Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Wendy Wyatt, together with Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Kymm Martinez, facilitated a conversation featuring five St. Thomas faculty members Monday on the Breonna Taylor killing. More than 200 students, faculty and staff attended the virtual session. The St. Thomas Diversity Action Response Team (DART) and the Office for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion co-sponsored the conversation.
Participating faculty members included Rachel Moran, Mark Osler and Rachel Paulose of the School of Law; Tanya Gladney of the College of Arts and Sciences; and Ernest Owens of Opus College of Business. Questions were submitted in advance.
Moran started the session by explaining the circumstances that led to the 26-year-old Taylor’s death on March 13 after being shot by police in Louisville, Kentucky. Moran said that while there are genuinely complex legal issues in the case that are worth discussing, “I don’t want us to lose sight, as we discuss some of the more complicated issues, of the simple tragedy at the heart of this situation – a young woman who should be alive.”
One week prior to the Sept. 23 announcement of the grand jury indictment, Taylor’s family and the city of Louisville reached a settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit. “Breonna Taylor’s family didn’t just accept money,” Gladney said. “This was their opportunity to have an agreement with the police department beyond just a monetary value.”
Gladney explained what that settlement means in terms of police reform and highlighted resulting changes in Louisville Metro Police Department policies:
- Mandatory body cameras must now be worn when police officers execute a search warrant.
- Louisville agreed that there would be more checks and balances in the approval process for search warrants.
- Medical personnel will be present at the scene when police officers are preparing to execute a search warrant.
- Police officers are encouraged to live within the city of Louisville.
Osler described systemic issues that the case has brought forward. “Most of us are going to accept that there is racism in the United States,” he said. “There is explicit and implicit bias amongst the citizenry. I’m not saying that everyone is, but that exists in our society. If that’s true, then when we give people discretion to arrest, discretion to charge, discretion to do a raid and how to do it, racism is going to enter into that at least some of the time. It’s inevitable.”
He explained that people within the system bring racism with them in their work. Osler said that the choice of executing the search through a dynamic entry wasn’t necessary.
“The fact that they had a team of people with guns doing a military-style entry is problematic,” he said.
Osler added that the search warrant could have been executed when no one was home, instead of shortly after midnight.
Owens explained several ways that the St. Thomas community can respond:
- Follow a key part of the St. Thomas mission statement: Think critically.
- Participate in the Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity (SEED) program.
- Explore issues with DEI Faculty Fellows.
- Connect with DEI Ambassadors on campus (a program being developed).
- Act on the Action Plan to Combat Racism.
- Connect with affinity groups.
- Follow St. Thomas’ anti-racism efforts, including the Racial Justice Initiative.
- Attend programs offered by the Office for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
Paulose closed the session by imploring students to make a difference. “We really are counting on you to help be the generation that continues to change America. You are not too young to run for office. You are not too young to ask hard questions at city council meetings. You are not too young to start drafting laws, op-eds or articles that you think will help improve the system,” she said. “I want you to be empowered and feel confident in your own voice and use this education that you’re receiving here and share with other people. … The world needs you right now.”