers to find better recruits
We need to increase pay for starting officers in hopes of finding better recruits. One former police officer told me, “When we pay $38,000 a year for an officer, we get a $38,000 officer.”
David Mour, a lawyer who has protested many nights and is advising protesters and was once a police officer in the city of Graymoor-Devondale, argues the city should raise the starting pay and look for officers with college degrees in things like sociology and social work because they’re better equipped at de-escalating situations.
“When we send police into a complicated domestic violence situation, they are completely and wholly untrained to deal with it. We’re sending guys and gals in to do things they aren’t qualified to do,” Mour said.
We must train police on Black culture
We must train police on Black culture so that when they are dumped as rookies into Louisville’s West End or Newburg neighborhoods, they know something about those they are policing and put them on notice that they might have some biases of which they’re not even aware.
Additionally, we have to root out racist cops — and not just in LMPD, but in other departments — and fire them rather than give them a stern talking to and an hour’s worth of sensitivity training. They are there.
Other changes needed
There has to be a real effort to hire Black people to be police officers for a department to have legitimacy.
The state also needs to pass a law ending civil immunity for police officers in brutality cases.
These changes are needed and are yet to come.
And though the charges against the officers didn't happen as many wanted, we have already gained a lot in the wake of Taylor's death and we have more to gain.
Now doesn't need to be a time of anger.
It should be a time for a celebration of the changes that have already occurred and a re-commitment to what needs to happen next.
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This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Breonna Taylor: Louisville decision on charging police isn't the end