Justice is the absence of violence, the presence of healing

By Kisha Bird and Duy Pham

As we have seen in the Breonna Taylor case and countless other situations, violence against Black women is normalized in our nation, and our humanity is invisible. This violence is crippling and dehumanizing. The grand jury decision delivered this week about her murder was violent. Violence is “the use of physical force to harm someone, to damage property, etc. It is a great destructive force or energy.”

Breonna Taylor was violently murdered in her own home on March 13, 2020, when Louisville Metro Police Department officers raided her apartment after obtaining a no-knock warrant. Her death was again violently ignored when on September 23, the Louisville prosecutor failed to convince a grand jury to indict the three officers for her death. For 194 days and counting, the justice system has failed to hold the officers accountable for her death, which also is violence.

We once again are painfully reminded that a system rooted in white supremacy will never bring justice for Black lives. And we can no longer expect it to. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t continue to demand justice for Breonna Taylor and the countless other Black lives lost to state-sanctioned genocide.

How do we get to justice? We must root out the violence. We must replace it with healing.

Justice means we must defund the system that killed Breonna Taylor and heal the communities the system has terrorized. This includes uprooting the economic violence inflicted by racist policy to economically marginalize Black communities. We must replace this system of violence with the presence of healing-centered investment that centers Black and Brown lives.

“Abolition is about presence, not absence. It’s about building life-affirming institutions.” Ruth Wilson Gilmore

It’s not just policing. It’s rooting out the disease permeating the entire criminal legal system that repeatedly declares it’s okay to perpetuate violence against Black lives, that says Black lives are expendable, and that holds no one accountable for the destruction of Black lives. Part of this rooting out is starving the disease. We must dismantle law enforcement budgets—from the federal to local levels, program by program, and allocation by allocation. One starting point is demilitarizing law enforcement. Black communities will continue to be under attack as long as law enforcement is militarized and financially rewarded for criminalization and incarceration.

We must replace the system that killed Breonna Taylor with one that values the collective healing of Black people. While many of our nation’s systems are rooted in white supremacy, we must think beyond our existing structures and policies and learn from Black activists and leaders who have been reimagining this new world for decades. This is what we have been calling healing-centered liberation policy.

State, local, and federal governments can and must play a part in realizing justice for Breonna Taylor. In response to the murder of George Floyd, Minneapolis voted to disband its police department and is taking steps to replace it with a department of community safety and violence prevention rooted in a public health approach. Atlanta is in the process of closing the city jail and replacing it with a center for wellness, equity, and freedom—following a movement led by formerly incarcerated Black and trans women. However, these positive steps are continually being met with fervent resistance and a desire to maintain the status quo and uphold white supremacy. Our nation has so much more to do in dismantling these systems of oppression and building a new vision of community investment.

How do we get to justice? We must disrupt our dehumanization.

BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) folks are constantly dehumanized. A Forward Promise publication in late 2019 about dehumanization notes that “At the center of dehumanization is the pervasive idea that people of color do not need, and are not worthy of basic human dignities. Dehumanization manifests in the narratives, policies, and practices that impact us.” Earlier this week, Forward Promise hosted a conversation on disrupting dehumanization. In that conversation, leaders shared how we can collectively disrupt our dehumanization. It means beginning with history, telling and claiming our own stories and narratives, shifting and building power, and demanding healing-centered liberation policy. But it also means allowing ourselves the time and space to grieve. There is so much more to say and so much work on the horizon to bring out this justice we are seeking for Breonna and for ourselves. But for now, we grieve with all of you for her life, her family, her community, and our humanity.