What will it take for Black people in the United States to get the justice they deserve?

Por Alma Sacasa
Septiembre 24, 2020
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Credit: Getty Images

"They were justified in using force to protect themselves." This is what prosecutors said about the two Louisville police officers who fired on Breonna Taylor while she was sleeping in her home, after a grand jury declined to bring murder charges against anyone involved in the shooting. Hearing that statement, I can't help but think that what they really mean is that these officers were "justified" in killing an innocent Black woman. When I hear that the only charges brought against anyone are for "wanton endangerment," I hear that property is more important than a person's life. That is what these prosecutors are saying to all of us who have endured years and years of racism and police brutality.

I'm 26 — the same age as Breonna was when her life was taken from her in March — but I have already become desensitized to how this country treats Black lives. Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, Alton Sterling, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, and many more — if their killers were charged at all, the punishment was lenient. "The police are just doing their job," responds the public. But what is their job? If it's to make us feel safe, then they're failing. I do not feel safe. Breonna Taylor was not safe.

The police's "job" is to protect and serve, but in 1704, the first police force was established to apprehend runaway slaves and prevent revolts. After the Civil War, these bounty hunter–style groups evolved to enforce Jim Crow laws well into the 20th century. Since then the federal government has forbidden the use of racist regulations at the state and local level, but to no avail. Black people are more likely to be killed by the police than white people. Police officers patrol neighborhoods they don't live in, with no understanding of those communities' values and beliefs. The system is still designed to enforce a set of laws that disadvantages Black Americans.

It should have been enough that Breonna, an ER technician who would have worked to combat the coronavirus pandemic, was killed in her home, but it wasn't. It wasn't enough that millions witnessed the death of George Floyd at the hands of a white officer. It wasn't enough that a white officer shot Jacob Blake in the back seven times, in front of his children. It wasn't enough that people took to the streets in the middle of a pandemic to shout "no justice, no peace" and "say her name." None of that has been enough to inspire real change, and the Kentucky grand jury has yet again failed to give Black people the justice we deserve.

But I am proud of all those who aren't just using social media to signal that they're paying attention, but are also teaching their parents, grandparents, friends, and coworkers that America has to change and we all have to do better. I am proud of those who have been fighting against racism for years, who have been let down by this system endless times but still remain hopeful that things will change. And while I am no longer surprised by the actions of racist police officers or the verdicts handed down by racist prosecutors, I am also hopeful that people can finally accept the fact that racism and police brutality are still rampant and must be stopped.

We are tired of turning on our TVs or going on social media to see that once again a Black person is dead at the hands of police or that a Black person is not getting justice. Charging a police officer with murder won't bring Breonna Taylor or any other loved ones back, but holding people accountable for their wrongdoing is the only way forward. It is the only way we will end up with the respect we deserve.