On Tuesday, the City of Louisville, Kentucky, finally settled a wrongful death lawsuit in the killing of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old EMT shot dead in her own house by police officers who entered on a no-knock warrant. The settlement is for $12 million, every penny of which Taylor’s family deserves, and not a single cent of which will bring her back.
It’s an important step. But it’s not justice.
Taylor was killed March 13 after plainclothes officers burst through her front door in the middle of the night. Her boyfriend, reasonably believing they were under attack from armed intruders, he said, grabbed his (legally owned) gun and fired. He hit a police officer in the thigh. Police responded with a spray of bullets, killing Taylor.
It was an avoidable death caused by police malpractice: surveillance so bad the cops didn’t even know who was inside the house before they broke their way in, a total failure to follow basic safety protocols, and then panic from people who are trained to do better, and needless bloodshed.
The officers were supposed to announce themselves. They claim they did. Taylor’s boyfriend and most others who were nearby say they didn’t. (One who heard the raid as it happened said he heard the officers say “police” once.) An ambulance should have been on standby during the raid; the police had told it to leave.
As the raid descended into madness and bullets were flying, one detective, Brett Hankison, inexplicably ran into the parking lot and shot wildly through the patio door and window. He did not follow standard procedures, and has rightly been fired.
But the other officers in the raid still have their jobs. And no criminal charges have been filed.
As part of the settlement, the City of Louisville has pledged to exercise greater oversight on officers carrying out search warrants. This is important and necessary. And separately, the state attorney general is investigating, and a grand jury has reportedly been empaneled.
The settlement is much larger than what is usually paid out to victims of police violence. But it’s the city that’s paying (not the police officers who shot Taylor or their supervisors) — and that usually means the taxpayers and other citizens. And even with the wrongful death settlement, the police and the city admit no wrongdoing in Taylor’s death.
Taylor’s family deserves that money. But it should be coming from the officers whose negligence, carelessness, and cowardice caused her death, not just the people of Louisville, to whom they are supposed to be accountable.
And even a settlement paid from officers’ pockets wouldn’t be enough. Advocates are rightly calling for the officers to face criminal charges. While the officers who shot from the hallway into the apartment were returning fire and therefore may have a case for self-defense, Hankison, who was not under fire in the parking lot, doesn’t seem to.
At the very least, justice for Breonna Taylor would mean Hankison facing the justice system. Police officers pledge to uphold the law. A jury should hear whether Hankison broke it, and if he did, he should face legal consequences.
Nothing is going to bring Breonna Taylor, by all accounts a shining ray of light, back to life. Nothing can make her family and loved ones whole. But a transparent process of holding the officers who killed her accountable would at least begin to restore a modicum of trust between the police and the public for whom they work. It is the absolute least Breonna Taylor deserves.
Editor’s note: Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in New York and author of the book “OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind.” Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely her own.