We learned during the trial of Ahmaud Arbery’s murderers that there are no rules against the supporters of a victim’s family quietly sitting in the courtroom while observing the proceedings. On multiple occasions, the attorneys for Arbery’s killers, Greg and Travis McMichael and William Bryan, tried to get a judge to bar civil rights icons like the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton from sitting in the court’s gallery during the trial and rightfully, those motions failed.
An entirely different scenario is playing out in Kentucky, where Brett Hankison, a former Louisville cop who was present when Breonna Taylor was killed by police in a botched raid, is on trial. Taylor’s sister, Ju’Niyah Palmer, said via social media this morning that an officer she identified as “Sherrif Anothey Goffner” escorted Palmer and her mother, Tamika Palmer, from the courtroom for wearing clothes featuring images of Taylor in the courtroom.
The website GovSalaries, a database which tracks public employees and officials, lists an Anthony Goffner as an employee of the Jefferson County, Ky., Sheriff’s Office with a 2017 taxpayer-funded salary of $44,343. Another person by the same name was listed as employed by the county at $44,817 in 2020, validating the idea that you get what you pay for.
Palmer’s post says the officer told her that her jacket–a red and black varsity-style piece with the letter B embroidered on its right side and back and images of Taylor’s face and the date of her death on the right sleeve–“isn’t accepted” in the courtroom. He allegedly ignored the pair when asked if the courtroom had a specific dress code.
Again: no law prohibits victims’ supporters from attending trials of the accused. If there was such a law, it wouldn’t be a valid reason for asking the Palmers to leave since Hankison isn’t on trial for killing Taylor. No one is.
Although it’s been established that multiple cops opened fire in her apartment, that Taylor was hit at least five times and that former Louisville officer Myles Cosgrove actually fired the killshot, no one was charged with killing her in the wake of Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s widely-criticized grand jury investigation of the incident.
Instead, Hankison wound up being the only cop charged, not for shooting Taylor but wanton endangerment for firing 10 rounds into a side door during the “no-knock” raid. None of Hankison’s shots hit Taylor, so she isn’t, strictly speaking, his victim. Her family members wearing shirts featuring their departed loved one’s name and face to his trial shouldn’t matter to anyone in the courtroom anymore than a shirt featuring the Notorious BIG or Barack Obama.
According to the charges filed by Cameron’s office, Hankison is accused of a crime that has no specific victim. Whoever he allegedly wantonly endangered, it can’t have been Taylor, who is dead because of bullets fired by people who aren’t sitting next to Hankison in the defendant’s chair in Louisville.
The only thing left to do, then, is to challenge the Palmers’ ejection, and the best way to do that is for as many people as possible to show up to court wearing Breonna Taylor’s face for the rest of the trial. It may be easy for one deputy to eject two women from a courtroom without explanation. It’s an entirely different proposition to do the same thing to dozens, or hundreds, of people.
That would require a show of force, bring out journalists with cameras and microphones and probably civil rights attorneys, demanding the same answer Palmer is seeking: if there’s no victim, why is wearing Breonna Taylor’s picture at Brian Hankison’s trial a problem?