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“Corrupt”: DOJ Report Slams Louisville Police for Abuse, Discrimination After Breonna Taylor Killing

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The Department of Justice has released a scathing report accusing the Louisville, Kentucky, police department of unlawfully discriminating against the city’s Black population, as well as against people with behavioral health disabilities. The report concludes an investigation that began after the police killing of Breonna Taylor, who was shot dead in her own home during a no-knock police raid on March 13, 2020. The DOJ also announced the establishment of a consent decree with Louisville police and an independent monitor who will oversee police reforms. “What we have are systems that absolutely need to be disrupted,” says Sadiqa Reynolds, longtime attorney and community activist in Louisville.

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

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Louisville, Kentucky. On Wednesday, the U.S. Justice Department released a scathing report accusing the Louisville police of unlawfully discriminating against the city’s Black population, as well as people with behavioral health disabilities. Attorney General Merrick Garland laid out the DOJ’s findings Wednesday.

ATTORNEY GENERAL MERRICK GARLAND: The report finds that LMPD uses excessive force, including unjustified neck restraints and the unreasonable use of police dogs and Tasers; conducts searches based on invalid warrants; unlawfully executes warrants without knocking and announcing; unlawfully stops, searches, detains and arrests people; unlawfully discriminates against Black people in enforcement activities; violates the rights of people engaged in protected speech critical of policing; and, along with Louisville Metro, discriminates against people with behavioral health disabilities when responding to them in crisis. The Justice Department has also identified deficiencies in LMPD’s response to and investigation of domestic violence and sexual assault.

LMPD has relied heavily on pretextual traffic stops in Black neighborhoods. In these stops, officers use the pretense of making a stop for a minor traffic offense in order to investigate for other crimes. Some officers have demonstrated disrespect for the people they are sworn to protect. Some have videotaped themselves throwing drinks at pedestrians from their cars, insulted people with disabilities, and called Black people “monkeys,” “animal” and “boy.”

AMY GOODMAN: Kristen Clarke, the assistant attorney general for civil rights at the Justice Department, detailed more of the DOJ’s findings about the Louisville Police Department.

KRISTEN CLARKE: Officers also routinely conduct stops, searches and arrests without the required constitutional justification. These tools are essential to enhance public safety, but when used without restraint, they turn into weapons of oppression, submission and fear. We found that LMPD officers use excessive and dangerous tactics, such as neck restraints, canines and Tasers, even against people who pose no imminent threat to the officer or others. We also found that officers misdirect their resources and violate fundamental principles of equal justice by selectively targeting and disproportionately subjecting Black residents to unlawful policing.

AMY GOODMAN: The Justice Department began investigating the Louisville Police Department after the police killing of Breonna Taylor, who was shot dead in her own home during a no-knock raid in March of 2020, March 13th. On Wednesday, Breonna’s mother, Tamika Palmer, spoke to reporters about the DOJ’s findings.

TAMIKA PALMER: It’s heartbreaking to know that everything you’ve been saying from day one has to be said again through this manner, you know, that it took this to even have somebody look into this department.

REPORTER: Attorney General Garland specifically talked about the warrant in Breonna’s apartment. When you heard that today, what went through your mind? Because he essentially said that they shouldn’t have [inaudible].

TAMIKA PALMER: Heartbreak all over again, because I knew that to begin with. I said that from the very beginning. We’ve asked that question a hundred times over and over, for no one to ever give you a direct answer.

AMY GOODMAN: Lonita Baker, an attorney for Breonna Taylor’s family, also spoke at the news conference.

LONITA BAKER: We are encouraged by the Department of Justice findings today; however, it is unfortunate that it took the murder of Breonna Taylor and protest after protest after protest through 2020 to come to this point. As you saw, this is a pattern-and-practice investigation, and the findings relate to patterns and practice. It is not one particular case.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by Sadiqa Reynolds, the former president and CEO of the Louisville Urban League.

We welcome you back to Democracy Now!, Sadiqa. So, talk about the significance of this Justice Department two-year investigation, this whole issue of finding pattern and practice. I know this is not a surprise to you.

SADIQA REYNOLDS: No. Thank you so much for having me again.

It is not a surprise to me or anyone who’s been paying attention in Louisville, Kentucky. And I think Breonna Taylor’s mother said it best: It’s sad that this had to be on the back of her daughter. It’s sad because we have been complaining about things with our police department.

And this report, quite frankly, is scathing — excessive force, searches based on invalid warrants. And again, I want to focus on the fact that this is patterns and practice. This is not one-offs. This is the way they do business, unlawfully executing search warrants, unlawfully stopping, search and detaining, unlawfully discriminating against Black people specifically. I think that is a really scathing indictment on this police department. Their conduct is illegal, and Black people are disproportionately experiencing the illegal activity in Louisville. This report is — and even when it talks about behavioral health and what is happening with people, you know, who have behavioral health issues in our community, again, something we’ve been talking about, something we’ve been asking for support on.

There are a lot of reasons for Louisvillians to be very concerned today. For those who did not believe the protesters, for those who didn’t think people should have been in the streets, I mean, when you hear that in fact police are engaging in illegal activity related to people who are using protected speech because they’re critical of policing, you should be concerned.

And so, I think that — I hope this report will generate the conversations that have to happen in my city in order to really change the way policing happens in every community. I hope that Louisville can step up and really be, you know, just some sort of example of how you can make change, because right now we’re doing a horrible job of policing.

AMY GOODMAN: So, if you can talk about what’s going to come of this? The whole discussion of an independent monitor and a consent decree with the Louisville Police Department, what does that mean?

SADIQA REYNOLDS: So, they will have an independent organization come in that will monitor the work of the police department. They will, obviously, complete a corrective action plan, and then that organization will work to make sure that LMPD is doing what they’ve said they’re supposed to do. So, I think, for community, there was a conversation last night with DOJ. The next steps will be for us to learn about what organization has been chosen, what are the steps — obviously, there are about 36 steps the DOJ has recommended, but there could be more. We’ve got to think about the timeline. So there are a lot of things that need to happen.

But I also think the thing that no one really talks about is an acknowledgment. This is somewhat vindication, quite frankly, for a lot of people in Louisville who have been, quite frankly, traumatized by what we have experienced over the last couple of years.

What makes me hopeful is I know, through my work with Perception Institute, that a mind that can be — these police officers have been trained in this way. It’s poorly trained — poor training. It’s not following policy and procedures where they do have it. There’s been no accountability. So we do have to go back and look at officers who have violated the law, to see how they have been handled. I don’t think the community just wants to push that under the rug.

I think we need to see, for those officers who did — there are some officers we know what happened, right? If they were throwing drinks at people who were experiencing mental health issues on the street, those officers have been arrested. But there are other things that are outlined in this report. We don’t know what happened with those officers. We don’t know what happened with the officer that called Black people “animals.” We don’t know what happened with the officer — or, the supervisor who made jokes when he got to the scene and the officer told him that he had beat the woman in the face with a flashlight. We don’t know if there was ever any discipline. We have to know about those things. We have to understand who we are moving forward with in our police department.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s go back to the case of Breonna Taylor, which sparked all of this. As her mother said, OK, so now we know what she knew and what so many people, especially African Americans of Louisville, knew three years ago about the pattern and practice. But no officer has been charged in the murder of Breonna Taylor. Is that investigation ongoing? Even one of the officers who was charged was not charged for shooting her, but for his bullets ending up in the apartment of a white couple next door.

SADIQA REYNOLDS: And let me say something else about that case. Not only are they not charged with her murder, the officer who was shot, Officer Mattingly, who went in, is actually suing Kenny, the boyfriend, for shooting him. So, they went in unannounced. We see all of this information about the poor way that they handle — the illegal way that they handle no-knock warrants, right? So we know exactly what happened in Breonna Taylor’s case. So, not only are they not charged with killing her, they have an officer who has the audacity to sue the person who had every right to defend himself. It is incredible. This police department, the way that they operate, their procedures, their practices, the pattern here, it is atrocious.

So, all of these past investigations really do need to be reopened. And but for the Department of Justice, we would have absolutely no hint of justice in this community. Not the commonwealth attorney, not the attorney general — no one has offered us any sense of justice. But for Merrick Garland and his office, all of this would still be covered up. All of it.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re talking about Kenneth Walker, who, actually, the city of Louisville settled with him, something like $2 million. But he is being sued? I mean, the police — just for people to understand, what was it? About 1:00 in the morning that they barged in? He was terrified, said he did not know they were even police.

SADIQA REYNOLDS: That’s right, in fact, and he even called 911 to say, “Can you send the police?” And they have a recording of that. We knew something was wrong with Kenneth Walker’s case when he was released from custody after shooting a police officer. We knew that there was more information. And that’s really what pushed people into the streets in Louisville.

But the other thing that is interesting to me about Kenneth Walker’s case, you also see, when you watch the video — that they said didn’t exist, that we know now, of course, did — when he comes down the steps and he comes out of the apartment, they have the dogs, and they threaten to turn the dogs on him. So, now that I read this report and I see how often people are being bit by canines, this Breonna Taylor case is an example of almost everything that was wrong and continues to be wrong with our police department.

And let me say, I am not suggesting that they have not attempted to make some changes. We have an interim police chief. We’re going to, you know, see what happens. But at the end of the day, we have got to have complete honesty, complete disclosure, and we absolutely need investigations into some of these things that have been identified. We want to know who the officers were, what happened, who the supervisors were that didn’t do their jobs. We need to be rid of them. We actually need to go into the weeds on this. It’s way too important.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, it’s not only Louisville. The Department of Justice — and, of course, Merrick Garland is the attorney general, but the assistant attorney general, Kristen Clarke, is in charge of all of this. We played a clip of her earlier, longtime civil rights attorney. But said, for example, they’re going to be investigating the Memphis Police Department.

SADIQA REYNOLDS: Yeah. This is about systems and systemic change. And this is what I said yesterday. We know that there are some good officers in this country, no doubt. There are people who are signing up to really serve and protect, and they believe in that. The problem is that the system is corrupt. And sometimes people want to say the system is broken. I think the system works just as it was designed to work. It was designed to discriminate against Black people, poor people.

So, what we have are systems that absolutely need to be disrupted. If your mind can be trained to be biased, if your mind can be trained to do these things, then we can untrain the mind. We can do this different. But these officers and the people who control them have to be willing to engage. We have to, because at the — at its core, this is really dehumanization. That is the problem across the country. These officers get this power, and they don’t see my humanity because of my black skin. That has to stop. We have to do something different. So this is more than just training on policy and procedure. This is about how you train your mind, how you see people, how you react to your own biases. So we’ve got to do something different in America. And certainly in Louisville, we will be doing something different, but it’s going to be a long, hard road.

And I’ll say this, too. We have a lot of people in the business community — and I’m sure this doesn’t just happen in Louisville — they are so critical of protesters, because it disrupts business, it’s not good for tourism. Let me tell you what’s not good for people’s lives: to be terrorized in their own homes, to not be able to rest, to not be able to sleep. When you read this report and understand how bad this police department has been, people should actually be thanking protesters for raising their voices and maybe saving their children.

AMY GOODMAN: Sadiqa Reynolds, we want to thank you for being with us, attorney, community activist, former president and CEO of Louisville Urban League.

Next up, “Apartheid American-Style”? We go to Jackson, Mississippi, where white Republican state lawmakers want to set up an unelected superstructure to oversee the Black-majority city. We’ll speak with Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “Black Nile” by the legendary saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter, who died last week at the age of 89.

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