What I Want for Breonna Taylor is Not Justice
I’m fucked up over the Breonna Taylor case.
It has been hard to process because I’ve spent time imagining the horrific violence that she suffered, because of what I’ve learned about the state’s attempts at cover-up and bribery, because of the myriad of justifications for her murder that have been crafted, because I’m a Black woman, and because like many, I fully anticipated the outcome of Wednesday’s Grand Jury decision.
(The only part that I didn’t anticipate were the charges delivered for the bullets that missed Breonna Taylor’s body. That part is going to take some time to digest.)
I’ve also been struggling to put my finger on exactly what I’d like to see happen for Breonna Taylor and her family at this point.
For as long as I can remember, I have used the word justice to describe what I’ve understood to be a process of redress: identifying a harm and getting as close as possible to rectifying the damage done. As a teacher, I have spent my entire career declaring a commitment to this idea. I have taught classes and lead workshops on social justice, linguistic justice, and educational justice.
I have found my voice among the chorus of folks who’ve been calling for justice for victims of police murder like Philando Castile, Atatiana Jefferson, Elijah McClain, Tony McDade, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor. I’ve held my breath and watched and waited and hoped that justice would be served in each of these viral cases.
But now, in the wake of the Grand Jury decision of the Breonna Taylor case, I find myself, like many others, sitting here with a nauseating and almost defeating truth: according to U.S. legal doctrine, the decision not to indict any of the cops for her murder was, in fact, an execution of justice.
In, No Mercy Here: Gender, Punishment, and the Making of Jim Crow Modernity, Black feminist scholar and professor, Sarah Haley, discusses the criminalization and punishment of Black women in Georgia in the late 19th century and illustrates how the concept of Black female deviance is largely a construction of U.S. law. She states, “The juridical production of Black female deviance meant that Black women were arrested more and often forced to endure protracted periods of captivity.”
Breonna Taylor, as we know, didn’t make it to “endure [a] protracted period of captivity”, as the consequence of her purported deviance was execution in her own home where she had been lying in bed with her partner. The deviance that she was guilty of? Having once dated someone who dealt drugs — a behavior sufficiently transgressive in the eye of the law to cost the young woman her life.
The United States’ policing and legal systems depend on decisions like the one that was announced on Wednesday. Our country’s legal framework relies on gratuitous Black death and violence and upholds and protects the entities designed to surveil, police, and eliminate Black bodies.
The very essence of the law necessitates the quotidian violence that Black people experience at the hands of the state, and the evidence is in the data that demonstrate the disproportionate percentages of Black people incarcerated, arrested and killed by police.
Many of us are aware that police investigators didn’t have to go as far as to underscore Breonna Taylor’s relationship with her ex-boyfriend to justify her murder. Any exertion of force by the police can be deemed reasonable as long as it’s accompanied by a narrative that demonstrates an officer’s fear or the existence of a “public threat”. Conveniently enough, these narratives can be retroactively fashioned to meet this objective.
The possibilities are endless, really.
Some have been awoken by the Breonna Taylor case to a truth too difficult to accept. For others, it merely reaffirmed what they have been aware of for some time: we cannot put faith in the story of fairness, equality, and due process that the law has crafted about itself. We must look directly at what it does rather than what it claims to do, and we must listen closely to those who are regularly impacted by the violence that the law perpetuates and the “justice” that protects and encourages it.
In other words, our notions of justice cannot be tied to the processes carried out to uphold the law.
It’s for those reasons that I’ve been struggling to put my finger on what I want for Breonna Taylor and her family at this point.
Yes, I wanted her murder to be recognized as the heinous wrongdoing that it was. But more than that, I want her back. I want Breonna Taylor’s body to be whole and the violence that she suffered undone. I want her and Black communities to live absent of the constant threat of pain and death. I want perpetual physical safety. I want whole Black lives and intact Black bodies.
What would that be called?
What would it take for murders like the murder of Breonna Taylor to be occurrences that we couldn’t even fathom?
Would it take an undoing of our nation’s past? A trip through time to a distant future?
I’m not exactly sure.
All I know is that I don’t want justice anymore. I am through with justice.
I want the idea of a cop killing a Black person to be something that evokes nothing but pure disbelief. I want to live certain that the Black women in my life will never become viral hashtags on social media. I want us to not lay in bed at night thinking about what it would be like to suffer a fate like Breonna Taylor’s.
I just want it all to be impossible.
Am I asking for too much?