Last month, a grand jury in Kentucky declared that the homicide of Breonna Taylor was not a murder.
As I think about the structural and societal inequity against Black bodies and personhood in this injustice, I honestly do not know how to feel. And it’s not simply because of the travesty that Taylor’s death itself warranted no charges. Instead it is the harrowing ache that I am not surprised by this outcome.
That is the great horror, that many of us did not expect anything different. Can you imagine hoping that a woman shot six times in her own home by law enforcement would receive some degree of justice, but deep down in your gut knowing that the odds were against it?
Instead blame was shifted from law enforcement to her boyfriend Kenneth Walker. Instead of seeing Breonna Taylor as a human being, worthy of consideration and protection, her past was brought to bear, to excuse and justify her death.
This nation purports to be a nation of laws, where we are judged by the courts, not judged and executed by fellow citizens in uniform. This is too often the case with Black people. Too often, when we are victims of violence perpetuated by agents of the state, we are often presented as criminal, roguish and evil, but never simply human, with all the accompanying failings and dignity. We are told to keep our pain and anger in perspective while investigations creep at a snail’s pace, arrests are rarely made and indictments and convictions are rare.
This is a dangerous game. How many times can justice be denied until it is forgotten entirely? At what point does the explosion of a dream deferred threaten the just and the unjust?
No matter the form or reason, violence begets violence. Jesus expressed this sentiment when He told Peter in Matthew 26:52, “Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.”
But what are we to do? We must first not assume that it cannot happen here in Lincoln. We are not immune to the failings of humanity and, to that end, we must ensure that nothing happens here like what has happened to Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and a host of others.
We make sure it does not happen here by holding our community to a higher standard of humanity.
We do this by ensuring that when necessary for the protection of human life, mental health professionals accompany law enforcement on calls. We do this by giving citizens real oversight by overhauling our current iteration of the Citizens Advisory Police Board to have more independence, investigative authority and punitive ability in accordance with LB1222.
We must also ban all choke holds and vascular neck restrictions. It is said that these tools are reserved for the protection of human life. I agree with the preservation of human life, but we must remember that even the most dangerous criminal is still a citizen and should not be choked to death in the street.
To keep such a tool is dangerous, betraying deafness to the needs of this moment in history. Instead we should work to prioritize ethnically and culturally competent de-escalation training in the Police Academy and as a means of continuing education. But this push should not stop at law enforcement agencies.
It should be the expectation of the larger community that those who craft curriculum for criminal justice education make de-escalation the norm. Lincoln is a city that leads. Lincoln must lead by banning all chokeholds by law enforcement. This will ensure the growth of mutual respect between citizens and law enforcement, ending situations before they even occur.
This does not mean that we should not respect those who put their lives on the line to enforce the law. On the contrary, those within law enforcement should receive our respect, appreciation and prayers. But that does not mean there is not a disconnect at times between the community and law enforcement.
The hearings held by Hold Cops Accountable and the State Judiciary Committee during the summer bear this out. Yet, as a Christian and a member of the clergy, I believe there is hope for the expansion of true justice rooted in the common humanity of all that recognize the imprint of God’s image upon and within one another.
The Rev. Tremaine Combs is a native son of Lincoln. After moving back from St. Louis, Missouri, he has served his first year as the pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church.