On March 3, a jury found former Louisville Metro police Officer Brett Hankison not guilty of wanton endangerment. Breonna Taylor was not the victim in this trial — her neighbors were, though it all stems from the same fatal no-knock warrant implemented at her apartment two years ago.
Make no mistake: For the Louisville, Kentucky, community, the Hankison trial had everything to do with obtaining some shred of justice for all that went horribly wrong two years ago on March 13, 2020.
Hankison was in the same place at the same time as the other two officers who fired their weapons while implementing a search of Taylor’s apartment — a search that should have never taken place.
All of the officers involved that night, from the officer responsible for false information on the warrant to the officers who shot into the apartment, lost their jobs. One retired. The others were fired.
Taylor lost her life, killed by police officers. No one was charged with her death.
Following the Hankison verdict, protesters could be heard shouting, “Not in Kentucky!” As in, where do you find justice? Not in Kentucky.
Justice was served for George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery. It was easier to allocate and prove malice and intent in their murders. But for Taylor, the events that unfolded pointed to systemic inequities of our criminal justice system.
The No-Knock Warrant
In June 2020, the City of Louisville banned the use of no-knock warrants. The new ordinance is named Breonna’s Law in recognition that she should not have died that night due to officers entering her home without her knowledge.
Officers insist they announced themselves, but that announcement was not heard, and Taylor’s boyfriend fired his legally owned weapon to protect them.
Kentucky is a “stand-your-ground” state, after all. No-knock warrants and armed homeowners are a deadly combination.
On Feb. 2, 700 miles away from Louisville, in Minneapolis, 22-year-old Amir Locke died in an all-too-familiar scene during the execution of another no-knock warrant. Awaking from sleep, Locke reached for his legally owned firearm to protect himself from an intruder — the police.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey imposed a moratorium on no-knock warrants two days later. Two days too late for Locke.
Scrutiny of our criminal justice system should not wait for tragedy to prompt it. We should not have to chip away at systemic racism and ineffective judicial protocols one death at a time.
The dismantling of the no-knock warrant in Louisville remains the only tangible action in the wake of Taylor’s death. The officers who showed up at her door were “doing their jobs,” though everyone agrees they were not doing their jobs well.
The apparent fine line between doing a poor job and deserving criminal accountability lives and dies on the shoulders of an inadequate criminal justice system and the human beings who bear the brunt of its failures.
— Bonnie Jean Feldkamp is a wife, mother of three kids, and the opinion editor of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Louisville Courier-Journal. She can be contacted at [email protected], followed through her YouTube channel and on Twitter: @WriterBonnie, or click here to learn more about her. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.