A Yearning for the World That Breonna Deserved

If we are well-acquainted, I trust that you know something about the heart from which these words come. If, on the other hand, our association is you may be tempted to assume the worst about my motives or intentions. I pray that you will resist that temptation.

(Artwork: “Breonna Taylor” by Alice X. Zhang)

If we are well-acquainted, then I trust that you know something about the heart from which these words come. If, on the other hand, our association has not been nurtured by time, you may be tempted to assume the worst about my motives or intentions. I pray that the tone and content of my words might inspire you to resist that temptation.

I am perpetually grateful and prayerful for those law enforcement officers whose character breeds integrity, whose foundational commitment is to the protection of all people, and whose vision for justice inspires within them a willingness to be accountable to the very citizenry they serve and defend. The safety of our communities, in so many ways, depends upon the everyday work of such noble agents of law enforcement. I laud, honor, and celebrate the many officers (some of whom I have known personally) whose virtuousness and courage my words describe. Always have. Always will.

And yet, the tragic police shooting death of an unarmed Breonna Tayor in her apartment on March 13, 2020 in Louisville, Kentucky and the perplexing ruling of a grand jury on September 23, 2020 (specifically, the ruling that no officers involved in the shooting would be directly charged in her death) indicate that something is woefully and systemically distorted.

I readily acknowledge that I am not an expert in the pertinent legal particulars surrounding the case. Nor am I privy to all of the details of the shooting to which the grand jury would have had access.

But I do know that five of the many bullets that police fired into Breonna Taylor’s apartment on March 13 (in response to a single shot fired by her boyfriend, the precise details of which are unclear) entered her body and ended her life. Her violent, unnecessary death and the grand jury’s subsequent ruling leave a host of troubling questions hanging in the air that America currently breathes.

Where will accountability be found in the shooting death of an unarmed 26-year-old hospital worker?

When does police response cross the important line that separates justification from recklessness—or that separates self-defense from some form of manslaughter? And when will the discernment of such line-crossing apply to Breonna Taylor and not only her neighbors?

When does justice for a life demand a far more extensive pursuit than a grand jury can render?

What reforms are necessary in the law (Better search warrants? Better communicational processes and suspect-tracking? Better training and accountability?) to ensure the prevention of similar tragedies and aftermaths?

And who are the voices at every level of leadership that will refuse to see the death of Breonna Taylor as anything less than a clarion call for a justice not yet realized?

I pray that we will not back away from these questions, settling for either a protective silence that guards our comfort or, worse, a callous indifference that diminishes our moral sensibilities.

Please hear me. I loudly decry any violence committed in the name of protest, including the ugly and inexcusable violence that led to the shooting of Louisville police officers last evening. Such violence is an assault on the very spirit of justice that all authentic protest pursues, and it cannot be either condoned or ignored. “Hate multiplies hate,” said Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, “violence multiplies violence…in a descending spiral of destruction.” 

At the same time, I pray fervently that we will not fixate so myopically on the deplorable violence of some protestors that we fail to bring a morally-necessary outrage to the stark racial injustices and inequities that inspire protestation in the first place.

Please hear me. I am aware of the concerns of those in our communities and congregations who are either offended or unsettled by the nomenclature of “white privilege” and “systemic racism.”

At the same time, I pray urgently that we will not allow our resentment over certain concepts either to harden our hearts to the realities that those concepts illuminate or to blind us to the fact that Breonna Taylor, as a citizen of color, experienced this world and this nation’s legal system very differently than a white citizen would.

Please hear me. I join many of you in experiencing both weariness and discouragement in the work of dismantling racism in all of its expressions.

At the same time, I pray desperately that whatever weariness we might experience in the work of dismantling racism might serve only to deepen our sensitivity to the far more profound weariness of those who are confronted every single day with unfair presuppositions and dehumanizing mistreatment because of their race.

If, at any point in this post, I have come across as condescending or self-righteous, please forgive me. Perhaps I have said too much or communicated what I have said wrongly or irresponsibly. Or perhaps I have not said enough.

To be honest, I simply needed to write…something—if only to attach some words to the inarticulate cries of my heart. 

They are cries for a justice not yet realized.

They are cries for Breonna and the absence of the world she deserved.

They are cries for the consistent mattering of black and brown lives, so that the sacred worth of all lives might be rightly discerned and honored.

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