America is Burning
By Shereá Denise
America is burning. Not figuratively. Not because of COVID-19. But because a large number of the residents of this country are fed up with the lengths this system will go to to prove to Black people that the American System was never our system and that the American Dream is - in fact - our nightmare.
America is burning. It only seems to be unacceptable this time because it is not the homes of Black entrepreneurs being burned down to keep them in their place, or crosses being burned in the yards of Black families, or Black churches being bombed on Sunday mornings.
America is burning. For the last several days the Black people of this nation allowed the fire in their eyes, in their throats, and in their chests to flow out onto the streets. Every now and then the frustration that we have bottled up or tried to overlook explodes, catching everyone else off-guard. You see, we know that our houses are on fire. We know that these fires are set intentionally and repeatedly for no other reason than to communicate to us that we are to accept what we are given, even if that gift is soaked in our own blood.
Yes, America is burning, but what is most telling is just how safe certain people are from that fire. Though they may be horrified by the images they see on television, they will never find themselves close enough to the fire that is raging to feel its warmth. These are the people who can casually call protesters thugs and who complain about breaking news interrupting their soap operas. These are the people yelling that all lives matter.
“Saying “All Lives Matter” as a response to “Black Lives Matter” is like saying the Fire Department should spray down all houses in a neighborhood even though only one house is on fire… because all houses matter. Yes, your house matters too,
BUT YOUR HOUSE IS NOT ON FIRE!”
-Terri Lynn Privott (Facebook)
Be thankful that your house is not on fire. Be thankful that the flames are only on your television screen and not in your front yard. Be thankful that you are not yet another Black family who has to bury yet another Black loved one who was killed at the hands of yet another officer who may or may not be held accountable. Be thankful that you are not the mother of Breonna Taylor. I am sure that she could speak to us directly about why it is most important to speak about how BLACK lives matter right now.
It is quite possible that you have not heard Breonna’s name. Perhaps you missed the very few news articles about her life (and death), which started circulating a few weeks before the tragic murder of George Floyd. I did not know Breonna personally. I do not know any of Breonna’s family members. What I do know is - regardless of what can be said about her now - her life mattered. Breonna’s name is one of many that has been yelled at protests over the last several days. Breonna’s death serves as one of hundreds (likely thousands) of matches that set the streets of America on fire.
Instead of just acknowledging the fire, I decided to take a closer look at this particular match. Let’s discuss Breonna Taylor, her murder, and the questions that are still yet unanswered about what happened on March 13, 2020.
According to an article from The Washington Post, “Breonna Taylor was working as an EMT in Louisville when the coronavirus pandemic hit the country, helping to save lives while trying to protect her own. On March 13, , the 26-year-old aspiring nurse was killed in her apartment, shot at least eight times by Louisville police officers who officials have said were executing a drug warrant… [It has been said that] Louisville police executed a search warrant at Taylor’s home, looking for a man who did not live in Taylor’s apartment complex and [who] had already been detained when officers came to Taylor’s apartment after midnight. Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, was also in the apartment and… shot at officers when they attempted to enter without announcing themselves. [It is alleged] that police fired more than 20 rounds of ammunition into the apartment... None of the officers involved have been charged in connection with the shooting. Walker, a licensed gun owner who was not injured in the incident, was [initially] arrested and [faced] charges of first-degree assault and attempted murder of a police officer.” “The Louisville Metro Police Department said officers announced themselves before entering the home, and were "immediately met by gunfire" from Walker.”
On May 26, 2020, the charges against Kenneth Walker were dismissed.
On May 29, 2020, the 911 call from the night of the shooting was released. In the recording, Kenneth Walker can be heard saying, “I don't know what happened...Somebody kicked in the door and shot my girlfriend.”
I know you have questions because I have more than a dozen myself. Let’s just start with these four:
If the police were executing a drug warrant and announced themselves before entering the home, why would Kenneth Walker tell the 911 Operator that “somebody” kicked in the door and shot his girlfriend?
How is it that Breonna Taylor’s boyfriend called 911 indicating that she had been shot upon entry of the unknown people into the home, yet police claim that Kenneth Walker immediately shot at them before they entered into the residence?
How exactly were the officers supposed to find their alleged suspect by entering an apartment in an apartment complex where the suspect did not live?
AND, even if he did live there, how would they find him in the apartment if he was already in custody by the time the officers got to Breonna Taylor’s home?
There are so many things about police brutality that are unnecessary and nonsensical, but this really lets me know that the bar is on the floor.
Surprisingly, it was not Breonna Taylor’s death that brought her name to my attention. It was a news article about the lawsuit that Breonna’s family filed in late April that put her on my radar. Per The Washington Post, Breonna’s family filed a lawsuit accusing officers of wrongful death, excessive force and gross negligence. I commend Breonna Taylor’s family for not allowing her death to be in vain and for beginning the work to obtain justice on her behalf even before the rest of the world knew her name.
In reading about the lawsuit and the 911 call, I found that the Louisville Metro Police Department has made at least two changes to their protocol in response to the death of Breonna Taylor: Now, “no-knock” search warrants require the Police Chief’s approval and officers will be required to wear cameras when carrying out search warrants. That leads to my fifth question:
Why - all of a sudden - do “no-knock” search warrants matter if the officers announced themselves as they originally claimed? Sigh.
I really believe that some people do not think that Black people can walk and chew gum at the same time. I mean, how on earth can you continue to feed us information that makes no sense or that directly contradicts what was previously said and assume that we will not notice? Did you think people would be distracted by the story of someone else whose life was taken by law enforcement? Is it possible that the Louisville Metro Police Department believed that making two small changes - which seem to be more about ensuring their officers’ safety than anything else - would placate the people fighting for change? You cannot be serious. You cannot think that we would not notice. You cannot think that we would not have questions. “At least they did something” does not work for me.
While doing my research for this post, I found out about a few interesting developments about the murder of Breonna Taylor that seem to have flown under the radar, taking up only a few lines in various articles about other matters pertaining to the lawsuit:
On May 21, 2020, the FBI announced that it would investigate the shooting of Breonna Taylor by Louisville Police.
At some point, the current Police Chief also made the decision to retire at the end of June.
It was determined that - on the night that Breonna Taylor was murdered by police - Kenneth Walker only fired one shot, striking one of the officers that had entered the home unannounced. The officer survived. Early-on there were statements made about the amount of gunfire that came from inside of the home before officers entered the residence and/or as they entered the residence. One shot. (This is where I remind you that Breonna Taylor was shot at least eight times by law enforcement.)
I am not dismissing the steps taken by officials in Louisville when I say this, but these few changes are not enough, especially when the Mayor of Louisville has recently said that decisions to fire the three officers involved in the death of Breonna Taylor will not be made quickly. References to the officers’ employment rights and constitutional rights seem to drive home the point that a Black life is always the lowest priority. Faulting things like the lack of body cameras and the procedure for such warrants seems almost laughable when the people making these excuses are the same ones with the power to rectify these concerns.
While I am curious to see what the FBI investigation determines, I am not all that comforted by this announcement in light of the FBI’s history of strained relationships with the Black Community. Does anyone else hear the word “COINTELPRO” being whispered? I believe Fred Hampton might have a thing or two to say.
The closer I look at the murder of Breonna Taylor, the more questions I have. As I stare into the flame that was born of this match, I understand exactly why America is burning. If Breonna Taylor was a White woman, there would be no protests. There would not have to be. Justice would be served five times over and no one would have to beg for or demand it.
In this moment I am reminded of Tupac Shakur, who said:
“We asked ten years ago.
We was asking with the Panthers.
We was asking with them, the Civil
Rights Movement. We was asking.
Those people that asked are dead and in jail.
So now what do you think we're gonna do?”
It has been over 20 years since Tupac Shakur died. It has been roughly 50 years since the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense reached its peak, yet people still expect this generation to politely ask not to be murdered, to politely ask to not have our blood shed in vain. Ludicrous. At some point you get tired of asking. At some point you decide that you are no longer begging for permission from people who have yet to ask for your forgiveness.
America is burning.
As I was reading more about Breonna Taylor and the current protests throughout the nation, I started thinking about the movie Mississippi Burning. I remember how long it took me to finally watch that movie. I remember crying while watching it and thinking that at least I would never have to face the things shown in the movie. Yet here we are. And people continue to seem rather shocked to find that it is no longer just Mississippi that is burning.
“I have no more love to give! I have only anger in my heart today, and I want you to be angry with me! I am sick and I am tired, and I want you to be sick and tired with me! I am sick and tired of going to the funerals of Black men who have been murdered by White men! And I am sick and tired of the people of this country who continue to allow these things to happen!"