'Justice Failed Us,' Ky. State Rep. Booker Says Of Breonna Taylor Decision

Sep 24, 2020
Originally published on September 24, 2020 4:10 pm

Democratic Kentucky State Representative Charles Booker says "justice failed us" when only one of the three officers who were involved in the killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville was charged.

The officers — Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison and Myles Cosgrove — entered the home that Taylor was sleeping in with a no-knock warrant. Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron announced Wednesday that Hankison would be charged with wanton endangerment for firing his weapon into neighboring apartments. He did not charge any officers with Taylor's death.

Cameron also said he is going to create a task force that will review the process by which police officers get and execute search warrants.

"We've seen a lot of task force groups that have been created over the years," Booker told NPR's Noel King. "We know not to hold our breath."

Booker told NPR's Morning Edition that there are many more changes he hopes will go into effect beyond the initiation of a task force. He co-sponsored Breonna's Law, which would get rid of no-knock warrants statewide and require body cameras to be on. He's calling for citizen review of police shootings with subpoena power, too.

"We can do those things right now — addressing qualified immunity cases, working to amend contracts so that there can be accountability with law enforcement in these types of instances — we can do those things," he said. "But what we can't do is hide behind rhetoric and process and dance away from so much pain and trauma that people of the commonwealth of Kentucky are feeling right now."

Booker talked with NPR about why the charges made on Wednesday were failures and what to do next.

Here are excerpts of the Morning Edition interview:

What would justice have looked like in your view? What did you want to happen here?

When I said the words that "justice failed us" yesterday, I was speaking to a truth that essentially says that if you look like I do or come from where I come from or where Breonna comes from, that your life can be dismissed, your humanity can be seen as irrelevant or not considered at all. And throughout this process, transparency was never there. The community was left in the dark. Leadership, even elected leaders like myself, we were left in the dark. That is what I mean by justice being fully accountable and transparent and giving people the chance to know that the life of a woman, of a young person that was trying to pursue her dreams, that her life had value and meaning because we know it does.

When Attorney General Daniel Cameron finished speaking yesterday, what were the questions in your mind that were unanswered? What did you want to know that he hadn't said or shared?

The question for me was: Did the attorney general even recommend charges for the other officers at all? It appeared that he picked the facts that would fit with his framing as a way to back away from saying that the officers that actually shot Breonna Taylor had any liability and he continued to say that it was justified. And that sits with me, even right now, because the indictments — the three that were brought against one of the officers regarding wanton endangerment — accounts for the shots that went into other apartment buildings but there's no accounting for the shots that went into this person, this human being. And there seems to be a very arrogant disregard for that.

To hear Booker's Morning Edition interview, click on the audio button above.

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NOEL KING, HOST:

When he announced the charges, Kentucky's attorney general, Daniel Cameron, called this, quote, "a gut-wrenching, emotional case."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DANIEL CAMERON: I understand that, as a Black man, how painful this is - and which is why it was so incredibly important for make sure that we did everything we possibly could to uncover every fact.

KING: Cameron then called for law and order and said he would create a task force to review search warrants in Kentucky. On the line with me now is Kentucky state Rep. Charles Booker. Good morning, sir. Thank you for being here.

CHARLES BOOKER: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

KING: You have been supportive of the protests. You said yesterday, justice failed us. What would justice have looked like in your view? What did you want to happen here?

BOOKER: Well, first of all, I want to acknowledge the pain that so many people feel that is absolutely justified - that have been crying out for justice not only in these 120-plus days, but for generations. And when I said the words that justice failed us yesterday, I was speaking to a truth that essentially says that if you look like I do or come from where I come from or where Breonna comes from that your life can be dismissed. Your humanity can be seen as irrelevant or not considered at all.

And throughout this process, transparency was never there. The community was left in the dark. Leadership - even elected leaders, like myself - we were left in the dark. That is what I mean by justice being fully accountable and transparent and giving people the chance to know that the life of a woman, of a young person that was trying to pursue her dreams, that her life had value and meaning because we know it does.

KING: When the attorney general, Daniel Cameron, finished speaking yesterday, what were the questions in your mind that were unanswered? What did you want to know that he hadn't said or shared?

BOOKER: You know, the question for me was, did the attorney general even recommend charges for the other officers at all? It appeared that he picked the facts that would fit with his framing as a way to back away from saying that the officers that actually shot Breonna Taylor had any liability. And he continued to say it was justified, that it was justified. And, you know, that sits with me even right now because the indictment, the three that were brought against one of the officers - regarding wanton endangerment - accounts for the shots that went into other apartment buildings. But there's no accounting for the shots that went into this person, this human being. And, you know, there seems to be a very arrogant disregard for that.

KING: Gov. Andy Beshear has called for the district attorney to make that grand jury evidence public. He says the public deserves to see the facts for themselves. Do you think that would help, being able to see the evidence?

BOOKER: I do agree. And it will help from the standpoint of having a better sense of understanding all the way through even in the fact of how this happened. There was a delay in the community understanding what that meant. And then when we all found out - we heard the 911 calls, and everyone around the country began looking at us - there was, really, a lot of silence on what an investigation would even mean. So that is important. And I commend the governor for calling for that. And I join him in doing that.

KING: Let me ask you about the task force that the attorney general says he's going to create. It will review the process by which police get and execute search warrants. Now, the officers in this case say they had a no-knock warrant. And a lot of people think that was a big part of the problem. Do you think, with the creation of a task force, Kentucky could be moving toward real changes?

BOOKER: Well, we've seen a lot of task force groups that have been created over the years. We've seen a lot of studies. And so as a community, particularly in the Black community, we know not to hold our breath. But we also know that this is a moment where we've got to do the work. And so if there is going to be a creation of a task force, the community better be represented on it. And we'll do our best to hold accountability to this attorney general, make him keep his word there. But there's so much changes that are very obvious that need to happen right now. And I call on the attorney general to join us in being a champion for that.

I have co-sponsored what we are calling Breonna's Law here in Kentucky that will get rid of no-knock warrants at the statewide level and require body cameras to be on and provide accountability when that doesn't happen. We also need citizen review of police shootings with subpoena power. We can do those things right now. Addressing qualified immunity cases, working to amend contracts so that there could be accountability with law enforcement in these types of instances - we can do those things. But what we can't do is hide behind rhetoric and process and dance away from so much pain and trauma that people of the Commonwealth of Kentucky are feeling right now.

KING: Kentucky state Rep. Charles Booker. Thank you so much for being with us.

BOOKER: Absolutely. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.