On October 1, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law co-hosted an academic panel discussion on the Breonna Taylor grand jury verdict. The hour-long Zoom session was streamed live on YouTube and featured panelists Sheila Bedi, clinical professor of law; Sekile Nzinga, chief diversity officer at Northwestern University; Robin Walker Sterling, Mayer Brown/Robert A. Helman Professor of Law and director of the Bluhm Legal Clinic; Alvin Tillery, Jr., associate professor of political science; and TiShaunda McPherson, associate vice president for equity.
Breonna Taylor was fatally shot in her Louisville, Kentucky, apartment on March 13 by three plainclothes officers of the Louisville Metro Police Department after securing a no-knock warrant to enter her home. On September 23, the grand jury charged Officer Brett Hankison—one of the officers involved— with three counts of wanton endangerment for firing through Taylor’s apartment into an adjacent unit, but no charges were brought for her death. Since the grand jury announcement, there have been heated discussions on the decision, and an anonymous juror came forward accusing Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron of secrecy and omission of evidence during the hearing.
The panel discussed how protestors and activists can capitalize on the social movement that has been swelling in America. “What can we do beyond disruptive protest?” Tiller asked. “How do activists move the conversation into legislation?” The fight, he said, is moving activists into the house and senate. Cori Bush, for example, a well-known activist who made her voice heard during the Ferguson protests after the police killing of Mike Brown in 2014, recently won her Michigan primary for the US Congress. “Protesting isn’t as effective as it used to be,” Tillery said, stressing the importance of voting both in local and national elections, and going to community meetings.
Walker Sterling’s portion of the discussion focused on the grand jury proceedings. According to the anonymous juror, Cameron never gave the jurors the option to charge the policemen with murder or manslaughter, but only presented the wanton endangerment charge. “Prosecutors choose what evidence is presented,” said Sterling. “Defense is not there.”
Bedi began her talk citing the long history of police using force against individuals because of “probable cause.” Said Bedi: “Reform just does not work. We need a divestment from policing and reinvestment in community.” She acknowledged that would take some time, but highlighted several short-term plans that can be done in the short-term, including eliminating police incentives for engaging in dangerous practices, meeting quotas, and taking away firearms from traffic cops.
As McPherson opened up the discussion to questions, Nzinga addressed the erasure of black women in police brutality cases. Often times black women are in the intersection of state violence, community-based violence, and interpersonal violence, she explained. “Black women are targeted, criminalized, but the conversation is never centered on them.”
The panel was co-sponsored by the Women’s Center, the Center for the Study of Diversity and Democracy, the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion (OIDI), the Office of Equity, the Office of the Provost, and the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law.
Check out the full panel discussion here, and check out the follow up Q&A with the panelists here.