LMPD officer says systemic racism exists and Breonna Taylor's death is a chance to fix it

Systemic racism in the Louisville Metro Police Department is real, Officer Donavis Duncan, a 28-year-old patrolman, told me Friday afternoon.

And he hopes the death of Breonna Taylor will help the department fix that.

Furthermore, he believes that even if the officers involved in her March 13 death aren’t charged with serious crimes, the police force and the community can benefit.

“The fact that Breonna Taylor’s name is being used as a martyr for change, that George Floyd’s name is being used as a martyr for change, that Tamir Rice’s name is being used as a martyr for change … there has to be change,” Duncan said.

“Justice can still come by change in the form of police training and procedures,” he said. “It can be that policing of Black people and brown people never looks again like it has for the past 100 years.”

People rallied in the street as the Breonna Taylor/ No Knock Warrant ban bill was passed by the Louisville Metro Council. Elijah Grady held up a fist in support of speakers. June 11, 2020
People rallied in the street as the Breonna Taylor/ No Knock Warrant ban bill was passed by the Louisville Metro Council. Elijah Grady held up a fist in support of speakers. June 11, 2020

Duncan lives in the apartment complex off St. Anthony Church Road where Taylor lived and died. He works in LMPD’s Sixth Division, patrolling the Newburg area as his primary job.

In his off time, he works as a “courtesy officer” handling security in the apartment complex — walking the complex at night, locking the door to the laundry room, that sort of thing.

He's one of 143 Black officers and recruits in the 1,138-officer force. Black officers comprise less than 13% of the Louisville Metro Police Department, even though Black Louisvillians make up 23.5% of the city's population.

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On the night Taylor was killed, Duncan said he was at home watching television when he heard the shots. He turned up his police radio and heard “officer down,” at the location of Taylor's apartment — just over 100 yards from where he lived.

He said he threw on his uniform and bullet-proof vest and sprinted to the scene of the shooting. He guesses he was there three to four minutes after gunfire erupted.

Duncan said he didn’t know Taylor, but he had gone to middle and high school with Kenny Walker, Taylor’s boyfriend who has said he fired one shot at police — not knowing who they were — after they broke down Taylor's door with a battering ram.

"We're friends," Duncan said of Walker.

He was worried about Walker that night but remained professional, he said.

"It’s not the first time I ever ran into somebody (on the job) I’ve known," he said.

While he wasn’t there when the shooting erupted, Duncan said he had the same concerns about what happened that interim Chief Robert Schroeder spoke of when he later fired Detective Brett Hankison. Schroeder said he canned Hankison because he fired blindly into the apartment, endangering others.

“Just my perspective, but my concerns are the shots from outside … into the apartment, not knowing who else could have been in there and what else you could have hit,” Duncan said.

“I don’t know anyone who has been trained to do that. I spent time in the military before I joined the police department, and I’ve never been trained to do that.”

But the biggest issue for Duncan is the systemic racism that he sees within LMPD.

And it’s not a matter of officers who are racists, he said.

It’s things in the department’s policies and procedures and especially in its training that he said need to be changed and updated.

“It’s not in the ideology of the department, but systemic racism is real,” he said, saying that it all starts with training.

“In the police academy, we had 'Hispanic Inclusion Week' when we learned about Hispanic culture. It was problematic to me that we didn’t have a week dedicated to African American culture or any other culture that represents this city,” he said.

“White police officers who grew up in Oldham County or Eastern Kentucky or someplace where they didn’t know many African Americans, what taught them up to that point about African American culture?” Duncan asked. "TV? Social media?

“Their minds and hearts have been shaped and formed based on what they have seen up to that point. Then we give them a badge and a gun and send them to the West End.”

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When I told him a former officer — gone from the force more than a decade — told me once it wasn’t odd to hear police using racial slurs in front of Black officers, Duncan said he’s never witnessed that and believes those days are long gone.

“It’s a good thing that it’s not out and that blatant,” he said. “But it’s those biases that people carry deep down in the pits. And those biases, they can come out. … I can’t stress enough how much it comes down to training.”

Duncan said he believes Taylor’s death provides a real opportunity for the department to look at what’s it’s been doing and fix the problems he said have colored how officers treat Black Americans for years.

“Now, we have the opportunity, because ears and eyes are now open, for real change,” he said.

“LMPD needs people like me to give them ideas, because the way things are going at this point, they haven’t been working.”

Joseph Gerth can be reached at 502-582-4702 or by email at jgerth@courierjournal.com. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: courier-journal.com/josephg.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Breonna Taylor case: LMPD officer says death is chance to fix racism