In addition to the City of Louisville paying a historic $12 million settlement to the family of Breonna Taylor and agreeing to specific police reforms, Taylor’s mother Tamika Palmer said in a press conference that this is “only the beginning,” as it relates to their fight for justice. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File)

By Wayne Dawkins
Special to the AFRO

Say her name.

The family of Breonna Taylor, the EMT and girlfriend who was shot dead in her Kentucky apartment last spring, on Tuesday received a $12 million settlement from the city of Louisville. Compensation after months of stonewalling, character assassination and failed coercion of an ex-boyfriend.

How bad did authorities behave? When the local media asked for the police report of the shooting, nearly every word was blacked out. 

When police broke through Taylor’s apartment door unannounced, their justification was suspected drugs were stashed there. There were no drugs. Taylor’s boyfriend, a licensed gun owner, fired from their bed in self-defense. A barrage of police fire killed Taylor. 

As authorities stonewalled, they tried to coerce a former Taylor boyfriend to say she once held his drugs, and he the defendant would be rewarded with a light sentence. The ex-boyfriend refused to smear Breonna Taylor. Authorities backed off.

Now Louisville announced it was compensating the Taylor family for erasing their beloved daughter and sister. 

“Yes, there was pressure applied,” Taylor’s mom told CBS News that Wednesday. You betcha. There were the unrelenting street protests. George Floyd and other unarmed Black men killed by police get all of the attention, however remember this woman

“Say her name” was printed on the upper backs of NBA and WNBA player’s jerseys. 

There was the Post-French Impressionist-like painting of Breonna Taylor that graced the September cover of Vanity Fair, the magazine of high-culture jet setters and moguls. 

The exclamation point was editor Radhika Jones handing to magazine to Baltimore author Ta-Nehsi Coates to guest edit. For one month, VF was all Black all the time. Brothers and sisters fired thousands of words about Black Lives Mattering.

All that said, the Breonna Taylor case did not get swept under the carpet. 

Moreover, in the multimillion-dollar settlement, there was acknowledgements that police need support. CBS reported that the money included retaining social workers to counsel police, reform the way search warrants were performed, and a tracking system that monitors police who accumulate misconduct complaints.

There are now chips in the thick blue police wall that need to expand to open cracks, for the public’s safety, and the overwhelming majority of police who look the other way and ignore homicidal, racist co-workers in the name of survival. 

Last week in Virginia, the majority-Democratic General Assembly passed a bill that strips police of qualified immunity, which means they cannot be sued for unjustified lethal force. That bill has to go to the commonwealth’s senate, a nearly even Republican vs. Democrat chamber that will decide if the draft can become law. 

Change has been long overdue. As Eve L. Ewing wrote in this month’s VF, “police union” is an oxymoron. Rather than protect worker rights, these groups are brotherhoods with superpowers that include killing and maiming without consequences. 

Hyperbole? Ewing offers up John Catanzara, president of the Chicago chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police. Catanzara is the first FOP president to lead while being stripped of his official police powers (because, he is the subject of 50 police misconduct complaints). 

Meanwhile, recently in Portsmouth, Virginia, the police union pressured city officials to have the state’s highest-ranking Black state senator charged with a felony after a Confederate statue downtown was defaced and toppled, injuring a citizen. Louis Lucas, the politician, was not at the scene, and just to put a fine point on this story, the DA (called commonwealth attorney in Virginia) chose not to bring charges because, there were none – credibly – to bring.

Some disclosure. I’m not a cop hater, yet I never worshiped police as superhumans who can never be wrong. My slightly younger brother is in law enforcement, so is a brother-in-law. And so is the husband of my niece. He happens to be an NYPD sergeant. 

When I wrote the 2012 book “City Son: Andrew W. Cooper’s impact on Modern- Day Brooklyn,” much of the narrative was about dubious police lethal force in my hometown during the 1970s-1990s. 

It included this passage on page 123:

Koch had no complaints with criticism from Wayne Barrett who chronicles Black lives lost to deadly force during Koch’s watch. Bumpurs was the 226th Black person police had killed. Barrett reminded readers that the mayor had remained silent about the grandmother’s killing until a New York Times editorial prodded him to acknowledge it. Koch did not attend Bumpurs’ funeral. And Barrett wrote that the Police Benevolent Association was the only union that treated murder investigations of their members as if they were contractual disputes.

Indifference toward Black lives back in the 1980s has in the 21st century been replaced by organized community pressure in U.S. cities large, medium and small. 

Positive change is coming. Talk of defunding police is misguided, bad messaging that give ammunition to authoritarian brutes and fearful citizens. 

Reforming police infrastructure and culture demands diligent, patient work and follow up by all of us. Stay focused, stay in the game and win. 

Remember Breonna Taylor’s name.

The writer is a professor of professional practice at Morgan State University