The grand jury returned one indictment in the Breonna Taylor case. Two officers were not charged, and one was charged with wanton endangerment for firing blindly into the dwelling. Sadly predictably, BLM and other activists are crying that she did not receive justice. People can reasonably disagree as to the merits of no knock warrants. However, that’s a separate issue from did the officers involved follow the law.
It’s ironic that the grand jury indictment came on the same day as the Catholic National Prayer Breakfast. Bishop Barron gave an excellent speech at the breakfast that was focused on a different issue, but has points that apply to help evaluate whether justice occurred in this case. In his speech Bishop Barron noted that the concepts in the Declaration of Independence were a marked departure from previous political thought. Before the Declaration of Independence political thought was people were unequal.
Political classes existed based on the inherent inequality in people. Some are more intelligent, some are stronger, et cetera. This difference in ability (and often lineage) left people in defined classes in society. How, then, do we get to “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”? The Bishop reasoned that the answer is self evident in the text itself, “they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights” – it is the endowment by their Creator that grants the rights and leaves all people created equal.
It is in this context, that we are all made equally dignified by the Creator with certain inalienable rights that we need to assess whether justice has occurred. The fact pattern is well known: the officers were serving a no knock warrant. Taylor’s significant other though they were being robbed and shot at the officers. The officers returned fire killing Taylor in the process. It’s a tragedy, but does justice demand they be punished? The answer is no, and an attempt to do so is an injustice to the officers.
All men are created equal, and the officers’ right to bodily integrity is equal to Breonna’s right to bodily integrity. Their right to bodily integrity was threatened when her significant other opened fire. They have the same right to defend themselves as her significant other did to defend himself. The unindicted officers’ rights and Breonna’s rights were both compromised in an identical manner.
So how do we resolve the conflict of rights? It’s easy to say that none of the actors was at fault and this was a horrible tragedy. However, taking that stand ignores the fact that she was killed and her right to bodily integrity was violated. To address this concern we have to at least examine the events and see if any actual wrongdoing occurred as opposed to a series of tragic events. At its core justice demands giving someone their due. This means giving her what she is due, but not at the expense of the rights of the officers.
The grand jury process has accomplished this goal. The district attorney presented the case to the grand jury. As a result of the presentation the grand jury came back with one indictment of wanton endangerment to the officer who fired blindly into the dwelling. This result suggests the process was fair and seeks accountability for the officer who violated the use of force policy and endangered every one’s right to bodily integrity.
So why is there an outcry against the grand jury indictment? Justice was served in the classical sense because everyone received their due. The officers’ actions were examined to see if they were contrary to law. The grand jury gave a nuanced indictment pattern for the case. It is easy to write this off as a case where those opposing the return simply want vengeance rather than justice. This easy reconciliation likely is substantially correct for a significant number of the individual members who are unhappy with the result, but it also illustrates a different problem regarding justice.
Some who condemn the officers and the system in general will argue that restorative justice was not served. However, that argument fails because it is contrary to one of the tenets of restorative justice. Restorative justice is founded on the three principles of:
- Repair: injustice causes harm and justice requires the harm to be remedied
- Collaboration: the best way to have the harm remedied is for the parties to decide together how to remedy the harm
- Transformation: the remedy to harm ideally creates a change in the conditions that lead to the injustice
Restorative justice is a controversial concept. Even if we are to accept it as meritorious the cry that restorative justice demands change does not support creating injustice. Making the officers a scapegoat to the alleged systemic injustice is injustice to the officers. Worse, insistence on punishment for the officers involved fails the collaboration principle of restorative justice. If the cry for restorative justice is based on the premise that no knock warrants are improper then the goal should be to address the underlying issue of no knock warrants. Saying that justice was not served because restorative justice did not occur is to dictate rather than collaborate. It is to deny the very principles of restorative justice.
The district attorney presented the case to a grand jury, and the grand jury returned an indictment in a nuanced manner. That gives Breonna what she is due – an accounting of the officers’ actions. You cannot create justice by engaging in injustice against others. To do so is to violate the very reasons we were founded – the proposition that all men are created equal with inalienable rights endowed by the Creator.