Flagstaff’s response to the Breonna Taylor verdict

Illustration by Aleah Green 

The death of emergency medical technician Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky and the lack of urgency from the Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) regarding the case sparked outcry across the nation. This caused Flagstaff residents to speak out against the nation’s justice system. 

The investigative report conducted by the LMPD stated that around 1 a.m. on March 13, officers Hankison, Myles Cosgrove and Jonathan Mattingly entered Taylor’s residence with a battering ram during a no-knock narcotics raid. The officers had a search warrant to look for drugs and Taylor’s ex-boyfriend, Jamarcus Glover, a narcotics dealer who no longer lived at the apartment. 

During the raid, Taylor was shot six times. After an investigation into the botched raid, in which an investigation report stated there were no injuries to Taylor, a grand jury charged Hankison with wanton endangerment for shooting toward a neighboring apartment Sept. 23.

Since March 13, Taylor’s death became another part of major protests regarding the death of George Floyd and other unarmed Black citizens in Louisville, Los Angeles, Chicago and many cities nationwide. As previously reported by The Lumberjack, Flagstaff has also seen numerous protests following the deaths of Taylor, George Floyd, and other victims of police brutality. 

Director of ethnic studies Wendy Rountree said the verdict on Taylor’s case is tragic, but not completely unexpected. 

“Historically the African American woman’s body has experienced such brutality,” Rountree said. “Their voices have been silenced over and over again. This seems like another form of this silencing and not acknowledging the human rights of this particular individual — in this case, Breonna Taylor.”

Rountree said the Trump administration seemed to treat Taylor’s case, and other cases of police brutality, as an afterthought.

Despite the case verdict, Rountree said she still has hope in the power of public outcry and the dedication of this generation of college students.

“The struggle to make democracy a real democracy for everyone has resonated with many different groups of people,” Rountree said. “I’ve been watching [this generation] and they are already educating themselves on current issues and delving into the past. I want to encourage them to do that more.” 

NAU students have been active in protests since the deaths of Taylor and Floyd, such as the June 2 protest at Flagstaff City Hall.

Sophomore Kendra Edwards protested for Black Lives Matter (BLM) and said Black women’s lives have always been undervalued and misunderstood. 

“My life, along with my Black brothers and sisters’ lives are always in jeopardy,” Edwards said.

 Edwards said she fears for her safety at BLM protests, but she does not let fear stop her from protesting for Black lives in solidarity of her family, her generation and future ones.

In protest, Edwards calls for patriarchal abolishment and reparations, not necessarily represented by a dollar amount, but a cultural movement that puts money into low-income schools and focuses on reeducation. The key to this cultural movement, Edwards said, is love.

“Until we abolish things that undermine that love, our society won’t ever truly know it,” Edwards said. “People have to have love in order to understand experiences other than your own.”

A statement from NAU President Rita Cheng was released regarding the Flagstaff protests and the deaths of Floyd, Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.  

The statement said the deaths are a challenge to stand against injustice and violence, and that NAU offers support to those who have been affected by recent and historical events. 

Edwards acknowledged the statement, but said NAU is still not doing enough for its students and the surrounding community. 

“Anyone can acknowledge that slavery was wrong, but how are you going to fix that?” Edwards asked. “You need to stand in front of us and use your privilege to protect.”

The statement from President Cheng’s office encouraged students to continue speaking out and to attend a June 4 virtual moment of silence, NAU Diversity Dialogues and Unconscious Bias trainings put on by the Office of Inclusion, which were meant to help one recognize their biases, rid them and start being more inclusive and accepting.

Registration for Diversity Dialogues — online events that discuss problems facing diversity and inclusion — can be arranged by contacting the Office of Inclusion. Enrollment in Unconscious Bias can be done by requesting training enrollment through the self-service, and learning and development links on LOUIE. 

The call for change is not only at NAU, but in the works of Flagstaff City Council as well. Flagstaff Vice Mayor and advocate of cultural sensitivity, Adam Shimoni, said right now is the time for action.

“This is a time to step up to the plate and take leadership roles,” Shimoni said. “If you don’t like the system, change the system. Run for office, get involved, organize and fix it from within.” 

Shimoni said he saw the death of Taylor as a call to action not only on a national level, but in Flagstaff as well. He encouraged students to attend council meetings and join commissions for subjects that inspire them, noting organizations like the Flagstaff Citizen’s Liaison Committee and the Neighborhood Blockwatch Program

Flagstaff is working on a four-part approach to the Flagstaff Police Department to reinvent the way local police protect and serve the public, Shimoni said.

This plan includes redirecting 911 calls to mental health professionals, creating safe locations for individuals recovering from substance abuse, providing support for individuals experiencing homelessness and creating a mental health transition team to support the homeless community in Flagstaff. 

Shimoni said he envisions Flagstaff to be a national leader in holistic community approaches — practices that target the causes of crime and create preventative measures to better support those in need. 

“I’m grateful that the BLM movement and the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless other individuals have lit a fire underneath elected officials,” Shimoni said. “We have this opportunity to do things that might have taken years to do.” 

Shimoni encouraged NAU students to maintain their passion and attend the Oct. 13 city council meeting to discuss policing alternatives in Flagstaff to start a pattern of change in the city.