Black Robes, White Justice: What if Breonna Taylor was White?
Louis L. Reed & Rachel Pierce-Burnside
Imagine it’s a Monday night. You are a woman, in your home, cuddled next to your significant other, watching a movie. You both fall asleep. Then, a couple of hours later, just after midnight —
— you are frightened out of your sleep by a commotion at your front door. Is it a burglar? Is this a home invasion? Your thoughts are racing faster than you can make sense of what’s going on, as you struggle to get dressed. Your significant other scrambles for his registered firearm to protect you both. By the time he peeks down the hallway at the door, there are unidentified figures advancing at him in dark clothing. He fires a single shot; a barrage of bullets is returned. When the smoke clears, you are lifeless. It wasn’t an intruder after all, but your local police department executing a “no-knock” warrant, looking for an unrelated person.
For many people, namely, those who are white, this experience is unfathomable. But for Black people, it feels all too common. We can’t justify the treatment accorded to us, but we must live and cope with the white justification of it. We often feel like who we are or what we go through is not validated unless white America says that it is.
People of Color and Police Brutality
For Black people in the US, law enforcement’s unfettered brutality and wanton disregard for black lives is very familiar, given how policing has evolved from organized groups of Southern white men known as slave patrols. These patrols were charged with chasing down, apprehending, and returning Black people fleeing the grips of enslavement back to their owners,. Centuries of police violence rests on a foundation of the dehumanization and monetization of Black bodies.
As Black men in America, we are furious. We are angry. We are livid. However, we will think this louder than we will voice it, for fear that we may be perceived as a “threat” by virtue of our race. So, to make this notion palatable to to the Karen’s and the Mike’s and the Charlie’s and even well-meaning white people of the world, too, we’ll say we are “afraid.” We are afraid that if we even have incidental contact with the police it could result in our personal tragedy. We are afraid to legally possess a weapon, lest we find ourselves killed in front of our family like Philando Castille, or have our family killed in front of us like Breonna Taylor.
As Black women, we are equally enraged. Aside from the obvious, we are enraged because Breonna is a reflection of us. She was beautiful, ambitious, and career-driven. She was the favorite cousin our kids ran to in excitement when she walked into a room. She was the friend who got your angles just right for that Instagram post.
Breonna was our sister, our niece, our best friend, and our neighbor. Yet she was killed. Not in the course of a “crime” she was committing, but in her apartment, in the middle of the night, after waking up from lying beside her boyfriend.
The EMT who responded to the emergencies of others was left, at least five minutes after she was shot 8 times, coughing and struggling to breathe. She received no medical attention for more than 20 minutes after Louisville Metro Police Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly, Officer Myles Cosgrove, and ex-Officer Brett Hankison kicked in her door and shot her dead.
If Breonna was white, it’s hard not to imagine the national outcry that would follow and the unified pleas for an indictment of the officers that killed her. Maybe this feeling of support is the underlying power felt by the numerous “Karen” archetypes we seem to see every time we open social media. The term Karen has been coined to describe a rude, racist (or “racially insensitive”), and entitled white woman “weaponizing race like she is trained by the Aryan Nation.” These women prove to have more than entitlement, they have faith in their protection and haven’t the slightest fear of consequence. Meanwhile, Black women are laden with anxiety over the most minor infraction or interaction with law enforcement. Take Tanya McDowell, for instance, who was a homeless mom sentenced to 5 years in prison for using a friend’s address to enroll her son in school in a better district. Meanwhile, Felicity Huffman did 14 days of “hard time” in a federal prison in a college admissions scandal. Or, Sandra Bland, a Black woman arrested on a minor traffic stop. After an officer-provoking encounter, she was tased, slammed on the ground, and suspiciously found hanging in her cell hours later. However, Caren Z. Turner, a white former Port Authority commissioner of New York and New Jersey, demonstrated “threatening body language,” told two police officers to “shut the (expletive) up!” and drove away without officers grabbing her or threatening to break any of her limbs.
The most disrespected woman in America is a black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman, Malcolm X once lamented.
Black people are the soul and conscience of America that she refuses to have an honest conversation with herself about. We are the children she wants to bastardize, yet conceived us in the womb of slavery. We are the relationship she claims is an “entanglement”, yet has been in marriage to us for nearly 400 years. We are the best of her when she wants to celebrate her diversity and achievements to the world, but the worst of her when the world highlights our pain and suffering.
As you would guess, there are certain groups who don’t care about facts and don’t trust statistics. They don’t care that police in the US kill up to 6 times more black people than white people and aren’t outraged by these events. However, there are plenty of people who are. Those who believe that Black lives do, in fact, matter, evidenced by global solidarity protests. Protestors that see the George Floyds and Breonna Taylors of the world in themselves. They see the extinguished promise of love and life that never maximized its potential. Dreams terminated and hope abbreviated.
In the end, Breonna’s death illustrates the perpetual marginalization of Black people in this country, especially for women. Black women are raised to simply survive; we are taught that the world would think about us last, and attack us first. As little girls, we are prepared for a world that will not see, hear, or consider us. Our history in this country is an enormous assortment of trauma. We carry ancestral, relational, and civil trauma every single day, like a handbag too heavy to hold, but too delicate to let go of. Yet, we are expected to consistently show up for a world that doesn’t even acknowledge us when we do.
As a Black woman, I am asking you to show up. We need White allies to show up, now. Intersectional discrimination has removed Black women from conversations, silenced our stories, and continues to diminish our value. We can’t carry this burden alone, we can’t continue to be silenced and unseen.
As Black men, we need to petition for change to start at the very top. In order to heal the unjustified image of our sisters, we must not only fight for justice of the innocent, but for equity of the unheard.
And as we approach November, we need to actively participate in the electoral process. There are dozens of offices on the ballot — from the District Attorneys, sheriffs, and judges who rule over your local criminal justice systems to your city council members, school board members, state lawmakers, Governors, Members of Congress, and the Presidency.
Kerry Washington posted: “I understand the desire not to vote. To reject a system that abuses you and denies your worth. But please know that the system DOES see your worth. It’s AFRAID of your power. That’s why it works so hard to make you feel powerless. You are NOT powerless.” Part of our power is in our vote!
We have to show up to the polls as if our lives and livelihoods depended on, because they, in fact, do!