The Killing Of Breonna Taylor Was Entirely Legal
The killing of Breonna Taylor reveals a severe problem with drug policing in America, but evidence revealed and stated in a press conference by Attorney General Daniel Cameron supports that the LNPD did not serve the warrant they acquired as a no-knock warrant, and that the use of force by the police was warranted, although one officer may be convicted for endangering the tenants of an adjacent apartment. As it stands legally, It does not appear the officers who served the warrant are culpable for murder.
Something many people are conflating in this shooting is the morally questionable legal precedence for drug policing, and the guiltiness of the officers. Any questions as to the validity of the warrant does not pertain to the guilt of the officers, because no officers involved in the shooting took part in the acquisition of it. Unless the evidence used to acquire the warrant was forged, the blame for the poor evidence passing muster for a warrant would fall solely on the judge who issued it. The nature of the issuing of the warrant, and the fact that it was served at night is the most concerning thing about this case.
A Midnight Raid
Why was the warrant served after midnight? Typically, warrants must be served between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m., but drug related warrants are typical exceptions to the time frame for the fact that evidence could be destroyed, the suspects could flee or be armed. The police had reason to believe that drugs were loosely associated with the residence, but were told to knock and identify themselves by their superiors for this specific warrant, as stated in Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s press conference explaining the grand jury’s indictment decision. This advice to the officers seems to hint at the suspicion of the unlikely association of drug tracking with the residence. This ambiguity in the veracity of the warrant seems to be the crux of unfortunate death of Breonna Taylor.
Why would you want to serve a suspected drug-related warrant at night, and yet knock? Serving it at night indicates that the element of surprise is warranted to apprehend suspects, but knocking does not fit this narrative. It rings of absolute stupidity to knock for this warrant, then when no one answers proceed to break down the door AT NIGHT. This is not illegal, but certainly not the way things should be. This is an issue of policing writ large, not writ small.
All of this is moot considering that the officers had a warrant, had nothing to do with obtaining it, and found themselves at work one day with superiors telling them to serve it. Evidence confirms that the cops announced their presence, and knocked to serve the warrant before breaking in the door. Perhaps they should have waited a bit longer and the shooting may not have happened, but legally the officers were only obligated to wait a “reasonable” amount of time for a resident to respond to the knock. So, after a “reasonable” amount of waiting, they broke down the door and an officer entered.
The Reasonable Man
We should take a moment to sympathize with Breonna Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker. You wake up to the sound of the front door being smashed repeatedly. “What the absolute fuck is going on?” you ask yourself. You get up from the bed, dazed from sleep and grab your gun. You run into the hallway, and your girlfriend follows you and panickily says she thinks her ex is breaking in. You are being sieged and you’re scared. She’s scared. The door busts off its hinges and crashes inward, glass shattering in arcs across your floor. A man in plain cloths steps in. What the fuck would YOU do? You would shoot, and so did he.
The shot struck the entering officer in the thigh and the officer then returned fire. Whatever you think about the state of policing in America, you must agree that if you are shot in a gunfight, the first thing to do is fire back. We can ask questions about if such warrants are moral — no way they are — but until systemic changes in such policies are effected, we should be hesitant to condemn and call for murder charges to be brought up on the officers enforcing them — who are obeying the law, and who are doing the moral thing in their mind.
Perhaps the correct response for the officer, who now has a 9mm slug in his thigh, was to back out of the apartment and shout “police! stop shooting!” However, what reasonable person would do that given the fact that you don’t know why the person is shooting you? Who would have the willpower to take a bullet, and not shoot back? I have to imagine the number of people really willing to do that is vanishingly small. What if the person who shot you really wants to kill you, and it wasn’t a mistake they shot you? In the moment there is really no telling. The mistakes that lead to this tragic death rests on police policy writ large, not the officers, and not Taylor’s boyfriend Kenneth Walker, as some vile conservative polemicists say.
Nothing up to this moment can condemn any officer for racial profiling, malfeasance in executing the warrant, or excessive use of force. What took place next is a different story.
A rain of gunfire entered the apartment and the adjacent apartment. The indictments announced recently are for these bullets which endangered the residents of the neighboring apartment. The use of force was warranted here, but blindly firing into the apartment could be classified as excessive. Being fired upon justified the initial shots, so unless we see evidence that an officer knowingly shot the unarmed Breonna Taylor after the shots from the apartment ceased, we shouldn’t want an indictment of the officer for the murder.
Two Types of Tragedies
Morally, perhaps the officers are at fault for murder, but legally they are not. Social justice has its use, but we cannot drag out into the streets every officer that has done morally objectionable things. As the Israeli writer Amos Oz once said:
“Tragedies are resolved in one of two ways: The Shakespearean way or the Anton Chekhov way. In a tragedy by Shakespeare, the stage at the end is littered with dead bodies. In a tragedy by Chekhov everyone is unhappy, bitter, disillusioned and melancholy but they are alive.”
It’s horrible that this has happened, but calling for the blood of the officers involved here will not solve anything, the policies that enabled the death must be changed. Is it morally permissible to exert violence upon a person who is thought to be a drug criminal? To exert violence upon someone who has not committed a violent crime by breaking into their apartment at night with guns? Legally the officers did not do anything wrong, they operated within the scope the law allowed them to. Morally, however, the policies in place lead to the violent action of the government against a citizen it is sworn to protect, because it thought that that citizen had some connection to drug trafficking.
Sweeping changes must be made.