The Pa. Legislative Black Caucus condemns grand jury decision in slaying of Breonna Taylor, continues fight for police reform

HARRISBURG, Sept. 28 – Days after a Kentucky grand jury’s failure to indict one of the three police officers involved in the shooting death of Breonna Taylor on charges related to her killing, state Rep. Stephen Kinsey, chairman of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus, along with PLBC members, said the decision is a grim reminder of how Black lives — more specifically Black women’s lives — are devalued.

However, in the spirit of the esteemed PLBC’s core mission of dismantling systemic racism across the commonwealth, the caucus of legislators collectively vowed to use this pain to fuel their ongoing fight for racial justice and meaningful police reform.

Kinsey, D-Phila., a father of four Black daughters, expressed that he is especially saddened. He also dissipated the attempts to vilify her memory by reflecting on Breonna’s life and her dedication to public service as a first responder on the frontlines of this pandemic.

“I am a father of four Black daughters and my heart is breaking for Breonna and her family as she reflects my own girls. I see their brilliance, their strengths, and their vulnerabilities. It pains me to know that Black girls and women are denied protection and the privilege of being viewed as whole,” the chairman said. “I want to buck that narrative: Breonna was a caring young woman who had a bright future. She effortlessly juggled enjoying life and a demanding career as an EMT and a nursing student. In the wake of this fatal pandemic and up until her tragic killing.

“I am hurt by the grand jury’s decision, but it’s only fueling our mission. Our fight for change will be relentless,” he declared.

State Rep. Morgan Cephas, D-Phila., chairwoman of the PLBC’s Women and Girls of Color subcommittee and vice-chairwoman of the Democratic Women’s Health Caucus, agreed with Kinsey, but also emphasized elevating Black women and girls in the fight for racial justice.

“Black female vice-presidential candidate for a major party and today we not only mourn the loss of another Black female body, but we also mourn the lack of justice served to her and her family,” she said “The tragedy of Breonna Taylor exposes a flawed and racially biased justice system and the reality that while we have come so far, we still have that much further to go.”

Echoing similar sentiments on the need to protect Black women and girls, Rep. Donna Bullock, D-Phila., PLBC vice chairwoman, said: "Before Breonna Taylor became a headline, she was a young woman, a human being, with her entire life ahead of her.

"When I think about Breonna Taylor, I think of the young women going to school to become ER technicians, nurses or doctors. I think of the young women who fall in love, who have dreams. I think of the many Black women and girls who are part of my circle. I think of the potential they all hold to do great things and it weighs on my heart to know that potential could be stolen from them so easily,” she said. “Breonna Taylor's tragic death is a reminder of the injustices Black women face in this country every day. Her legacy will be what we do about those injustices going forward."

Also raising the issue of racialized gendered violence against Black women and girls, PLBC Treasurer Rep. Summer Lee, D-Allegheny, said that the miscarriage of justice is unsurprising, and drew parallels between the disregard of Black and brown lives to generations of the disenfranchisement of communities, schools and social services.

“I would say that I am surprised by this miscarriage of justice, but I am not. If the past has taught young Black women one thing, it is that our bodies are not our own, and that the value of our lives is less than the time it takes to knock on a door,” said Lee. “Say her name – Breonna Taylor. Say all of their names. But it is not for us to remember who they are or why they died – indeed we have learned that lesson better than anyone should – but it is the responsibility of the public and our elected leaders, who for decades have allowed Black and brown lives to be traded away, and who have allowed, or indeed abetted, in the bleeding of our communities, schools, and social services in the name of profits. Until our society is willing to come to terms with this – to say Breonna’s name, and the names of all of those who have been lost, then we will never see justice, we will never know peace.”

PLBC Secretary Rep. Carol Hill-Evans, D-York, said Breonna’s ordeal and the ruling was heart breaking, and lamented, “To think that no one has been charged in her killing is an absolute shame and injustice to us all. Unfortunately, these injustices are nothing new. I will continue to fight for criminal justice and police reform to protect the lives of our neighbors. No one deserves to be killed in this manner. It is frankly unacceptable.”

State Rep. Joanna McClinton, D-Phila./Delaware, Democratic Caucus chairwoman, posed a sobering question about the current state of racial injustices, "How many more young Black lives must be lost before we get justice from a system that consistently turns its back on people of color?

“It's unacceptable that Breonna Taylor was killed in her own home innocently, and no one is being held accountable. Saying Black lives matter is one thing. Now, we as a society must pass laws that turn this message into a reality."