There is a well-known expression first coined by French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” In English, we generally translate this to mean “the more things change, the more they still stay the same.”
This often-depressing expression is one that seems ever present in my thoughts of late as I consider the current situation in America, particularly the murder of Breonna Taylor.
Because the truth of the matter is that Taylor’s death was not something unheard of or isolated. It was not something that had not occurred in the past. It was not a surprise.
On Oct. 26, 2018, several officers who would later be involved in the raid on Taylor’s residence were involved in a raid on the home of Mario Daugherty and his family in Louisville. The raid was conducted on the premise that there had been reports of them illegally growing marijuana in their backyard. According to Vice News, this claim predated the family’s move into the house, and in fact, the claim was centered around completely different people entirely.
Despite this, officers of the law broke into their house and threatened them with armed weapons. Body cams from the scene show armed officers shouting at a 14-year-old girl who had panicked and was reportedly trying to run to her grandmother’s.
No charges were levied against the family, and they later sued the city. The charges were eventually dismissed.
It should come as no surprise that those same officers were involved in such a clear case of poor casework and misconstruction of justice.
The situation with Daugherty would have been avoided without any need for any police action whatsoever if they had simply taken the time to check and find out who currently lived in the house, but they didn’t bother.
The truth is the raid on Daugherty and his family could have ended with a similar result as the raid on Taylor’s residence. Such a severely harmful raid should have resulted in some form of disciplinary action, but instead there does not appear to have been any sort of action taken against the officers. This is not abnormal; most citizens’ complaints against police officers go unaddressed.
According to the Citizens Police Data Project or CPDP, the Chicago Police Department, which is the second largest police department in the United Sates, has disciplined officers for only 7% of the complaints filed against them.
So, why should it surprise anyone that police in Louisville did not have a problem with obtaining a no-knock warrant based upon shaky evidence to break down Taylor’s door?
Of course, what makes all of this so much worse is that it has all been declared legal. A judge signed the warrant which gave the officers the right to commit their raid. In the eyes of the law, there was no crime committed.
Do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that anything about the actions of those officers was excusable. Nothing could possibly justify what they did as anything other than murder.
Nothing except the law, and there lies the problem.
As Samuel Marcosson, a law professor at the University of Louisville, told NBC news, “They have the legal authority, if they have a warrant, to go into your home. So even when somebody is lawfully using self-defense, which I think Kenneth Walker was, the police can still assert self-defense in response when they shoot back. You or I couldn’t do that.”
So, while the officers undoubtedly have responsibility for the death of Taylor on their shoulders, the law has absolved them of punishment, which is why the blame doesn’t stop with them.
The stated purpose of a no-knock warrant is to prevent suspects from destroying or disposing of evidence before officers can catch them. As a result of a Supreme Court ruling in 1997, Richards v. Wisconsin, officers must provide a reason in each case why the specific individuals involved in the raid justify a no-knock warrant.
According to Justice John Paul Stevens: “If a per se exception were allowed for each category of criminal investigation that included a considerable — albeit hypothetical — risk of danger to officers or destruction of evidence, the knock-and-announce element of the Fourth Amendment’s reasonableness requirement would be meaningless.”
“Thus, the fact that felony drug investigations may frequently present circumstances warranting a no-knock entry cannot remove from the neutral scrutiny of a reviewing court the reasonableness of the police decision not to knock and announce in a particular case. Instead, in each case, it is the duty of a court confronted with the question to determine whether the facts and circumstances of the particular entry justified dispensing with the knock-and-announce requirement.”
“In order to justify a “no-knock” entry, the police must have a reasonable suspicion that knocking and announcing their presence, under the particular circumstances, would be dangerous or futile, or that it would inhibit the effective investigation of the crime by, for example, allowing the destruction of evidence.”
In violation of this, circuit Judge Mary Shaw signed the order even though the Joshua Jaynes, the detective who filed the warrant, provided no evidence for why Taylor specifically should justify such a warrant.
“These drug traffickers have a history of attempting to destroy evidence, have cameras on the location that compromise Detectives once an approach to the dwelling is made, and a have history of fleeing from law enforcement,” said Jaynes in his request.
Taylor was not herself considered a drug dealer, and the investigation was centered around her ex-boyfriend, who police arrested later that night.
There was no logical justification for obtaining a no-knock warrant for Taylor’s residence; she was not a criminal, nor was there any evidence of her committing criminal activities, so she should not have been treated like a criminal.
With the outbreak of the protest in Taylor’s name, Louisville’s metro council has banned the issuing of no-knock warrants, which would seem a step in the right direction.
Still, I find myself wondering if it will amount to anything more than a ceremonial gesture. The raid on Daugherty’s home was completed with a normal knock warrant. As you can see in the video, they took time to shout “police” right as they began breaking down the door.
To me, this does not seem much different.
The gestures of Congress by and large seem to me just that; gestures, made in the effort to placate an angry populace. Things may change on the surface, but this country has a knack for making superficial changes while keeping things the same in practice.
If there is to be real lasting change, then it is up to the people to continue to demand justice for all people, no matter their background or the color of their skin. If we continue to nourish this spark of change, then perhaps the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and so many others will not have been in vain.