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OPINION: What do we do now that Breonna Taylor's killers have yet to see justice?

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Jamelia Reed (copy)

Former SGA presidential candidate Jamelia Reed speaks at the SGA Presidential Debate Oct. 24, 2019.

On March 13, 2020,  Breonna Taylor, a Black medical worker was murdered by Louisville police officers during a no-knock warrant raid on her apartment. This has led to national protests in the following months and continues today.  On Sept. 23, 2020, a grand jury indicted a former Louisville police detective, Brett Hatkinson, on three counts of wanton endangerment in the first degree, which according to Kentucky law means an individual “wantonly engages in conduct which creates a substantial danger of death or serious physical injury to another person ... under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life.”  

No charges were announced against the other two officers who fired shots, and no one was charged for the death of Ms. Taylor.

Where is Justice?

I sat at my desk reading articles and watching interviews. I forced myself to disconnect and become still, and suddenly my feelings rush over me with anger, rage, disappointment and a want to take action —  a feeling I am not foreign to. The emotions that are absent: shock and surprise. 

Is this supposed to be justice? Justice has yet to be found, and surely this is no sign of her existence. Surely in the land of the free there must be some for everyone under the constitution. Yet, as many people of marginalized communities live and exist, we find this to be untrue. With continued civil unrest, many are asking for the bare minimum, to be treated as equal and not die at the hands of law enforcement. We find ourselves in the same place we were for Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Mike Brown, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Roxanne Moore, Eric Garner, Naomi Hersi, Dominique “Remi Mie” Fells, and so many many others. 

Black Lives Matter has frequently been mentioned as a political issue. I assure you this has some to do with policy but more to do with humanity. If you were to boil the Black Lives Matter movement down to the simplest of terms it is not a riot call, but rather a demand for the right to exist without death at the hands of law enforcement. Many may disagree with this point, but it is true. All we want to do is exist without being in constant fear of our lives.

Do we return to our regularly scheduled lives?

It can’t be that simple, at least not for Black people, and especially for Black women. This is more than just one death —  this is a reflection of the America we live in, the America I live in. We are seen as threats, thugs, criminals and “those” people. Minimized to criminal profiles, public enemies and political characters rather than citizens, neighbors and friends. 

Similar to many other groups seen as a threat to the majority's power, we suffer abuse from law enforcement and lie at mercy’s knees every time we have an interaction. This may be very hard for some to digest and understand how this could be possible, especially if you have yet to experience it yourself. For those who have difficulty comprehending systematic oppression, ask yourself the following questions: How do you know gravity and oxygen exists if you can not see it? The same way you know these exist by impact, study, acknowledgement and experimentation, we know that institutional racism, oppression and privilege exist as well. 

The expectation for Black people to return to work, class, regular scheduled events and obligations as if everything is normal is ignorant and senseless. After seeing the continued, unjustified deaths of Black people at the recklessness of law enforcement while trying to survive a pandemic, what is regular about the time we live in? Is the unjustified death of Black people supposed to be normalized? The answer should be NO. 

After 9/11, as a country we stopped, and mourned the lives lost. We completely understood the havoc of watching people die in a horrendous way by terroism. Yet, we expect Black people to continue life as normal as we witness people of our same race consistently die due to domestic terrorism. The FBI defines domestic terrorism as violent, criminal acts committed by individuals and/or groups to further ideological goals stemming from domestic influences, such as those of a political, religious, social, racial or environmental nature. 

Black People must wake up tomorrow, put on clothes, try to work, go to class, participate in class and achieve the desired schedules set forth before anything, while dealing with this emotional turmoil of the value of Black life in this country. We must be coworkers, subordinates, bosses, classmates and teammates as many may never understand the pain we go through, as we live wondering will we become the next hashtag. We must watch leaders from both major parties politicize death and our right to be human. We must watch as we pour into the streets protesting and see the response of those sworn to serve and protect infringing on our first amendment rights with violence, pain and suffering. Most of all some of us must continue to represent this university, this country and our community as our leaders refuse to acknowledge us as humans and see us as no more than human capital.

How do we as Black people continue to live? 

Take time and space. It is OK not to be OK. Grieve and mourn. Feel anger, distress, frustration and sadness. Make time for ourselves to heal. Support each other and make space for community and self-care. Seek professional help as needed or wanted. We must continue to move forward and unify as one. It is not enough for the marginalized of us to be the only people fighting for respect and to be heard. We can not ask for our freedom while holding the keys to those oppressed among us. It is mandatory our activism is intersectional. It is not enough to just support cis-gendered Black Men. It is time for full support of Black Women, Black Non-Binary, Black Trans people, Black Queer People, Black Children, Black non-Christians, Black Immigrants, and many more marginalized within our community. In addition, support other communities and their fight for liberation of all. We must not give up the fight even in this most hopeless of times. If not for ourselves then for our future.

How should people of the majority continue from this?

Surely, you have a choice to ignore this. You have a choice to continue going about your life as planned. To acknowledge you have that ability is to acknowledge privilege (which you have regardless if you acknowledge or not). If you’re a true ally or a person who adores our culture and wants to see us continue to live, then you must fight for us. 

Educate yourselves and others on the plight of the marginalized. LISTEN to our needs; you will never fully understand what it is we go through. Enhance our voice but never take it away. VOTE. Acknowledge our existence but do not tokenize or ostracize. This is more than having that one Black friend in your friend group or a Black person in your chapter, organization, group, exec, etc. Actually fight for our existence in places where we are not able to be and are not welcomed. Check family members and friends when they choose to participate in oppression and perpetuate stereotypes. Acknowledge your privilege and use it to free us from the bonds of suppression. 

Do your part to assist the changing and dismantling of policies and practices that have historically and currently excluded us from opportunities. Do more than offer stickers, painted streets, hashtags, t-shirts, etc. Those things are nice, but they are performative and find no real justice or equitable solution. Value every Black life, not just when we are playing for your favorite team. Feel free to read diverse literature (OU libraries has an array of options), use resources available at the university (GEC, Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity, etc.), enroll in one of the many courses offered focusing on marginalized groups and experiences (Example Subject Codes: AFAM, WGS, NAS, H R), as well as using many well and properly sourced internet materials are a good place to start. These are great sources to begin educating yourself, rather than asking a disempowered person for their experience without compensation. 

What do we do as a community?

Sadly, we are closer to the beginning of a long-winded fight than the end. 

Take this time to acknowledge that as a country we have failed. The justice system many have hoped and had faith in no longer finds justice. Now is the time for not just reform, but also a new construction — one better than the last. We must learn from our past and live in the present to make a better future. 

These 50 states and territories will not be united until all of us are free. Our fight is not over until every person and every group is liberated from the imprisonment of their oppression. This country for too long has stolen land, labor, people, ideas, culture, freedom and the pursuit of happiness among many other exploitations of the disempowered. As we wait for justice to be found, let our words and prayers of unity become equitable actions. Work to educate yourself whether you are a student, staff, faculty, athlete, coach, tenured professor, administrator, governor or regent. 

Ultimately, this fight for justice will need us all to not just look, but take proper and useful actions so that we all may partake in an equitable share of the American Pie. 

Warmest Regards,

Jamelia R. Reed

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