For the past six months, calls of “Justice for Breonna Taylor” have been growing — in the streets, on social media feeds, across billboards, on magazine covers and even on courts of the NBA and the U.S. Open. Then, earlier this week, it was reported that the family of Taylor — the 26-year-old Kentucky EMT who was killed in her own home by police in March — would receive a $12 million settlement from the city of Louisville, along with the pledge of police reforms.
Still, while the family attorney called the payout “historic,” many activists — as well as Taylor’s own bereaved mother — have been quick to point out the obvious: Money doesn’t equal justice.
At Tuesday’s press conference about the settlement, Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, said, “As significant as today is, it’s only the beginning of getting full justice for Breonna,” urging the city “to move forward with the criminal charges, because [Breonna] deserves that and much more.”
Echoing that sentiment, many have taken to Twitter to express their dissatisfaction with the city’s response to Taylor’s killing.
— Broken Scales - Feature Film (@FeatureBroken) September 15, 2020
enough to inspire reform & a payout of millions but not enough to prosecute her murderers? ok ok ok
— chef boyardepressed™ (@figarofella) September 15, 2020
No amount of money and I mean NO AMOUNT will bring back a daughter who was MURDERED. It’s not the time to shut up and take a settlement ... just like it has never been time to shut up and dribble. Arrest them!!!#BreonnaTaylor #BreonnaTaylorWasMurdered pic.twitter.com/x38vN9e5nf
— Empowered 4 Life (@TrustGod0824) September 16, 2020
Money will NOT bring Breonna Taylor back. We want POLICE REFORMS. The cops must be retrained. These cops should stop being brutal and unnecessarily violent to minorities. Black Lives Matter! We want JUSTICE!
— H log (@montsetval) September 15, 2020
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer did announce that, along with the settlement, there would be a slew of changes coming within the Louisville Police Department to address “community connections between police and the people they serve; search warrant protocol; and police accountability.” But many remain doubtful, as some of the new rules must first be discussed with the Fraternal Order of Police — one of the many police unions that have actively fought against police accountability.
But the family’s lawyer, Benjamin Crump, acknowledged that the current promise of reform sets a precedent “for other Black women, that their lives won’t be marginalized, that they will be valued,” and he invoked the names of Sandra Bland and Pamela Turner, two more Black women who died as a result of police brutality, and then-7-year-old Aiyana Stanley, who was killed during the filming of A&E’s The First 48, like Taylor, due to a no-knock warrant.
“The settlement is a step, that, while I don't think is about justice, it is something to honor the fact that this was a significant loss for Taylor’s family. And I am heartened to hear that they want more than just a settlement,” Treva B. Lindsey, Ohio State University professor, historian and author of Colored No More: Reinventing Black Womanhood in Washington, D.C., tells Yahoo Life regarding the latest in the case. She adds that justice may not be possible, “given that nothing is bringing Breonna back.”
She adds that “larger systemic transformation is absolutely necessary” to examine why so many Black people are killed in similar ways, noting that the death of Taylor “calls upon us to imagine something different … a world where Breonna is still here,” which should prompt folks to ask themselves what it would have taken to allow for that. “Surely, these three specific officers not encountering her” would have helped, she says, “but on a broader level, what is it about policing in this way that could leave Breonna Taylor dead on her bedroom floor?” These questions, Lindsey stresses, are “important for all of us to think about in light of the settlement.”
Regarding wrongful death payouts in general, Lindsey says, “Historically speaking, we see so few charges brought forth, and if we do, there are few indictments and even fewer convictions. Oftentimes these settlements become the only semblance of justice that is present for these families, and that usually comes at the expense of taxpayers.” In a similar situation, in June, the family of Korryn Gaines — another Black woman killed by police in her home — finally walked away with its $38 million settlement following an appeal, after the 2018 award ruling was reversed last year.
Lindsey adds that people’s suspicions of settlements being used to buy silence are not far-fetched, saying, “I’m certain that those within the criminal legal system would prefer that her family remained silent and not talk about the settlement, [which] makes people want to inquire and know how often they pay out multimillion-dollar settlements due to the willful negligence and practices of your police department.” In turn, Lindsey says, that would prompt questions about how much a Black life is worth and just how many communities are paying for them due to police brutality.
“We see these cities and municipalities with a $100 billion-plus budget just for settlements or police violence,” she points out. “When we talk about defunding the police, one thing I don’t want to do is eradicate the funding that goes to families who lose loved ones as a result of police violence — but also, how much money is committed to that? The settlements are such an alarming kind of mirror to look into and to see back so many of the problems of policing.”
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