OPINION: It isn’t enough that cops can kill Black people with little to no consequences, but now Republicans are using our trauma to luxuriate in their pro-cop narrative.
Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own.
Bowling Green, Kentucky is less than two hours from Louisville, the city where 26-year-old Breonna Taylor was killed by police officers while in her home in 2020. Her death was one of the more shocking deaths by police in recent years, and so her name rings out in the Black community with a special power. The Justice Department has charged four officers with falsifying the affidavit used to obtain the search warrant in violation of federal civil rights laws; one officer pleaded guilty. Breonna’s family received a $12 million settlement, but her death continues to be traumatizing for Black people, and the traumatizing happened again last week in Bowling Green.
There’s a restaurant there that hosted a Republican group — I’m not going to name them — which came together to listen to Jonathan Mattingly speak. Mattingly was one of the three officers who fired shots at Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker during the raid of her home. During the raid, Mattingly was shot by Walker, who thought the cops were intruders. Mattingly, now a retired officer, is the author of a book about the shooting, which I will not name, but in it, he whines about “the woke mob,” so, you know who he is. He also thinks he and Breonna are somehow equal. In his book, he says, “I want my story to make a difference. I want society to stop insisting on someone to blame for every crisis and tragedy. I don’t want another Breonna Taylor or another John Mattingly.” Gross. I don’t know how he became one of the victims here, but white victimhood is so powerful it can leap a locomotive in a single bound.
Mattingly has told his story many times — in the book and in various interviews — but for some reason, this Republican group needed him to come to its event and tell his story again. This is part of the right’s bizarre fetish of lionizing people who kill Black people and their allies. You see the way they have made Kyle Rittenhouse into a hero because he killed people at a BLM rally — right-wing star slash lunatic Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene said Rittenhouse is a hero who deserves a Congressional Gold Medal. Wow.
The Republican group who hosted Mattingly said he “has the right to share his experience” and I mean, yeah, sure, Mattingly does have the right to share his experience, but of all the people in the world, why are they so interested in hearing his widely available story again? They also said “Other individuals with firsthand experience relating to this case are welcome to request an opportunity to speak to our organization as well,” but there’s one living individual who was there who tells a different story — Kenneth Walker. I am sure they are not interested in hearing his firsthand experience. If we’re being real, we know this was not a genuine “let’s just hear what he has to say” situation. We know they weren’t there to get down to the truth. They wanted another chance to luxuriate in their pro-cop narrative.
But there’s more. The night that Mattingly spoke, most of the restaurant was still open to guests and, at some point, they all were forced to be part of the show. According to some of the guests, the lights in the restaurant dimmed, and both audio and police bodycam footage were broadcast in the restaurant. Can you imagine sitting in some mid-level restaurant trying to get through a meal when someone starts blasting footage of a Black person getting killed by police? That’s traumatizing.
It’s already traumatizing that we are bombarded by these images via traditional media and social media, constantly coming up against these little snuff films where Black lives are ended. We are shown these images so often, and they are so searing and painful that I know that most Black people have about 20 or 25 Black killings in their memory that they can call up at any time. We can see, in our mind’s eye, so many killings. If I just call out the names of Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice … we see the footage in our minds. We carry that around with us all the time, and it’s some heavy emotional baggage. I don’t know what impact that’s having on all of us, but it’s surely corrosive.
Those poor diners had the images and the sound of Breonna’s death played while they ate. It’s cruel and unusual, but it also reminds me of the way white people in this country would take photographs of lynching and turn them into postcards as a way of celebrating the destruction of a Black body and the perpetuation of white power.
The president of the Bowling Green-Warren County NAACP chapter, Ryan Dearbone, said, “It is beyond reprehensible to subject anyone, let alone children and customers of African-American descent, to such indecent exposure, graphic and upsetting images while they were attempting to enjoy their meal. Such disturbing occurrences must not be tolerated especially in places of public accommodation. At a minimum, these acts are devoid of humanity and violate the most fundamental principles of human decency.”