Justice for Breonna Taylor looks like abolition

Opinion by Mikayla Tillery
Sept. 24, 2020, 7:38 p.m.

My friends told me that it was hypocritical to advocate for the abolition of the police and the prison industrial complex while demanding the arrest of Brett Hankison, Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove.  Admittedly, it was hypocritical and even naive to have faith in a system that has targeted Black women like Breonna Taylor, like Sandra Bland, women who look like me, since its conception.  

Today, I sat on a Zoom call where myself and my Black female coworkers cried about our exhaustion after hearing the news.  There are no words that can describe the feeling of powerlessness, almost numbness, that I felt reading the words “wanton endangerment.”  

For months, I had pictured this day rather optimistically, hoping to see murder at the top of the indictment paperwork, as if a single charge could heal us after 100 days of protesting.  Perhaps in a more perfect world, all three men could have been charged, Breonna’s Law could have been more than a superficial nod to her death and this case could have been a shining example of the power of collective action.  Instead, we are brought back to a reality where, as Audrey Lorde put it best, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” That is to say that the hearing today was not an individual injustice specific to the case of Breonna Taylor but, rather, an inherently corrupt system working as intended.

It is almost prophetic that the narrative of the protests was largely focused on the merit of rioting.  After a woman was unjustly murdered in her own home, somehow property damage was pushed to the forefront when cop cars were lit on fire and stores were looted.  Hankison was charged with wanton endangerment when the bullets meant for the innocent Breonna Taylor and Kenneth Walker missed and entered the homes of her neighbors.  It is baffling that the indictment can describe Hankison as having an “extreme indifference to human life,” but still let property supersede the value of Breonna’s life.      

To those, including my Stanford peers, who have inundated my Instagram feed with tacky infographics and captions that trivialize the death of Breonna, who have polluted social media with graphic content of Black men being slaughtered and who have posted a black square before returning to business as usual, I ask that you consider the oppressive structures and institutions that you feed by making this a superficial issue.  

I hope that it is clear after today that there is no accountability nor justice for Black women in a system that simply compounds and commodifies our suffering.  We cannot legitimize the current policing system by expecting it to detoxify and dismantle itself.  What we can do is take it to the streets, take it to the polls and take down the white supremacy that thrives within policing and prisons alike.  Whether that manifests as protesting, rioting or looting, it is a small price to pay for an innocent Black woman to receive justice.  Without justice, there cannot and will not be peace.  

As final words in a situation where I am otherwise speechless, I pray for a future where the “legal, moral, and ethical thing,” is to allow Black women to live.  It is not enough to tweet protect Black women when one is shot six times and receives less respect than the drywall between her and her neighbor’s apartment.  

Contact Mikayla Tillery at mtillery ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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