Reflection on the aftermath of the death of Ms. Breonna Taylor by Inez Tuck

Death at the hands of another human being is numbing and an unfortunate loss of life under any circumstances. The death of a family member is hard for all of us and the grief is profound. A family member’s death by another is even more devastating. My work over the years with family survivors of homicide victims reveals the depth of their despair. Family survivors might not be able to sleep, they become depressed or experience secondary trauma themselves. Often post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)  is a consequence of such a traumatic event. These family survivors experience complicated grief and bereavement.

This trauma is beyond the usual loss of a loved one. The death was not anticipated. It usually occurs in a location apart from the family unless it occurs due to domestic violence. Often the perpetrator of the violence is unknown. The family is not only confronted by this sudden loss but must deal with law enforcement, the legal system, and the media for months or years. Family members are torn between anger, frustration, helplessness, and sorrow.

This complicated grief that occurs with a death is even more complicated when the death occurs at the hands of the police as in the case of Breonna Taylor. It feels like a betrayal of trust and there are many questions to be answered. Her death has required the family to display their grief in the national and international media. I commend them for their fortitude and graciousness.

I followed the media coverage of the shooting of Breonna although in small dosages in order to maintain my own mental health. Clearly, while I experienced anger, sadness and disbelief, my response is minimal in comparison with that of her family and friends or even the residents of the community in Kentucky.  I’m an outsider that empathized with their profound sorrow. I watched the news conference held by Attorney General Cameron. As he was presenting his findings, I found myself listening closely.  I was waiting to hear: Did he ever say her name? Was there an admission of the unfortunate tragedy? An apology? Was there a knock on the door and was the clear identification as police substantiated? One person agreed and was enough, he said. Was the search for drugs greater than protecting the sanctity of life? Was there diversity in the prosecutor’s team to bring divergent views of the evidence? What was the make-up of the grand jury and what were they told? I was frustrated that the facts were being interpreted for me.

I recalled the scene of Will Smith in the movie, Men in Black,  when his critical judgment was tested in the shooting simulation designed to tell the difference between the good guys and the criminals and how that right decision could be made in a few split seconds. I thought surely police officers had the skill and the ability to tell the difference.  Protecting the innocent should be their priority. Was there heedless or hasty gun fire by these experienced shooters? Was it a lack of training of these experienced officers or negligent intent that the person not guilty and without a weapon was killed? How come no aid was provided to her or a flagrantly false incident report filed later? This is the time for reckoning for the soul of law enforcement.

I waited for answers. I was hopeful for more transparency. Hopeful that every measure had been taken to show fairness and sensitivity to race in this racial volatile climate with cries for justice. I was disappointed in the outcome not to charge the officers and allow a jury to decide their fates. I was disappointed not only in the failure to hold someone accountable for her death but also the failure to be forthcoming regarding the investigative process. To value damage to property or the prospect of violence more than an actual death was heartbreaking and troubling.

My talk to my children about how to behave when driving and stopped by police or how to handle being followed in a department store has no value here. How do you prepare to be in your home and be safe? How do you train police officers to not project their fears and power into actions that harm, diminish and kill others? Trust must be restored and that can only happen when we care and respect each other. Trust can only happen when the love for others diminishes our bigotry, biases and hate. When the person in front of us does not represent our hatred and disdain or our minimizing their worth. Trust happens when we take responsibility for our actions and justice is served. There is a lot to be done to heal this nation. The soul of the country is at risk. Justice must prevail. There is a lot to pray about.