The violence of ‘kind policemen’: why zero arrests have been made in the case of Breonna Taylor

“Breonna Taylor was convicted for being a person of color.”

I’m an old white man with no qualifications to speak about the experiences of black people in the United States, past or present. But I can write something about my early conditioning with the police, which is so different from what people of color must endure in this country.

I begin with the song below. We sang this song in elementary school in the 1950s, in East Meadow, New York — a completely white town on Long Island. Black people were forbidden to buy homes in our town and most of the surrounding towns due to segregation covenants. Hempstead, a town about fifteen miles from ours, was the ‘designated’ black area. As the song implies, the policeman was presented as our best friend and protector, who we were to rely on if lost or in trouble.

Remember your name and address
And telephone number, too
And if, someday, you lose your way
You know just what to do,
Walk up to the kind policeman
The very first one you meet
And simply say, “I’ve lost my way,
I cannot find my street,
But I know my name and address
And telephone number too.”
Then he’ll be kind
And help you to find
The dear ones who wait for you.

You can also listen to this song, sung by someone from the place I grew up in.

For a white kid in the 50’s who got lost, a policeman would probably be a great help getting me home. How would a black kid, living in Hempstead who got lost, feel about walking up to a white policeman? Would a black kid be taught such a song in their neighborhoods?

“Walk up to the kind policeman?”

Think about how insidious the conditioning is for us white folks. I learned that song when I was seven years old. I’m seventy-three now and can still sing it. How could a white man believe a policeman be anything but kind? 

When I was in high school, I had a friend named Richard. His father was a policeman and their family moved from East Meadow to Queens. Mr. Smith (fake name, real guy), the cop, was stationed in Coney Island, Brooklyn. Coney Island today is an expensive, gentrified area, and mostly white, but back in the 60’s it was a decayed amusement park in a poor, run down section of Brooklyn, a mostly black neighborhood. Once, when I visited Richard, his father came home and expounded on how he hated blacks. They were the worst of humanity, dangerous, lazy and crooked. White cop, black neighborhood. This was in the early 60’s and those dangerous black folks wanted equal rights after centuries of slavery and suppression.

“Walk up to the kind policeman?”

Breonna Taylor was 27 years old. She graduated from Western High School and graduated from the University of Kentucky. She worked as an emergency medical technician for University of Louisville Health. She lived with her boyfriend Kenneth Walker and they both knew their names, addresses and telephone numbers. They were not lost and had no need of a ‘kind’ policeman to help them find their way. In all likelihood, being black, they had little or no experience with ‘kind’ policemen.

They were sleeping soundly and unsafely in their Louisville apartment when three policemen rammed down their door (they had a search warrant because it was predetermined, wrongly, that there were drugs in the apartment). It is assumed there are drugs wherever black people live,, and if there aren’t, after the police arrive there might be. The cops in plainclothes were within their ‘legal’ rights and because it was a no-knock warrant they did not have to notify the sleeping victims to ask for entry. The policemen claimed to have called out to whoever was inside. Neighbors testified that this was a lie.

Kenneth Walker, violated and attacked by intruders, fired his legally registered firearm, wounding one. How could he know ‘kind’ policemen were attacking them, eager to protect the citizens in the neighborhood?

“Walk up to the kind policeman?”

The policemen then shot twenty rounds, filling the apartment and Breonna Taylor with holes. Breonna was hit eight times, murdered in her home. 

White people and people of color live in different Americas. The America of white people was built on the backs of black slaves, especially in places like Louisville, Kentucky. Breonna Taylor studied and worked to save the lives of her fellow Americans as an EMT. 

“You can depend on the kind EMT.”

The three policemen, instead of serving those they are paid to serve, and those who actually pay them, murdered an innocent young woman. 

Are these the same ‘kind’ policemen I was encouraged to trust my life with as a young white boy? To people of color these are not ‘kind’ policemen. They are the kinds of policemen who discriminate and judge them based on skin color. Brett Hankison is the kind of policeman who allegedly plants drugs so young black men can be arrested, and is currently being investigated for a sexual assault case. Brett Hankison, Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly and Officer Myles Cosgrove are now on administrative leave while an internal investigation is underway on the shooting of Taylor. Detective Joshua Jaynes has been placed on administrative reassignment amid an investigation into how he secured the search warrant in the case.

None of the policemen have been charged and the four-page report lists little of what actually happened.

It is unlikely that these policemen will ever be convicted. They probably won’t even be charged. They were doing their jobs as ‘kind’ policemen. Breonna Taylor was convicted four hundred years ago for being a person of color.

For Breonna and all people of color in the United States of America, a different song applies to the children.

Remember your name and address
And telephone number, too
And if, someday, you lose your way
You know just what to do,
Stay away from all policemen
Avoid them like the plague.
They assume you’ve done something wrong
Just because of the way you look.
NEVER walk up to the kind of policeman
Who assumes if you’re black you’re a crook.

The towns on Long Island where I grew up are mostly white today. Black people are still discouraged from living there despite the Fair Housing Act passed by President Johnson back in 1968. Shame on us!

Say her name! Justice for Breonna.

Since the police shooting, the name of Breonna Taylor has joined that of George Floyd in cries for justice in protests across the US and abroad, Since then, Louisville has moved towards banning the No-Knock Raids that allowed for police officers to walk into her home without notice and surprise her in her home as she was sleeping. It is being termed ‘Breonna’s law’. Similar legislation is being put on the table in other states. No justice has however been served when it comes to the officers involved in her case.

Photo from Twitter user Rebecca Rambar

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