It is easy these days to jump to conclusions when you hear about a news story, especially when it involves law enforcement and their treatment of different situations. I try and resist this temptation reminding myself that there are things happening behind the scenes that are often not part of a media report and it is necessary to let the authorities involved carry out the investigation. Yet there are times when it becomes increasingly difficult to withhold judgement.
I’m thinking now about how law enforcement handled two situations and the contrasts involved. The first involved a 26-year-old black woman named Breonna Taylor, an emergency room tech living in Louisville, Kentucky who was shot and killed by police in a raid on her home back in March that should have never happened. News reports describe it as botched raid and it was, but it’s what led to the raid that is questionable.
Law enforcement had been carrying out investigations into two men suspected of selling drugs from a house that was not Breonna Taylor’s home and apparently not anywhere near where she lived. However, police were able to get a search warrant to search Ms. Taylor’s home because the police told a judge that they thought one of the suspects used her apartment to receive packages of drugs since Taylor and the suspect had once been in an on-again-off-again relationship.
In executing the warrant (i.e. knocking and breaking down the door), Ms. Taylor’s boyfriend, who is not one of the suspected drug dealers, thought someone was trying to break in, possibly the old boyfriend, and in fear of the moment shot one of the officers in the thigh. With that, police fired a barrage of bullets into the apartment killing Ms. Taylor.
There is much dispute about whether the police announced themselves before kicking in the door but what makes this story even more outrageous, aside from the fact that police found no drugs in the apartment, is that the suspect who had supposedly received packages at Ms. Taylor’s apartment, the old boyfriend, had actually been in police custody for several months prior to the raid.
Compare that to what happened on Christmas Day in Nashville when a 63-year-old white man, Anthony Werner, detonated explosives in his RV, blowing both himself and half a downtown city block to smithereens. Law enforcement is still trying to find out why Werner carried out this act of terrorism, which wounded three people and knocked out cell phone service in the area.
Here’s what’s troubling: In August 2019 Anthony Werner’s girlfriend called police and told them that Werner was building bombs in his RV parked next to his house. Her attorney, who had also been Werner’s attorney, told police that Werner talked about bomb-making and that he was knowledgeable and capable of making bombs.
Police went to Werner’s home and knocked, but Werner didn’t answer. According to the attorney, Werner didn’t care for police and wouldn’t give his permission to let them search inside the RV. With that, police looked over a fence at the RV and left—though they did report the incident to the FBI so they could check their databases. Nothing came back about Werner.
In contrasting the two situations I wonder how things would have gone if Werner were a different race or ethnicity. In one situation, there was little regard for the privacy or sanctity of the person’s home or their civil rights and in the other, there was every benefit of the doubt given. That’s some of what inequality looks like and it’s something we’re going to have to confront together.