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Tale of Two Justice Systems: Breonna's Law and Qualified Immunity

Updated: 6 days ago

March 13th, 2020. Three police officers quietly line up in front of an apartment in the South End of Louisville, Kentucky. Inside, an African American couple, Breonna Taylor and Kenneth Walker, are asleep in bed, unaware of what is outside their door. Officers Brett Hankinson, Jonathan Mattingly, and Myles Cosgrove were recently handed a no-knock warrant to search the apartment in connection to a narcotics investigation. A judge had signed the warrant, since police believed that the apartment had been used to receive packages containing drugs.

A little past midnight, the officers lined up behind the door, allegedly knocking first, and then used a battering ram to break down the front door. They were met with gunfire from Kenneth Walker (a legal gun owner), who fired his gun in self defense, fearing for his and his girlfriend’s life. One of the officers was struck in the leg and the other officers returned fire, discharging almost 20 rounds, hitting Breonna Taylor eight times. She later died at the scene: she was unarmed, posed no threat to the officers, and was asleep in her bed. Police later searched the apartment and found no drugs.

A 911 call that was later released reveals Walker’s cries for help while on the phone with dispatchers stating, “I don’t know what happened… someone kicked in the door and shot my girlfriend.” Walker was later arrested and charged with attempted murder of a police officer. Subsequently, these charges were dropped and the officers have been placed on paid administrative leave pending investigation.

Breonna was an EMT who worked between two hospitals helping with the coronavirus response in the city. Her mother said she had big dreams for the future. She recalled to The Courier Journal, “She has a whole plan of becoming a nurse and buying a house and then starting a family.” All of which were abruptly cut short that night.

Breonna’s story went mostly untold for months. Her boyfriend remained in police custody charged with attempted murder of a police officer. The Taylor family filed a lawsuit against the police department for “wrongful death, excessive force, and gross negligence.” After all, how could three officers serving a no-knock warrant end up shooting a woman who posed no threat and was asleep in her bed eight times? The officers involved in the case claimed that they had announced themselves upon arrival and only broke down the door after there was no response. They also claimed that they only fired after being shot at. However, the lawsuit alleges that police did not identify themselves and that Walker thought someone was breaking in. Neither Taylor nor Walker have a criminal history, nor history of drug use.

For months, no action was taken. The police who had shot Breonna were free, Kenneth Walker was still charged for attempted murder, and the Taylor family mourned the death of Breonna, while the nation was struggling with one of the biggest health crises in decades.

On May 25th, 2020 the world was shocked and polarized over videos of the killing of George Floyd by the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department. As the video surfaced, many people began to protest against excessive police violence and brutality plaguing the nation. Black Lives Matter, a movement started in 2013 over the murder of Treyvon Martin, recently began to regain momentum over what had happened to Floyd. Angered over centuries of unaddressed oppression, racism, and violence against the Black community, more and more people began to speak out against racism and racial violence in the United States. Breonna’s story began to spread and pressure began to mount in Louisville as activists, attorneys, and civilians began to question how an unarmed black woman who was asleep in her bed ended up dead at the hands of police.

Nearly two months later after her death, Breonna’s story started to become a popular reference to the mass injustice against Black people: an African American EMT who was shot in her sleep by police while her boyfriend was arrested and charged with attempted murder of a police officer. People began to organize around Breonna, making calls, and signing petitions. On May 26th 2020, Kenneth Walker had the charges against him dropped. Although he was again free, this only brought little justice to Breonna.