Why Are Law Schools Afraid To Discuss Breonna Taylor?
At 10:30am PT this morning, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron announced to the world a decision at the center of one of the most-followed #BlackLivesMatter cases of 2020: no cops will be tried for the murder of Breonna Taylor.
Breonna Taylor was a Black medical worker who was shot and killed by Louisville police officers in March during a raid on her apartment. The officers used a “no-knock” warrant. They shot her five times. She was killed in her own home. Breonna became the face of the #SayHerName movement to draw attention to police violence against Black women.
Throughout the spring and summer, UCLA Law and its peer institutions sent out messages, signaling “BlackLivesMatter,” etc. And yet, nearly twelve hours after the announcement, there is still radio silence on the part of the formal administrative bodies of many of these same legal institutions.
Why were law schools so eager to claim #BlackLivesMatter when their students were off-campus during the summer, but are so afraid to open the doors to conversations about the non-indictment of the cops who killed Breonna Taylor now that school is back in session?
Consider law schools’ reaction to the non-indictment news in contrast to the overwhelming response to Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing at UCLA Law alone:
- “CRS Zoom Meeting Right Now” Director of CRS; Sep 18, 4:46 pm
- “Zoom re RBG” Director of PILP; Sep 18, 4:52 pm
- “Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg” Dean of the Law School; Sep 18, 9:02 pm
- “Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Celebrating the Life of a Legal Giant” Panel Organized by Student Affairs; Sep 22, 4:12 pm
- UCLA Law Instagram Post “ It is with great sadness that we mourn the loss of U. S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who visited UCLA Law in 2005. #supremecourt #rbg #genderequality #law #uclalaw #ucla”, Sep 19
Moreover, many classes this week began with acknowledgments of Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s legacy.
This is not to downplay the grief surrounding RBG. She was a fearless leader, and her commitment to making our country more inclusive will be remembered, and appreciated, forever. She deserves to be celebrated and mourned. She deserves to be honored in the form of dedicated spaces for students to discuss what her passing means for us as individuals, as lawyers, and as people living in America.
But what about Breonna?
What happened to #SayHerName? To #BlackLivesMatter? Institutional silence on the part of so-called “liberal” law schools regarding the non-indictment of the cops who killed Breonna Taylor clearly demonstrates the emptiness of virtue signaling without sustained engagement with the violence of racism within, and perpetuated by, the legal community and its offshoots.
We can, and should, demand more critical engagement on the intersection of race and the law from legal education institutions — especially those schools that never fail to highlight their Critical Race Studies departments and place Black students’ faces on advertising materials to maintain their relevance in the competitive law school market. The legal issues underpinning Breonna’s case are abundant. It should not be on Black students to be the ones reaching out to law school administrators — and to the programs that claim to support us — to acknowledge and encourage opportunities to meaningfully engage with the role that the legal field has played, and continues to play, in silencing Black voices and maintaining the status quo of the oppressive structures that continue to take the lives of members of our community.
Certainly, we don’t want to be writing this statement right now, and there are more pressing issues at stake: our families are grieving, our people are taking to the streets. Many Black law students are doing the same at this very moment. However, the shallow virtue-signaling of the institutions that educate the professionals who direct the course of law and policy cannot be ignored. It is in our power to shift law school from being a process of conservative indoctrination to a dynamic environment of critical engagement that grapples in real-time with the moral and legal issues that face our profession, especially when Black people are murdered by police.
For law students and legal professionals who identify as allies to the movement for Black liberation: #SayHerName. Jonathan Mattingly, one of the cops involved in Breonna Taylor’s murder, said in an email to his fellow officers, “I know we did the legal, moral and ethical thing that night.” Ask your peers and professors to talk about this. Ask them directly, and then ask follow-up questions. Engage in how, and why, her murderers could walk away consequence-free within our current system. Ask why the single “wanton endangerment” charge positions property as more important than Black lives. Do not simply signal “wokeness” on social media or in conversations with friends whose life experiences and opinions may not be much different than yours — Engage. Act. Donate. Start, and sustain, difficult conversations. Now is the time and place to do so. Why else are we in law school?
Silence is violence.
Breonna Taylor was murdered.
May she rest in peace.
Jade Adia, Lydia Heye, and Latrel Powell (UCLA Law Class of 2022)