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September 24, 2020

Do charges in Breonna Taylor case show officers are ‘above the law’?

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Directions: Read the summary, watch the video and answer the discussion questions below. For a transcript of the video, click here.

Summary: The killing of Breonna Taylor at the hands of Louisville police galvanized a national protest movement. On Wed., Sept. 23, one of the officers was indicted on criminal charges in the case — but they weren’t for Taylor’s death. Many in Louisville and across the country are angry and frustrated with this outcome.

  • Paul Butler, an author and professor at Georgetown University, says that any self-defense claim by the the officers should have been decided by a trial jury, not prosecutors.
  • Officer Brett Hankison was charged with wanton endangerment for shooting into an apartment adjacent to the one where Taylor was killed. He and his fellow officers were not charged for shooting or killing Taylor, as it was deemed a justifiable use of force by prosecutors and a grand jury.
  • Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer declared a state of emergency after the announcement of the indictment, and protests broke out in Louisville and elsewhere in the US.

Discussion: Have your students identify the 5Ws and an H:

  • Who was charged yesterday and why?
  • What are some of the ways Professor Butler lists that police officers are subject to different legal standards than ordinary citizens?
  • When and where was Taylor killed, and when and where were charges filed?
  • Why do you think Taylor’s death became a focus for protesters?
  • How are police shootings handled differently than shootings by civilians in court?

Then have students share with the class or through a Learning Management System (LMS).

Focus questions: What are changes to the legal system or rules of engagement by police that could prevent shootings such as this one? Do you think changing laws or rules would make a difference?

Media literacy: Who else would you like to hear from to better understand why more charges weren’t filed against the officers who killed Taylor?

Dig Deeper: Why has the police killing of Breonna Taylor become a focal point for the Black Lives Matter movement? Watch the videos below from Student Reporting Labs in which teens talk about their encounters with police, and ask your students how distrust of police shapes understanding of justice in the United Sates. If you would like to access a full lesson on this video, click here.


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