New York Times Breonna Taylor Piece Embraces Drug-War Narratives

    Remarkably, a recent 6,000-word New York Times investigative article about Breonna Taylor doesn’t mention the War on Drugs. Not once.

    To be sure, the author, Rukmini Callimachi, works to humanize Taylor, who was murdered by plainclothes Louisville, Kentucky police officers executing what was supposed to be a knock-and-announce drug warrant on March 13. But this account of her short lifeTaylor was only 26entirely omits how the drug war pervaded her community and impacted her closest relationships with Black men.

    The War on Drugs targets and disrupts relationships in low-income, Black neighborhoods in profound ways. A heavy police presence on the streets, undercover narcotics agents, stop-and-frisk, buy-and-bust, pulling over vehicles to search for drugs, and thousands of arrests for possession or low-level drug selling are traumatic, everyday realities.

    Add to this volatile mix the systemic corruption among law enforcement. Police plant drugs, steal drugs and cash, force people to become confidential informants and are involved in drug trafficking. It’s almost impossible to avoid contact with drug-warrior cops who resemble an occupying army. This is the world that Taylor, her family and her ex-boyfriend, Jamarcus Glover, navigatedand that Callimachi doesn’t reference.

    No-knock and knock-and-announce warrants, executed by SWAT teams, are routinely used in narcotics investigations. They often result in death. Callimachi provides convincing evidence from an eyewitness that the police did not repeatedly announce themselves according to protocol before crashing in Taylor’s front door with a battering ram. She doesn’t say the police lied, but it’s clear from her investigation that they did.

    Callimachi quotes Sergeant Mattingly, one of the shooters. “Our intent was to give her plenty of time to come to the door because we said she was probably there alone,” he said. “Banged. No response. Banged on it again. No response. At that point we started announcing ourselves, ‘Police, please come to the door!’” The most notable thing about this contention is the idea that a police officer would ever use the word “please” when executing a drug warrant in the middle of the night. However, Callamachi doesn’t quote a single drug war expert who would challenge the police version of events or reference the initial biased media coverage of Taylor’s death.

    This is where the piece veers into the dishonest, stigmatizing narrative of the drug dealer.

    The drug war hit Breonna Taylor when she was just 6, and her father, Everett, was convicted of murder for shooting a man who wouldn’t pay for a rock of crack. The war on crack—the passage of racist mandatory minimum sentencing laws created a 100:1 disparity between crack and powder cocaine—saw generations of Black men and women sentenced to decades in prison. The Times piece doesn’t explore how the absence of Taylor’s father affected her. But of course it had to. The loss and stigma of having a parent in prison are enormous.

    Instead, Callimachi focuses on Taylor’s relationship with 30-year-old Jamarcus Glover, whom she describes as a “twice-convicted drug dealer.” This is where the piece veers into the dishonest, stigmatizing narrative of the drug dealer as devoid of feelings, evil and predatory.

    Throughout the article, Callimachi repeatedly reminds us that Glover sold drugs, was convicted and spent years in prison. Examples: 

    “Court records show that Mr. Glover was convicted of selling cocaine and spent years in prison, starting in 2008 in his home state of Mississippi, where he was handed a 17-year sentence. In 2014, after moving to Kentucky, he was convicted of a second drug offense.” 

    “In the years that followed, as Mr. Glover was in and out of jail on drug charges…” 

    “But her history with 30-year-old Jamarcus Glover … who had spent years in prison…” 

    “Mr. Glover, who had become a fugitive, was arrested on Thursday in possession of drugs…” 

     

    And next to a photo of Glover in orange prison garb, the Times added this caption: “Ms. Taylor had an on-again off-again relationship with Jamarcus Glover, a convicted drug dealer who listed her apartment as his address and used it to receive packages.” The photo is chosen deliberately to further demonize Glover; he’s a convicted drug dealer!

    The Times also provides decontextualized audio excerpts of Glover’s jailhouse calls that further emphasize this. In one, Taylor tells Glover, “When you around, I stress more, because I just always be worried about you, with the police.” In another, between Glover and Kiera Bradley, the mother of his child, Glover claims he’s stashing money in Taylor’s house. 

    Altogether, Glover is reduced to a stereotype, with no other context or identity. 

    In contrast, we see photos with heart emojis of Taylor embracing Kenneth Walker, her “good” boyfriend, who worked in a Coca-Cola warehouse and went to college. The implication is that Taylor made a fatal mistake in choosing to be involved with Glover.

    Other commenters made an important wider point about the irrelevance of focusing on Taylor “turning her life around”as if that somehow validated the injustice of her killing.

     

     

    Callimachi can surely not be unaware of Michelle Alexander’s 2010 book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, which reentered the New York Times bestseller list amid events this year and has been continually praised and referenced by the Times and so many others. Reading it would illuminate how drug prohibition and structural racism set up young Black men like Jamarcus Glover to sell drugs, get arrested over and over and then disappear, chucked into cages by draconian sentences.

    It wasn’t Glover who made police batter down Breonna Taylor’s door and murder her.

    When their incarceration ends, the criminal justice system saddles them with felony convictions that make it difficult to find a legal job, get credit, or rent an apartment. Formerly incarcerated people are put in a pipeline back to prisonwhich is exactly what happened to Glover.

    The Black community, and especially Black women, have mobilized to support their loved ones who’ve been targeted and endlessly punished by the War on Drugs. This is probably what Taylor was doing when she bailed Glover out of jail, paid his cell phone bill and rented a car for him.

    Callamachi writes, “…she developed a yearslong relationship with a twice-convicted drug dealer whose trail led the police to her door that fateful night.”

    That is so wrong. It wasn’t Glover who made police batter down Breonna Taylor’s door and murder her in a hail of bullets. It was the racist drug war.


     

    Photograph of protest in Minneapolis in June 2020 by Fibonacci Blue via Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons 2.0

    • Helen Redmond

      Helen is the senior editor of Filter. She has written about nicotine, mental health and drug policy for publications including Al Jazeera, AlterNet, Harper’s and The Influence. As an LCSW, she works with drug users in medical and community mental health settings. An expert on tobacco harm reduction, she provides training and consultation on mental health, nicotine use and THR, and in 2016 organized the first Tobacco Harm Reduction Conference in the US. Helen is also a documentary filmmaker.

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