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Louisville Archbishop Pleads for Justice and Peace after Breonna Taylor Decision

Tamika Palmer, the mother of Breonna Taylor, weeps during a Sept. 15, 2020, news conference announcing a $12 million civil settlement between the Taylor’s estate and the city of Louisville, Ky. (Photo: CNS/Bryan Woolston, Reuters)

WINDSOR TERRACE — After a controversial grand jury decision surrounding the death of Breonna Taylor, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., pleaded for peace and the rejection of violence and called for unity to work for racial justice.

“Whatever our reaction to decisions by the grand jury and the Attorney General’s Office, we must now come together to work for racial justice. There is no question that our nation’s original sin of racism continues to destroy and harm the lives of persons of color and that racism extends through so many systems of our society … educational, economic, religious, housing, criminal justice, voting, and employment.

“Our Church stands ready to work with civic, community, educational, business, and non-profit partners to address these issues.

“I join with people of faith and goodwill to plead for peace and the rejection of violence as citizens exercise their first amendment right to protest. Let us all join in prayers for Breonna Taylor’s family and friends and for justice, peace, and healing in our community.”

The archbishop released his statement after the Sept. 23 announcement of the grand jury’s decision to indict one of the Louisville officers involved in Taylor’s death. 

When asked about what justice and peace meant to him, the archbishop told The Tablet that justice meant a fair treatment.

“It means that we begin by recognizing the dignity of that individual created by God in his own image and likeness. It means that justice extends to the community, so to the family and to the community itself. We can’t be just with one another by ourselves, we need the help of others to do that.”

“Peace,” said the archbishop, “means that we do it in a way that is healthy and building up rather than tearing down.” “Easy to say, and not easy to do, but those are pillars of what we’re about. It means that we seek to be good citizens of heaven and of earth. Every one of us needs to take a first step. We won’t all be taking the same first step, some are in great positions of influence, but every one of us, will require us to use the gifts we’ve been given.”

Taylor, 26, was shot to death on March 13 by Louisville Metro Police when officers entered her home while serving a warrant. Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired a shot at the officers, who then returned fire, according to evidence presented to the grand jury. 

Former police officer Brett Hankinson was charged with three counts of first-degree “wanton endangerment” for firing three shots into an apartment near Taylor’s. Hankinson was fired from the Louisville police in June. None of the shots fired by Hankinson were those which struck Taylor, according to a Sept. 23 press conference with Kentucky’s Attorney General Daniel Cameron. Hankinson faces up to five years on each of three counts if convicted, the attorney general said.

The other two officers were not indicted. It was determined that because Walker fired a shot at them, they were justified in returning fire. After the grand jury announcement was made, protestors filled the streets Wednesday night, Sept. 23. 

More than 100 arrests were made. Two Louisville officers were shot and wounded during the demonstrations. A suspect was arrested late Wednesday and charged with 14 counts of wanton endangerment of a police officer and two counts of assault on a police officer.

The archbishop has lamented the “senseless violence” that has swarmed his city since the protests that began after the killing of George Floyd. In May, protesters broke three windows in his cathedral rectory, Cathedral of the Assumption.

In his May 29 letter to Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, Archbishop Kurtz expressed his support of peaceful protests “that give voice to the pain of the community and to the desire for truth and justice to be served.”

He also told The Tablet that there are two areas that must be addressed in order for Louisville and the nation to seek healing and unity.

“As we recognize racial inequality, as we recognize the sin of racism,” Archbishop Kurtz said, “We can do things today, but it’s going to be a long course for us to do that. I like to say that the way in which we as a church do it is we pray, we educate ourselves and then we try to put a face on the issue. 

“Secondly, we got to say thank you to first responders because we know that they’re not trying to create difficulty, they’re trying to maintain the peace and as I said in my statement, there’s a first amendment right to peaceful protest, so that’s not something we want to ignore. Our nation needs that in that sense, but it cannot devolve into violence. I hope that I’m together with all people of good will, all people of faith in saying that.”


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