On September 23, former officer Brett Hankinson, one of three officers responsible for Breonna Taylor’s murder, was charged with three counts of wanton endangerment of the first degree by a Kentucky grand jury. Under the class D felony, he now faces one to five years in prison. He was not charged directly with taking Breonna’s life — nor were the other two officers who were involved.
By definition of Kentucky law, one is guilty of wanton endangerment in the first degree when they “wantonly engage in conduct which creates a substantial danger of death or serious physical injury to another person” and they do so “under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life.” Breonna, as many have called attention to, was not listed as a victim in the indictment. To the jury of Kentucky, Breonna Taylor — like the lives of many Black women in America — did not matter. To the Louisville Metro Police Department, her life had no value. It’s a painful song whose lyrics we’ve come to memorize over countless years of societal terrorism.
Five years ago, we began #SayingHerName; but it was 58 years ago that Malcolm X declared with pertinence that the most disrespected person in America was the Black woman, the most unprotected person in America was the Black woman, and the most neglected person in America was the Black woman. And while it feels trite to point to a moment so pivotal that most could never forget it, it also feels negligent not to revisit it during the tumultuous times we’re in. Because in addition to the death and devastation brought upon thousands globally amid the COVID-19 pandemic, if there’s one thing that 2020 has shown us, it’s that not much as changed at all: amid society, amid the “justice” system, the conservation of Black women’s lives remains to be seen at large.
The facts are clear. We watched our timelines as it took over three months from Breonna’s murder for Hankison to be fired from the LMPD. It took half a year for him to be charged. And according to The Washington Post, police have fatally shot at least 250 women since 2015, 89 of whom were killed inside their residences. Additionally, a number of Black transgender women’s deaths either went widely unreported or were only covered by a handful of news outlets — among them were Merci Mack, Dominique Fells and Riah Milton. And 19-year-old activist Oluwatoyin "Toyin" Salau went missing after tweeting about being sexually assaulted, only to be found dead one week later. The list of Black women’s lives that were callously ignored, erased, or terminated altogether in 2020, as the Black community is well-aware, is an extensive one.
If there’s one thing that 2020 has shown us, it’s that not much as changed at all: amid society, amid the “justice” system, the conservation of Black women’s lives remains to be seen at large.
“Yes, we have to get the police under control . . . but we also have to look at the conditions that lead people to be exposed to the police, to the view of the police. And, of course, that’s a much more complicated question,” she said.
As she went on to state, we must consider Black women’s safety within our society, and particularly the many systems put in place to hinder it. Where are we resting our heads at night? Is that place safe? Do we have the means to provide for our children? For those of us who are employed, are we being paid sustainable and equitable wages? Some of these questions are rhetorical. And the factors, as Jacobs further explained, are all ones that contributed to the Ferguson era, in which said circumstances ultimately created conditions leaving Black people — and especially Black women — enormously exposed to police violence.
One thing Black women know for sure is that in order for anything to change, in order for our livelihood to gain any amount of fortitude under the weight of danger thrown upon us each day, people must begin to believe that our lives are valuable. We must be protected. And when protection isn’t offered, there absolutely needs to be a continued fight for our justice on a collective level, even when — such as in this disheartening moment — it may seem futile.
“America has to begin to think that Black women matter. We do matter,” Jacobs concluded. “We vote in tremendous numbers. We read like crazy. If there’s a Blockbuster film that needs to make its bank, it’s Black women that’s gonna put it over the top. We are significant members of the American society, and no one cares when we are killed.”
The amount of times we’ve had to say this is exhausting, but we will continue to say it until we’re blue in the face: Breonna Taylor’s life absolutely mattered. Atatiana Jefferson’s life absolutely mattered. Bree Black’s life absolutely mattered. Brayla Stone’s life absolutely mattered. Sandra Bland’s life absolutely mattered. Korryn Gaines’ life absolutely mattered. Black women and girls absolutely matter.