Sadly, There is a Difference Between Law and Justice
Breonna Taylor’s death, as tragic as it was, just keeps getting worse. Seven months along from that fateful evening, a Kentucky Grand Jury has essentially said that there was nothing, in a criminal legal sense, that could be done to provide justice for her and her family. Unfortunately, it looks like they arrived at the correct conclusion. The fact that they are correct highlights the difference between law and justice.
We know, basically, everything went wrong that night. The police were reportedly after Breonna’s ex-boyfriend and had secured a “No-Knock” warrant to raid her apartment. They hoped to find evidence for drug dealing as they suspected he was using her place to receive drug shipments. Their intelligence that night was wrong. He was not there. Instead, she was at home with her current boyfriend, Kenneth Walker.
The police decided not to use the “No-Knock” technique and instead identified themselves. This much is corroborated by eyewitnesses. The police did serve at least minimal notice as to who they were. What can never be corroborated by eyewitness accounts is what happened in the apartment. Mr. Walker claims that they were awakened by the commotion, that they never heard the police identify themselves, and that the door flew open. Walker, who is legally licensed to carry a firearm, defended himself by firing one shot at whoever was coming in through the door.
His testimony has the ring of truth. How many of us have been awakened by loud noises at night and all that our brain processes is the general sense that something is wrong? In this case, Mr. Walker used his weapon exactly as gun rights advocates suggest. He defended himself, his property, and his girlfriend. It is important to note that Walker is legally allowed to have a gun. He is not a felon. He is not a “bad man.” In fact, his single shot may even be evidence that his emotions and reactions were under control far better than the officers who were knocking down the door. The fact that charges for shooting a police officer were dropped is tantamount to an admission that authorities believe the story from his perspective; he was stopping a home invasion.
There are some serious red flags, too. The intelligence was bad. They had a twitchy cop on the operation that was perhaps not cut out for this type of situation. The after-action reports were wrong, and important details were recorded in “error.” Ballistics experts were able to match the bullet that killed Breonna to the detective’s gun and the bullets in the apartment wall with the gun from the twitchy cop. And yet for some reason, those same ballistics experts can’t tell who else’s bullets were in Breonna’s body. Something there stinks to high heaven.
But the instant Walker pulled the trigger, he set in motion immunity for the police officers from prosecution for killing Breonna. Mistakes by superiors in the planning and ordering of the raid do not figure into the Grand Jury’s deliberations; only the actions and intent of the officers. This is the difference between law and justice. The police did identify themselves, and they did receive gunfire. By law, they were justified in returning fire. What clearly, by law, was not justified was spraying the apartment with ten rounds by the twitchy cop. Hence the minimal charges against him. The end result is that the law is served, but our collective sense of justice is violated.
Laws can provide justice, but they can also provide injustice. It would have been completely within the law to prosecute Walker for shooting at a police officer. Regardless of intent, state of mind, and awareness of the situation, he did shoot a police officer in the leg. Would it have been justice to prosecute and convict him? Absolutely not. But it would have been legal and justified by the law to do so.
Laws do not have to provide justice. They should, but they are simply rules that must be followed. Poorly written rules are still rules. That’s a key difference between law and justice; the notion that justice, for the most part, simply IS, while laws are changeable.
The three officers could not be tried for killing Breonna because they had been shot at. That fact takes those charges off the table as long as their subsequent actions were taken in response to being fired upon. The law does not take into account Mr. Walker’s perspective, it deals only in the facts, as can be best ascertained, of the officer’s actions. Fact: The police identified themselves. Fact: Walker shot one of them. Fact: They returned fire. By law, they are completely justified. Because the law, here, only accounts for provable facts, we see the difference between law and justice being applied.
What About Justice, Then?
Justice will only come in the reforming and rewriting of laws. Laws can and should be written to provide justice. In this case, the law allows for no criminal prosecution of any of the superiors, intelligence gatherers, or those who conducted the operation. Laws can be written in such a way so that when innocent people end up dead with police bullets in their bodies, criminal recourse can be followed. Yes, this puts an additional burden on the police force, but they are charged with protecting people, not killing them. There was a time when they were called Officers of the Peace.
It is a damn shame that Breonna’s death has become politicized as it almost ensures that any reform will come slowly, at best, ensuring this sort of tragedy will play out again. Rioting, violence, and destruction only cause the “law and order” people to dig their heels in deeper and resist changes. “Law and order” people gleefully praising the decision as having protected the “noble police forces” only enflames those who are maddened to the point of violence by the injustice of this situation and the seeming inability to prevent similar events from happening in the future. Both sides dig in, and nothing changes. Instead of attempting to align outcomes, the difference between law and justice is allowed to continue.
Reducing the strength of the doctrine of Qualified Immunity and providing real pathways to holding law enforcement accountable for their decisions and actions is not an attack on the police. It is people saying, “enough is enough. You screw up, you pay the price. Be better.” It benefits everyone, regardless of race. Holding law enforcement accountable to the laws they enforce should appeal to “law and order” types. Holding law enforcement to higher standards should result in a decrease of tragic incidents across the board, fulfilling the desires of those advocating for police reform.
It is shameful that America can’t seem to get this right. The extremists on both sides control the narratives, and both sides are all in for dissent and division. Most Americans tend to gravitate towards ideals of justice, fairness, and decency. They don’t always get it right, but once a huge failure to provide justice, fairness, and decency to others is exposed, there is a tendency to want to remedy that situation. Currently, the constant noise of those hiding behind the banner of law and order and the fear of a Marxist takeover is matched only by those who are advocating the destruction of American society. This is drowning out the voices of the vast majority of decent people who value justice over the rules.
Until those decent people once again make their voices heard and begin to change the rules through accepted legal processes, America will continue to fracture. The chasm in the difference between law and justice will stay open where it currently exists. Justice in cases like Breonna’s will go unserved. The cycle will repeat.
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