There were so many things that 76ers’ star forward Tobias Harris could have said when he stepped up to a podium inside the NBA “bubble” in Orlando, Fla., after scoring 15 points and leading the Sixers to a victory in their first time on the hardwood in over four months — but winning wasn’t everything, or the only thing, or really anything compared to what was weighing heavily on his mind.
Harris said the only meaning he finds these days “is to continue to push the message — justice for Breonna Taylor ... Brett Hankison, Jonathan Mattingly, and Myles Cosgrove need to be held accountable, and we need justice for Breonna Taylor, and I’ll continue to preach that message after every single game. So if you want to hear it, I’m always here to do interviews and use my platform in the best way possible. But those individuals need to be held accountable. And that’s my message.”
Tobias Harris gets it, and so does a considerable chunk of American pro sports. That includes all the players on the WNBA’s New York Liberty and Seattle Storm who wore Taylor’s name on their jerseys and walked off the court before the national anthem at their season opener to protest the lack of justice in her March 13 police killing, Nets’ star Kyrie Irving, who’s producing a TV special about the Taylor case, and — stunning many fans — the official Twitter feed of the Tampa Bay Rays, which posted: “Today is Opening Day, which means it’s a great day to arrest the killers of Breonna Taylor.”
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What Harris and Irving and LeBron James and the WNBA stars and the Rays all get is quite simply this: As long as the three officers who killed Taylor inside her own home in Louisville, Ky., are not behind bars, none of us are truly free.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” As long as Hankison, Mattingly, and Cosgrove are not held to serious account for breaking into the apartment of a 26-year-old emergency medical technician, who was a pillar of her Kentucky community, with a battering ram and ultimately firing more than 20 rounds, including the eight that killed Taylor, there is no justice anywhere in America.
It is hard to sleep at night knowing that Brett Hankison is comfortable in his own bed, in his own home — four months after his bullets killed Breonna Taylor while she tried to do the same. It is impossible to summon any respect for any law enforcement in the United States remembering that Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove are still going to work in their blue uniforms. It is becoming almost intolerable to think of singing that America is “home of the free” knowing that a young woman’s freedom was robbed from her forever so senselessly — and that the powers-that-be in Kentucky don’t appear to be in any rush to do much of a damned thing about it.
Just like the Sixers’ Tobias Harris, there are a lot of other things that I could talk about today. There is the coronavirus pandemic that has exposed the United States as a pitiful, helpless giant, the ill-conceived rush to reopen schools, and the disaster that looms for millions of people who can’t find work — and then there are all the so many other recent victims of this nation’s 401-year abyss of systemic racism, including George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Elijah McClain, and Rayshard Brooks.
But we are now seeing what Harris, James, and so many others have been trying to tell us for weeks — that there is something especially gut-wrenching not just in the way that Taylor was murdered, and the lack of urgency among the Kentucky establishment in seeking true justice, but also in what her death tells us about America’s myriad problems that include race, yet also run even deeper than race.
We are seeing that seeking justice for Taylor as a Black woman in America has not one but two giant crosses to bear — our long legacies not just of white supremacy, but also male supremacy, and that while the death of George Floyd may have been the spark that ignited a nationwide movement, it’s past time to elevate women victims of violence such as Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd, and Atatiana Jefferson.
We are seeing that, beyond the tragedy of Taylor’s death, this incident is also a searing indictment of the utter moral bankruptcy of this nation’s 50-year-long so-called War on Drugs, from the faulty premises for the raid in the first place (seeking a narcotics suspect who not only hadn’t been linked to that apartment in years but was actually already in custody) to the ability to enter that home with a “no-knock warrant” and a battering ram, triggering the chaos that preceded the killing. It also includes the pathetically slow emergency response while Taylor was bleeding out.
We are seeing the ways in which the kind of systemic oppression that ended Taylor’s life is inextricably linked to the outrageous dictates of late-stage capitalism, as highlighted in the report that the botched drug raid that killed her was tied to political efforts to clear out her street for a large-scale real estate development, part of Louisville’s gentrification.
We are seeing the total rot that has corrupted the political system of Kentucky, where it took three months for local police brass to finally fire the unrestrained shooter Hankison and promulgate the department’s finding that the narcotics cop showed “extreme indifference to the value of human life” in wantonly firing toward Taylor. Nor did Hankison’s long-overdue firing explain why he still had a badge, after years of allegations of both sexual and official misconduct, let alone why a killing carried out with “extreme indifference to the value of human life” is not a crime.
We are seeing how a state’s corruption stinks from the very head, in the way that the Kentucky attorney general who dithers and delays in investigating Hankison, Mattingly, and Cosgrove owes an enormous political debt to his mentor — the Senate Majority Leader (and 2020 reelection seeker) Mitch McConnell. As McConnell’s legal counsel in 2015 and 2016, Daniel Cameron helped his boss shred the Constitution to rob Barack Obama of a Supreme Court nomination, and God only knows what he might do to stall a case against these immoral police officers past Election Day.
We are seeing what the world is like without Breonna Taylor — who wrote not long before her death that she’d gone into health care because “it makes me feel so happy when I know I’ve made a difference in someone else’s life,” and who was a cool, card-playing presence in the lives of the family and friends who loved her — and it is increasingly hard to bear.
We are seeing gross injustice, and we can no longer remain silent.
Many have not stayed silent. Thousands of citizens have marched through the streets of Louisville demanding justice — even as police or National Guardsmen fire pepper balls at journalists, and have killed a popular restaurateur under disputed circumstances — and yet their voices have gone unheard. When demonstrators showed up at Cameron’s home to protest the seeming indifference of a public servant, the cops answered by arresting 87 people while McConnell took much greater umbrage at the action of a few peaceful protesters disturbing the peace of his ally than at the cops who riddled an innocent and law-abiding Black woman with gunfire.
Without justice, there can be no peace — not for the three cops who killed Breonna Taylor, nor for the self-serving officials like Cameron and McConnell who are complicit because they do nothing. Indeed, it is past time to escalate. If you live in Kentucky, vote McConnell out of office in November like there’s no tomorrow, which will send his protégé Cameron the message that he is next. If you’re one of the millions who don’t live in Kentucky, but who desperately wants movement in the case, the time is near to consider a total boycott of this rogue state, not just of tourism and conventions, but also the many consumer products — KFC, Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark, Papa John’s, Humana, GE appliances — that are headquartered or made in Kentucky, and that have propped up the political regime there.
Like Tobias Harris or the heroes of the WNBA, we need to continue pushing the message every day, even if it means repeating ourselves. Because as long as Breonna Taylor’s killers walk the streets, none of us are truly free. That’s the message.
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