Breonna Taylor: Her Life Mattered

  • Wednesday, Sep 23, 2020

Madison, Wis. (September 23, 2020) - The following message was sent to students, faculty, and staff today.

When Dr. King cited the phrase, “The arc of moral history is long, but it bends toward justice,” he was not suggesting that justice is inevitable, but that it is something we must work for determinedly and tirelessly. And we must realize that the path to justice is not one of steady and unwavering progress, but includes setbacks and frustrations, like those King himself experienced.

Today, the announcement was made that one of the police officers involved in the shooting death of Breonna Taylor has been charged with the crime of “Wanton Endangerment.” I am not a legal expert, and I do not know the legal basis for this decision. Regardless of the outcome of the officer’s trial, from what I have read, it seems like there are laws in place that together produce situations very likely to produce violence. In Kentucky, citizens are permitted by law to own handguns and to “stand their ground” in their home if they feel threatened. In that same state, police are permitted by law (in some circumstances) to break into homes to make arrests without announcing that they are police. These two laws came together in a tragic incident that left Breonna Taylor, an innocent bystander, dead. Regardless of the grand jury’s decision to indict the officers, or the outcome of the trial, that result cannot be undone. An innocent woman was taken from the world for having done nothing worse than being in the place at the time when two potentially deadly laws came together.  

It is important to know that the decision about whether or not to charge the police officers involved in this incident was made not by one person, but by a grand jury. The grand jury comprises 12 citizens of the State. They do not decide whether a person is innocent or guilty, but whether there is sufficient evidence to make the reasonable decision that a person should be charged with a crime. Oddly, their job is not to decide whether something is right or wrong, or even whether something is just or unjust. I do not envy those grand jurors. If a law is bad, it is not their call to decide whether the law is bad, but whether it was broken by anyone. The grand jury in this case determined that there was enough evidence that a law was broken to charge one officer with a crime. And yet, Breonna Taylor is dead, and we have to recognize that the system that produced the situation that killed her still needs to be fixed.

Dr. King said before the more famous quote above, “Evil may so shape events that Caesar will occupy a palace and Christ a cross, but that same Christ will rise up and split history into B.C and A.D., so that even the life of Caesar must be dated by his name.” We are all hurt by the injustice of Ms. Taylor’s death. This community will continue to protest this injustice and to mourn the death of Ms. Taylor. The system has to change. Breonna Taylor’s tragic, avoidable, and senseless killing will be a moment marked by history as the breaking point for a justice system that is too often unjust. It will split history into the system before Breonna Taylor was killed and the system after Breonna Taylor was killed. We cannot directly control what happens in Kentucky, but we can influence our own community. Together we condemn violence and we condemn the systems that perpetuate violence. Let us try to channel our energy toward change. It will take all of us—working together peacefully, praying, protesting, voting, contacting elected officials—to continue to bend that arc of moral history toward justice.

Rest in peace, Breonna Taylor; Your life mattered. 

-Andrew P. Manion, Ph.D.