The North Star is a network of Black and Latinx journalists and creators that provide daily news stories and podcasts with action steps that help you get involved. We speak truth to power without fear because our stories, our voices and our lives matter. Please consider becoming a member and enjoy exclusive benefits of our ad-free platform for as little as $5 a month.
Last weekend, I watched the first season of “The Wire,” a cops and robbers-type of TV show set in Baltimore projects in the early 2000s from the POVs of the detectives and drug dealers. Midseason, there is a scene that perfectly describes the American justice system and its relationship to American citizens. It starts with a sergeant and a detective sitting in the front seats of a squad car.
Sgt. Ellis Carver : [Observing Bodie – a dealer – beat a competing dealer with a bat] See, that’s why we can’t win.
Det. Thomas ‘Herc’ Hauk : Why not?
Sgt. Ellis Carver : They fuck up, they get beat. We fuck up, they give us pensions.
On November 20, ABC’s 20/20 and The Courier Journal released an investigative piece, “Say Her Name,” on the murder of 26-year-old Black woman, Breonna Taylor. It’s a collection of interviews from both sides of the shitshow. Breonna’s mother Tamika Palmer, Breonna’s boyfriend Kenneth Walker, their family attorneys, news correspondents and investigative journalists, cop Jon Mattingly, activists Linda Sarsour and Tamika Mallory and many of Breonna’s neighbors and family members.
The body cam footage in the first few minutes of the documentary is gut churning and throat locking. It shows dozens of white officers enraged for the sport of it, showing everyone watching how to act like the perfect monster. The chemistry between their hate and Kenneth Walker’s Blackness feels pure and natural. The policemen treat Kenneth with such heavy amounts of disrespect that you’d think they bought cruel intentions on discount and in bulk, as if they need to use all that cruelty up before its expiration date. The officers do not see Kenneth in his personhood, they see him as a nigger. That thing that white folk still ain’t figured out why they so desperately need.
The documentary opens up with white police officers bullying Kenneth Walker, who is handcuffed and crying and vulnerable as hell. It’s so hard to watch. There is a white woman in the frame with doe eyes that scream watered down bravery. The whole vibe is hate fueled adrenaline.
Even though Kenneth is compliant and confused, he is tortured. It’s so scary. I haven’t felt that scared since I was a kid and I watched the Wicked Witch of the West riding her bike to go threaten and traumatize Dorthy in “The Wizard of Oz.”
The doc moves into Breonna’s life in tweets and images from her social media accounts. Kenneth reveals that right before her death, they were planning on having kids and he even shows the red and white baby Nike Jordans they purchased for the unborn child.
Their last date on the fatal night on March 13th ended with the couple playing UNO cards and watching a movie. They fell asleep and woke up to gunfire that, as one of Breonna’s neighbors in the documentary put it, “sounded like the OK Corral.”
They play the 9-1-1 calls from some of Breonna and Kenneth’s other neighbors and they are saying things like, “They’re shooting like crazy,” and “The police out here, and I just heard someone say, ‘reload.’”
Back to back for about thirty or forty seconds, the recordings of concerned citizens who called the police, on the police, from March 13 played.
In the commotion, Kenneth called his mom. His mom told him to call the police. He genuinely thought that police came to help, but that was not the case.
Next, the bodycam footage from one Louisville police officer airs. Kenneth is on his apartment porch with his hands raised in the air. An officer asks, “have you been hit by a bullet?” Kenneth says no. The officer responds to him, “that’s unfortunate.”
Kenneth walks with his hands high in the air, slowly like a snail backwards to police officers with their guns pointed at him and with their fingers on the triggers. They are so hostile, haunting and despicable. It’s so hard to watch.
Next, when Kenneth is at his most vulnerable point, an officer continues to threaten him. We see the same thing we’ve been seeing: a compliant Black man being threatened with death for doing exactly what he is asked to do by a police officer, even though he is completely innocent.
It’s so painful to watch, and I wish I hadn’t watched this documentary at all.
Former Louisville Metro Police Department Detective Brett Hankison is screaming at the top of his lungs, “Walk back!” as Kenneth walks backward. The officer is holding the collar of a ferocious, massive attack dog. Kenneth has his hands up in the air. He’s barefoot in his pajamas. He walks backward with only air and inches between his back and the attack dog’s ear splitting, eldritch bark. Behind the attack dog, Kenneth is the target for dozens of firearms held by white hands attached to racist minds thirsty for blood.
Then, the white men approach Kenneth with fear and cowardice oozing out of their skin.
Kenneth is crying. He asks, “what is going on?” The response he gets is, “you’re going to prison, that’s what’s going on. For the rest of your fucking life!”
I don’t want anyone to watch this documentary. It’s the most horrific scene of human indecency. I don’t want anyone else to know that this level of cowardly behavior lives in our country. Furthermore, I don’t want anyone else to realize that this level of cowardly behavior is sustained with our tax dollars.
No one should watch this. It’s like seeing a baby taking a shot of whiskey, or shooting heroin, or smoking a pipe. It’s unnatural and confusing.
While the officers have Kenneth on his knees handcuffed, they say the most asinine thing: “Lets get behind this car for cover.” Cover from who? You were the ones lighting up the fucking block?
Then, 10 swat officers pull up in Breonna’s apartment in full riot gear. We’re talking about a woman who tweets simple, funny stuff about high gas prices. Full assault rifles. Helmets. All of that. They storm in and fire. They find Breonna’s lifeless body and the apartment riddled with casings. One officer says, “Alright. She’s done.”
Next, there is a heartbreaking shot when the Public Integrity Unit comes in to investigate, which seems like bullshit. Like you got the police investigating the police? The lengths that these people go to to protect each other’s pensions are pitiful.
Kenneth is sitting at a table. In front of him are a mountain of used tissues and an empty tissue box.
No one cares about this Black woman dead in the apartment. The first people they send in is the Public Integrity Unit to protect the police.
Then, they break to squad car footage of the officer who transported Kenneth from his apartment to the precinct. The officer mentions to Kenneth that there was some miscommunication. Then the beginning of the coverup starts.
The man that was shot in the commotion was Sgt. Jon Mattingly. Parts of Mattingly’s October2020 ABC interview with Michael Strahan are used in the documentary. On the night of Breonna’s death, Mattingly says, “I remember banging on the door, open hand. Hard smacks. Bam, bam, bam. First time didn’t announce. Just hoping she’d come to the door.”
I mean what in the actual fuck? This is a man on the job for 20 years and he is hoping someone, who he earnestly believes is a hardened drug lord, somebody who he was serving a narcotics warrant to, will just come to the door in the middle of the fucking night with no clue who is banging at the door? The level of incompetence is cringy and dangerous.
Kenneth says what we all would say. It’s too late for anyone to be knocking at the door. There is a cut off time. It may not “Curb Your Enthusiasm” 10 p.m. or 10:30 pm. But all grown people know what time too late is. I know good and damn well that if someone was bam, bam, bamming on Mattingly’s front door in the middle of the night, with no announcement of who it was, he would get his weapon to protect his family from the unknown.
The fact that Kenneth and Breonna were not in the wrong for grabbing a firearm to protect themselves is the epitome of injustice.
Mattingly says that he’s done 2,000 search warrants where he has entered homes and he has never seen two people lined up the way Breonna and Kenneth were lined up. Well, Bre and Ken have slept in their beds for over 2,000 nights and never had their fucking door kicked in. John Mattingly is defending himself, without any remorse, confident that he did the right thing isn’t just his ego, it’s the support system of white supremacy. It’s the same support system that released Kyle Rittenhouse from prison on a $2 million bail.
Mattingly claims that Kenneth had his weapon ( Kenneth is a legal gun owner who was protecting his home. Where’s the NRA at though?) stretched out at him. What a shocker. After you break into someone’s house in the middle of the night, they are armed and ready to protect themselves. Insane.
Mattingly goes on to say that his intention was to stop the threat because he wanted to get home to his family. Yet, he doesn’t seem to fully grasp the mistake that he made. He sees Kenneth as the wrongdoer. He sees Kenneth as the person who shouldn’t be at home with his family.
Mattingly, who was shot in the leg, was rushed to the hospital and survived, surrounded by his family. Breonna was left in the hallway to rot. The whole incident is treated as a deliberate police execution. Kenneth was held in jail for two weeks, then on house arrest for two months. Kenneth was held in jail for two weeks, then on house arrest for two months. At the same time, the first case of COVID-19 was detected in Louisville, all while Breonna was wrongfully blamed for shooting a rifle at officers. Roberto Fredman, a correspondent from VICE News, says in the documentary, “After all this happens the police are treating this like the attempted murder of a police officer…of Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly. That is why they are investigating and that is why very few people know about Breonna Taylor.”
The main suspect of the narcotics raid was Jamarcus Glover, an ex of Breonna who had been accused of selling drugs. Glover was never charged or arrested for any violent offenses, but he was accused of selling drugs along with Breonna and another man. Consequently, one day after the 20/20 piece aired, the other man who was listed on the search warrant for Breonna’s place was shot and killed. Now not to be a bitch, but if you want drugs, good drugs, en masse, go to the whitest suburbs and start no-knocking.
But back to the documentary. Halfway through, it gets disgusting.
Mattingly is answering questions about the murder and he is cool as a cucumber. Chilling. Not an inch of remorse. Talks only about himself and his pain.
He says that Breonna is dead because, “Ken Walker put her in that hallway he put her in an impossible situation.”
Then he goes on to say that it was, “Jamarcus Glover who put her in the situation she was in.”
Not once does he take accountability. He just puts blame on Black men. In fact, he says he was doing his job andshrugs his shoulders.
Michael Strahan asks Mattingly: “Have you ever thought in your mind had you done it differently…?
Mattingly responds: “Oh yea. We would have done the normal thing we do which is 5-10 seconds to not give people time to formulate a plan, not give people time to get their senses so they have an idea of what they are doing. Because ifthat had happened, Breonna Taylor would be alive.”
Michael Strahan: “You believe she’d be alive?”
Mattingly: “100 percent.”
Michael Strahan: “If you would have just stormed in?”
Michael Strahan: “And not given them time?”
Mattingly: “I do.”
Michael Strahan looks like he is about to cry.
I did cry watching this part. I could have been Breonna. My sister, who I love dearly, her name is Breonna. I’m never shocked by anything racist that white people do, butsomehow I find a bit of home in every American injustice.
Mattingly goes on to defend himself on moral and legal grounds. He says that he was nervous on the day of September 23, the day of the grand jury decision.
“I was nervous. Because you don’t know. I know what I did was right. But with the situation that we are dealing with with the emotions, all the feelings, all the pressure, you don’t know if that’s going to have a play in it,” he says.
What I heard him say is that since this is a high profile case, racism may not be enough of an excuse to get him off for his actions in the death of a Black woman.
When Michael Strahan asks Mattingly if he is a racist, he smiles and he looks just like the Grinch from the “Grinch Who Stole Christmas.”
Then I remembered that Mattingly is currently suing Kenneth Walker. ABC reported in October 2020 that, “Mattingly’s attorneys claim that he is entitled to compensatory and punitive damages for battery, assault, and intentional emotional distress. They claim that Mattingly nearly died and needed five hours of surgery for his injury. Mattingly is requesting a trial by jury and all legal costs to be paid by Walker.”
All people wanted was accountability for a murder, regardless if it were an accident. Accountability needed to be paid.
There’s a part in the documentary when Linda Sarsour and Tamika Mallory replay the tense moments leading up to the announcement of the grand jury decision. Three charges of wanton endangerment against Brett Hankison who endangered Breonna’s white neighbors when they murdered Breonna. I spoke to Linda about the disheartening energy felt in Louisville when Breonna’s name was not mentioned in the decision.
“I’m so close I have a front row seat. The day of the announcement, we were at Injustice Park, where there’s a memorial for Breonna. And there were many, many, many Black women who came on that day. And we had an iPhone that was connected to a big speaker so that all of us can hear the actual grand jury decision. People were gathered around this little speaker that was on the table and got to hear how this cop was indicted on some minimal charges that had absolutely nothing to do with Breonna Taylor’s murder,” Linda told me. “And when that came down, some women were wailing. Other people were outraged and you just heard a lot of anger, a lot of rage, a lot of grief. And I had every single one of those feelings. I was outraged. Tears started flowing through my eyes. I felt so defeated in that moment.”
The climax of the documentary comes when they run footage of Attorney General Daniel Cameron saying they are not pressing charges against the officers because by law they had a right to murder Breonna Taylor in her own home. I’m not talking anymore about Cameron because I can’t find an insult thick enough. I’d call him a coon, or an Uncle Tom, or a punk ass traitor but those words don’t feel appropriate enough. I’d hate to quote Jay-Z at a time like this but I’mma let karma catch up to Cameron.
I respect and adore me some Jami Floyd. I think that she is the bee’s knees. However, her commentary at the very end of “Say Her Name” hurts like hell.
Jami says that she doesn’t expect John Mattingly to know the history of racism in American police departments. I think that expecting ignorance is supporting and promoting ignorance. How can our society evolve if we don’t expect people to know their own histories? Especially the racial histories of this country?
That type of pat on the back or wave off for mediocrity is the main reason why we are drowning in a pool of racial injustices. We have to hold people accountable for what they do. Saying that you can’t expect a police officer to know the racial history of the police is like saying crack dealers don’t know the history of crack and we can’t expect crack dealers not to sell crack because they just don’t know how detrimental it is to the society.
Yes in the hell damn they do. They just want money. That’s why people sell crack because they want the money. Police officers know good and damn hell well that they work in a historically racist system and that’s why they work there. Because they are racist and they feel comfortable around other racists. Point blank period.
All in all, the documentary is bizarre and the epitome of 2020.
“Say Her Name,” is a horror movie if you are Black. If you are not Black, it’s another documentary about the police murdering a Black person and no justice being served whatsoever.
America oughta be ashamed.
The federal government ain’t sick of their own shit? This is the most emotionally exhausting eighty-one minutes I have even sat through.
And there ain’t no happy ending.
At the height of the public outcry over Breonna’s case, I was recording the first season of my podcast, “Sick Empire.” In one episode, a brilliant musician and friend, Stephen Fowler, played a piece he had composed inspired by the murder of Breonna. You can listen to the original piece, titled “Breonna’s Redemption” at the 32:17 mark. It’s heartwarming and heartwrenching at the same time.