[9/28/20] – Justice for Breonna Taylor

On March 13th, 2020, Breonna Taylor – a 26-year-old Black woman medical worker – was fatally killed when 3 Louisville police officers executed a no-knock warrant on the apartment she and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, were living in. In the 6-months following this tragedy, in tandem with activism raging over the deaths of George Floyd and over 160 other Black people at the hands of police in the United States, Louisville residents and politicians continue to quarrel over how to best discipline the officers involved. This last week, a Grand Jury decided not to press charges against the officers involved with Breonna Taylor’s death which sparked outrage across American cities. There seems to be a fairly consistent pattern of social response: outrage. But, why is change not occurring? Why are police departments continuing to be funded and supported when they are killing the residents they are sworn to protect? What will it take to remove the omnipresent threat of violence, surveillance, suspicions, and aggression towards Black communities by police? In this week’s Lecture Spark, we explore the issue of state sanctioned violence and social movements against it through the lens of sociology. Specifically, we explore racist policies that enable forgiveness for state sanctioned violence, socialization of implicit bias, and, from an organizational bent, how to best reform police departments.

Download the PowerPoint Lecture Spark for Justice for Breonna Taylor

Learning Objectives

LO1: Discuss how state-sanctioned violence against Black communities is justified by the criminal justice system.

LO2: Explain how the normalization of “violent” protest influences public sentiment about their plight.

LO3: Understand how racist policies and racist power holders are responsible for the creation and maintenance of a social system that normalizes the disproportionate killing of Black people by police. 


Anger and anguish in Louisville over Breonna Taylor decision

Hundreds of protesters turned out in Louisville on Sep. 23 after learning that no police officer would be charged in the shooting death of Breonna Taylor. They were met by police officers in riot gear, as armored vehicles tried to clear the streets.

Newly released body camera video shows moments after Breonna Taylor shooting

The city of Louisville saw a second night of unrest over the decision not to charge police officers directly in the death of Breonna Taylor. Police arrested at least 24 people Thursday night. Body camera footage released by an attorney for one of the officers involved in the March incident shows the moments just after the shooting.

No Officers Indicted for the Shooting of Breonna Taylor | The Daily Social Distancing Show

Louisville police officer Brett Hankison is indicted for shooting into a neighbor’s apartment during the murder of Breonna Taylor, but none of the three officers involved in the encounter will be charged for her death. Trevor asks, who is winning in this whole thing?

Discussion Questions

How do the race/ethnicity of those involved in a police shooting influence the social reaction? How might the case of Breonna Taylor have played out differently had the victim been a White woman and the officers involved has been Black men? What is the role of surveillance footage in telling the “truth” about what happened during incidents involving state-sanctioned violence?

What are some effective ways to communicate with people in positions of power about how to end the disproportionate violence against Black communities by police? Why might those in positions of power be reluctant to address problems with the social institutions they are tasked with maintaining? To whom does it appear that Black Lives really Matter? How do social movements need to form in order to effectively communicate their demands and achieve social change?

What reforms need to be made in police departments to remove the unjustified killings of all citizens? Why do local, state, and federal government entities continue to funnel billions of dollars into the criminal justice system in the face of glaring evidence of unequal treatment of citizens? What does it mean to defund the police, and does this argument have any merit? How can citizens effectively communicate their desires for change in a language that resonates with those in power?

From a symbolic-interaction perspective, what is the significance of the #SayHerName campaign? How can the social significance of the death of Black women at the hands of police be minimized in the absence of such a campaign? Why is it necessary to shift responsibility for documenting the experiences of those affected by state-sanctioned violence away from the dominant media and government to community-led efforts?

From a rational-choice perspective, what are the incentives of being a racist police officer? What are the consequences of not falling in line behind your colleagues when they attempt to obscure truth from justice? What social changes need to occur in order to prevent the unjustified and unpunished killing of Black lives by police in the United States?


A _______ sociologist would likely argue that the decision to not press charges against the police officers involved in the shooting of Breonna Taylor is an attempt to maintain the exiting social order.
a. Symbolic-Interactionist
b. Conflict
c. Structural-Functionalist
d. Postmodernist

An example of a micro-level sociological research question about the protests in Louisville as a result of the decision to not press charges against the police involved in the death of Breonna Taylor is…
a. How much campaign money was funneled to the Kentucky Attorney General as a result of his decision to not press charges?
b. What push and pull factors are associated with an individual’s decision to participate in activism against racist policies and social institutions?
c. What is the average length of time spent talking about this case on news stations across the country?
d. What are the challenges to creating sustainable change in police departments in America?

A _______ theorist would likely argue that those in positions of power are incentivized to maintain the racist policies and practices that enabled their ascendency by controlling the criminal justice system.
a. Symbolic-Interactionist
b. Conflict
c. Structural-Functionalist
d. Postmodernist

Photo credit: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

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