‘A travesty’: Progressive Christian leaders slam Breonna Taylor grand jury decision

A protester walks toward Portland police with a sign honoring Breonna Taylor on September 23, 2020, in Portland, Oregon. Violent protests erupted across the nation Wednesday following the results of a grand jury investigation into the police shooting death of Taylor. (Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)
A protester walks toward Portland police with a sign honoring Breonna Taylor on September 23, 2020, in Portland, Oregon. Violent protests erupted across the nation Wednesday following the results of a grand jury investigation into the police shooting death of Taylor. (Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images) | Getty Images/Nathan Howard

Progressive Christian leaders have expressed outrage over a grand jury in Kentucky deciding not to file homicide charges against the three Louisville police officers involved in the controversial death of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor in March.

In a decision announced Wednesday after a four-month investigation, the 12-member Jefferson County Grand Jury opted to indict former police detective Brett Hankison on three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment for endangering the lives of people in a unit neighboring Taylor’s apartment when he fired multiple rounds on March 13.

The grand jury also decided that two other officers involved in Taylor’s death were justified when they fired their weapons into her apartment because her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired at them while carrying out a narcotics warrant on the apartment late at night. 

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Walker’s initial shot fired at the police, who he claimed had not identified themselves, was met with gunfire from the officers. In the confusion, Taylor was fatally wounded by six shots.

As Taylor’s death has been among the many highlighted by protesters nationwide demonstrating against police brutality, the outcome only inflamed the protests across the U.S. last night. 

While the grand jury opted to indict Hankison on three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment, these counts are not directly tied to the death of Taylor. The other two officers, Jonathan Mattingly and detective Myles Cosgrove, were not indicted. 

The indictment announcement spurred widespread criticism as well as protests in multiple cities, including Louisville, where 127 demonstrators were arrested overnight. Additionally, two police officers were shot in the wake of the grand jury’s decision. 

The officers — Aubrey Gregory and Robinson Desroches — are expected to recover as injuries are not life-threatening. A suspect has been identified by the Louisville Metro Police Department as 26-year-old Larynzo Johnson.

The Rev. William Barber II, the co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign and pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, North Carolina, called the grand jury result “a damnable decision.”

“Police used a battering ram and broke the door off its hinges as they entered Breonna Taylor’s apartment, shooting her at least five times. Anything less than indictments for the full extent of the officers’ actions cannot stand,” the pastor, who is also president of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, tweeted.

“Yes, they endangered the neighbors. But Breonna Taylor got a casket, and not a single officer is charged in her death or will be tried in state criminal court for it. She cannot be erased from this story.”

Barber went on to call Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who is black, “an enabler of racism for not allowing these officers to be tried in Breonna Taylor’s death.” Barber argued that just “because the attorney general is Black does not mean he gets a pass on criticism.”

Four leaders of the Presbyterian Church (USA), among them Stated Clerk of the General Assembly J. Herbert Nelson, the first African-American head of the denomination, also denounced the decision.

In a joint statement, the PC(USA) leadership said their “hearts break” at the news. The leaders stated that the grand jury findings “only makes us feel that our cries have fallen on deaf ears.”

“This is a travesty. People of color should not have to live in fear of those who are called to protect and serve,” the PC(USA) leaders contend. “We grieve with Breonna Taylor’s family and continue to lift them up in prayer as her community seeks to heal.”

The denominational leadership called on people to renew “efforts to bring justice to those who have been denigrated, used, ignored, and repressed because of the color of their skin.”

The liberal mainline denomination Evangelical Lutheran Church in America posted to Twitter a prayer regarding Taylor’s death.

“When one part of the body of Christ hurts, the whole body hurts,” the ELCA tweeted on Wednesday afternoon.

“As we remember the life of Breonna Taylor, Living God, may we be re-membered as your body, connected to one another and empowered for the work you call us to do in the name of Jesus and the power of his Spirit.”

Some, including columnist Andrew C. McCarthy of the National Review, defended the grand jury decision, stating that “criminal law is not designed to address every human tragedy.”

“The cops were doing their job in executing a lawful search warrant at a location that was quite justifiably tied to a notorious criminal — Ms. Taylor’s former boyfriend, Jamarcus Glover,” wrote McCarthy.

“How they came to be at Ms. Taylor’s home, with a search warrant based on probable cause that evidence of narcotics crimes would be found, is the part of the story the social-justice warriors would have us omit.”

McCarthy labeled the death of Taylor “a calamity” and a “tragic loss,” but stressed that the law is “not equipped to address catastrophes that are not crimes.”

Denny Burk, professor of biblical studies at Boyce College in Louisville, posted a blog post on Wednesday praising Cameron’s remarks earlier in the day in which the attorney general mourned Taylor’s death but also called for “the rule of law, due process, and justice.”

“Amen to this from Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron: ‘If we simply act on emotion or outrage, there is no justice. Mob justice is not justice,’” Burke tweeted

In a statement Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, stated that Cameron “conducted exactly the kind of thorough, impartial investigation that justice demands.”

“I have full confidence in the Attorney General’s painstaking pursuit of facts and justice,” McConnell assured. “Many Kentuckians have channeled their continuing grief and anger into a peaceful exercise of their First Amendment rights. But in Louisville last night, we saw more of the lawlessness, riots, and violence that has plagued American cities too often this year.”

McConnell also condemned the fact that citizens’ businesses were vandalized, fires were set in the streets and two officers were shot.

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