After the Smoke Clears: What’s Changed, Two Years after Breonna Taylor’s Murder?
I’m disillusioned but still hopeful.
It was surreal to see my birthplace of Louisville, Ky., plastered across news outlets. In March 2020, Louisville Metro Police Detectives (LMPD) Brett Hankinson, John Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove murdered 26-year-old Breonna Taylor in her home during a botched police raid. Nothing illegal was found on Taylor or at her residence.
Taylor’s murder revealed insidious systemic racism and challenged prevailing masculinist discourse surrounding police brutality and anti-Blackness. But it’s been two years since her murder, and as a Black woman close to her age, and a Louisville native, I often ask myself what’s really changed?
#BlackLivesMatter #SayHerName #ICantBreathe #NoJusticeNoPeace
These hashtags are now ingrained into the American psyche. For many of us they convey rage—rage against police brutality, rage against carceral systems and rage against the ever-present anti-Blackness that made these things possible. What these hashtags fail to convey, however, is the grief. Neither do they communicate the melancholy, confusion, and disappointment when the smoke clears and justice still isn’t served.
None of the detectives involved in Taylor’s murder were found guilty. Louisville police are still shooting Black people, and Black residents are still disenfranchised. I say none of these things to discredit the protests, legislative efforts and the grassroots campaigns that sprung from Taylor’s murder, but to highlight the disillusionment that can follow in the wake of an incomplete civil rights movement.
One of the greatest changes to come from Taylor’s murder was Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear(D) signing Senate Bill 4, which limits, but doesn’t end, the use of no-knock warrants across the state. However, when a movement takes five steps forward, a countermovement is already at its heels.
Democratic Mayor Greg Fischer and city leaders answered protesters’ cries of “defund the police” with a nearly $25 million increase to LMPD’s $210.5 million annual budget. Law enforcement consulting firm Hillard Heintze determined in a 155-page report that the relationship between law enforcement and communities across the Louisville Metro Area “are in crisis,” but according to a public transparency dashboard the city has only applied 20 percent of the recommendations by July 2022.
As a native Louisvillian from the city’s historically disenfranchised and predominantly Black West End, I know failed initiatives and broken promises are commonplace. However, the events that followed the protests have further hurt my optimism. These folks don’t care—at least that’s how it feels.
On top of all this, law enforcement has murdered three more Black Louisvillians since Taylor’s death. On July 26, 2021, 23-year-old Ta’Neasha Chappell died 50 miles North of Louisville at the Jackson County jail. She begged for help for 16 hours, but jail personnel ignored her repeated vomiting, bleeding and cries for assistance. No one has been held accountable for her death.
On the morning of March 2, 2022, LMPD and Kentucky State Police chased 26-year-old Jordan Griffith through Louisville’s Buechel neighborhood. Officers allege the chase ended with Griffith shooting himself, but Griffith’s friends and family vehemently deny this allegation. As of June, his family and friends are still awaiting answers.
In the early morning hours of May 20, 2022, LMPD and U.S. Marshalls shot and killed 25-year-old Omari Cryer while serving an arrest warrant. Body camera footage alleges Cryer was armed, but he was clearly not shooting at anything while fleeing police.
The trust here is gone. There’s something menacing about a city continuing to murder its Black citizens even while under national and international scrutiny. Racialized violence is never easy to dismiss, but the home front dynamic makes it that much harder to shake. One of my best friends graduated in the same class as Griffith. Cryer was shot right behind my mother’s home. I frequently see Kenneth Walker, Taylor’s boyfriend, who was present at the time of her murder, out and around the city. The closeness adds a humanizing effect that I, as a Black person, didn’t think I needed. I didn’t need this type of anger and distrust to hit harder, and the distrust doesn’t end with law enforcement.
Arts organizations and institutions flooded my emails in the months following the protests, sharing their heartfelt commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. People I hadn’t been in touch with for years reached out to me to serve on panels and task forces. The enthusiasm didn’t last. In the fall of 2021, Louisville’s largest performing arts organization, Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts, decided they would no longer support one of the most effective and accessible community outreach programs they had—a program that brought arts instruction to thousands of Black and low-income children for the past 20 years.
Now in the summer of 2022, the emails have stopped. The task forces have fizzled, and I have to deep dive to learn what “commitments” have been fulfilled.
Resilience is in our blood. The failures of law enforcement and government officials exposed the importance of persistent grassroots organizing and solidarity, as well as a healthy skepticism toward leadership. The city has decided to flex its militaristic muscle, but there’s a community awareness of the power of the people, and a consensus amongst Black Louisvillians that police and figureheads can’t be trusted.
We’ve learned the limits of empty, pop culture words like “liberal,” “woke,” and “ally,” and we are more conscious of newer, more seasoned, Black political leaders like Charles Booker, Keturah Herron, Shameka Parrish-Wright and Attica Scott. Also, the emergence of Black-led organizations and programming has expanded the opportunities to buy, live, play, party, eat, and learn within our community. These things may already be commonplace in other communities, but it is new to Louisville, a “not-quite-southern” city still indifferent to race relations.
As we approach the second half of the year, we have a record number of homicides, LMPD is still killing people, and plans for gentrification are rolling out with minimal resistance. The celebrity appearances and Instagram posts didn’t get Taylor justice, and many Black Louisvillians are still poor. But the ball is rolling toward a collective radicalization—one needed to organize away from neoliberal agendas and strengthen Black solidarity.
As the smoke clears, the terrain is truly exposed. Now we keep building.