Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor: Breonna Taylor’s Rigged Case Further Erodes Legitimacy of U.S. Institutions

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Historian Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor says the Breonna Taylor case is contributing to an “unfolding dynamic of radicalization” in the United States as people see repeated cases of police misconduct go unpunished. A grand jury recently declined to charge any of the officers involved in the 26-year-old EMT’s killing for her death. “To have it go through the 'proper channels' and still come out with a rigged decision raises existential questions for people about the legitimacy of the institutions of governance in the United States,” says Taylor, assistant professor of African American studies at Princeton University.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

Less than a week after a grand jury failed to charge the police officers who shot Breonna Taylor with her death, a judge has ordered Kentucky’s Attorney General Daniel Cameron to release the recording of the grand jury proceedings to the court — not yet clear whether the tape will be made public. On Monday, an anonymous grand juror sued in order to unseal the court transcripts, accusing Cameron of using the grand jury, quote, “as a shield to deflect accountability and responsibility for those decisions.” The juror also said jury members should be granted the right to speak freely about the case and be allowed to share, quote, “any potential charges and defendants presented or not presented.”

The grand jury’s only indictments were three counts of wanton endangerment against former Louisville police detective Brett Hankison for shooting into the apartment of a neighbor. The two officers who shot Breonna Taylor six times on March 13th were not charged, after the grand jury deemed their actions justified. On Monday, Brett Hankison pleaded not guilty to three counts of wanton endangerment. This all comes as Vice News interviews with Louisville SWAT team members have revealed that concerns about the deadly raid that killed Breonna Taylor were raised both before and after it happened.

Still with us, historian Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor in Philadelphia, contributing writer to The New Yorker, professor at Princeton University.

You’ve been writing a lot, tweeting a lot about the Breonna Taylor case. The decision came down from the grand jury. Clearly, the grand jury is upset, saying they were only presented with wanton endangerment. And none of these three officers were charged with Breonna Taylor’s death. Your comments?

KEEANGA-YAMAHTTA TAYLOR: Well, I think that there are a couple of things. One is that it’s clear — a grand jury is a very kind of — just a procedural formality. And the fact that this took over two days — and it appears as if it was rigged in such a way as to not raise the question of murder or manslaughter, but to advance as weak charges as possible. And so, the fact that the proceedings may have to be publicized — as you said at the top, it’s not clear if the recordings will be made public — but I think that it speaks to two things.

One is that it’s important to remember that without the protest movement that exploded around the death of — the killing of George Floyd at the end of May, that nothing would have been done in this case. Breonna Taylor was shot and killed on March 13th.

And the second thing, which I think is really important, is that this kind of case really contributes to what I think is an unfolding dynamic of radicalization in the United States. And what I mean is that for millions of people — I don’t think thousands, I think millions of people — who have been watching this case across the country, and indeed across the world, to have it go through the, quote-unquote, “proper channels” and still come out with a rigged decision raises existential questions for people about the legitimacy of the institutions of governance in the United States, certainly in Kentucky, but in the country at large, because it maps on to those same questions being asked of other institutions. Again, we’re told that the Supreme Court is not a political body, when we are watching, in real time, it being used in the most grotesque political ways. We are told that the criminal justice system is blind to black and white, it’s color blind, and then here we can see where it is functioning fully color-conscious.

And so, I think, for millions of people in this country, people who have participated in demonstrations against police brutality, it raises fundamental questions about what is happening in the United States, where even when you do what you are supposed to do, and a case goes through the course that it is supposed to go through, an investigation goes through the channels that it is supposed to, and it still produces a completely corrupted, injust decision, raises questions about the legitimacy of all of the institutions that are involved in this. And then people begin to come to their own conclusions about what needs to change and what that change should look like as a result. So I think that this decision is extremely consequential in the U.S. right now.

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