With just over a month until President-elect Joe Biden is sworn into office at his inauguration, Tamika Palmer, the mother of Breonna Taylor, ran a full-page advertisement in the Washington Post with a message for the president-elect. The advertisement’s goal was to get Biden’s attention, and to let him know that he must be accountable to the people who voted for him — specifically all the Black people who showed up in droves to get him into office. In the ad, Palmer emphasized that Biden must keep his promise to hold police accountable for the lives they’ve taken and the damage they’ve done over the years.
In the letter, Palmer asked that Biden enact a list of measures and policy changes to address police brutality as soon as he settles into the Oval Office. “Your campaign’s stated commitment to prioritize police accountability prompted so many of us to vote this year. For many Americans, a vote for you was a vote for Breonna, Jacob Blake, Casey Goodson and so many others who have been failed repeatedly by the criminal justice system under the current administration. These victims could not vote for you — so millions of us did so on their behalf,” the letter reads. “Now, we need you to fight for Breonna and for the other families that have joined the sad sisterhood and brotherhood of people who have lost loved ones to police violence.”
Palmer also listed some specific demands for the Biden Administration, including appointing Department of Justice (DOJ) officials who specifically have a “proven record of holding police accountable,” ordering the DOJ to re-open investigations into police violence that were “not properly completed” under the Trump Administration, launching “robust pattern and practice investigations” into police departments across America, and ordering “large-scale federal investigations” into police shootings like Blake’s in Wisconsin and Goodson’s in Ohio. The ad also directs readers to the website bidenjusticedemands.com, a Grassroots Law Project initiative co-founded by Shaun King, where Palmer’s demands live on more permanently.
Palmer’s daughter Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old EMT, was shot and killed by police in Louisville, Kentucky in March of this year. Her death and the lack of accountability around it have sparked protests and elevated calls for racial justice, police reform, and defunding and abolition of police. Her family was offered a $12 million settlement, but there are countless more changes that need to be made to ensure that no other family has to experience this kind of terror and tragedy. One way to do that is to seek justice, and yet Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s investigation did not conclude with charges against the police officers who killed Taylor. Sam Aguiar, one of the attorneys who worked with Taylor’s family, said he was displeased with how the case was handled — especially after over 20 hours of audio recording of the grand jury inquiry had to be released because of public pressure and concern from one anonymous juror who claims the whole process was corrupted.
Throughout his campaign, Biden vaguely discussed the need for racial justice and spoke out about police brutality — but even when he made it the focus of his speeches at the Democratic National Convention (DNC), organizers mostly felt it was lip service. On his transition website, Biden did list “racial equity” as one of his top priorities, detailing that the Biden-Harris administration will work with Congress to pass police reform legislation. This includes “a nationwide ban on chokeholds, stopping the transfer of weapons of war to police forces, improving oversight and accountability, to create a model use of force standard” and “creating a national police oversight commission.” Despite his pledged commitments, however, the president-elect also heavily criticized protesters for some of their actions, including looting, and has expressed that he has no plans to defund the police.
No matter what Biden does, organizers on the ground who have been working to defund the police and get justice for Black people like Breonna Taylor continue to stress that they’re not going anywhere. Many of them were also responsible for massive get out the vote initiatives and vote protection initiatives, and stressed that they worked hard to get people to the polls not for Biden himself but to help their own communities. That’s one reason that Biden cannot and should not take Black votes or Black voters for granted. If anything, they’ll continue to try to push Biden to the left and hold him accountable for enacting real change that not only stops police from killing Black people, but also provides consequences for the violence they’ve wrought and pain they’ve already caused.
Palmer said it best in her letter: “We need your actions to show that you are different than those who pay lip-service to our losses while doing nothing to show that our loved ones’ lives mattered.”
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