Graciously offering up some black trauma porn with dinner, a Republican Women’s Club in Kentucky just hosted a book promo at a local restaurant for Jon Mattingly, one of the Louisville police officers who helped murder Breonna Taylor in her bed, to tell “his side” of a story that they claim “has been twisted to fit into a false, woke storyline.” They also broadcast the “snuff by cop” audio and video on public speakers so all the patrons could hear. So thoughtful. Up next: Postcards of the lynching.
A black, 26-year-old emergency room technician in Louisville, Taylor was asleep in bed with her boyfriend Kenneth Walker around midnight on March 13, 2020 when plainclothes police officers pounded on their door as part of a drug raid mistakenly targeting her long-ex-boyfriend. After breaking down the door with a battering ram, at least seven cops burst into the apartment without identifying themselves; Walker, thinking they were intruders, fired a warning shot (from a licensed gun) that hit Mattingly in the leg. Police opened fire with at least 32 shots; Taylor was hit by six bullets and died. In the media, the murder of a loving, productive, entirely innocent black woman came to be routinely called “a botched raid.” More accurately, it was a racist, bloody clusterfuck, born of already-contentious no-knock warrants, that just kept getting worse.
The local Courier Journal had to sue to get the investigative report from Louisville police, who refused to release it. Months later, when they did, it was a four-page, almost blank report: It lists the time, date, case number, victim’s name. It checks “no” to forced entry. Though she was shot at least eight times and died in a pool of blood on her hallway floor, it lists her injuries as “none.” It names the three Louisville officers who fired shots—Jon Mattingly, Myles Cosgrove, Brett Hankison, all white and in their 40s—but omits the vital narrative of what happened except for the word “investigation.” The Journal editor’s response: “Are you kidding?” Activist Hannah Drake called the report a slap in the face to all black women.” “This document is proof that LMPD continues to make a mockery of transparency,” she said. “This is the best they could offer Breonna, even in her death.”
It got still worse when a grand jury declined to charge police for killlng Taylor, sparking widespread protests. They found Mattingly and Cosgrove, whose shots killed Taylor, acted “in self-defense,” then bafflingly charged Hankison with three counts of “wanton endangerment”—one savage headline: “Cop Charged With ‘Whoopsie‘—for firing shots that passed into an adjoining apartment and displaying “an extreme indifference to the value of human life.” It’s unclear what they thought Mattingly’s and Cosgrove’s “wanton murder” displayed, but Hankison was acquitted. The DOJ charged four cops with federal civil rights offenses, falsifying the search warrant; two still face trials. The city also settled two lawsuits, paying $12 million to Breonna’s mother Tamika Palmer and $2 million to Kenneth Walker; because the police’s superpower remains shamelessness, he was initially charged with attempted murder of a cop, but protests, also reality, led to charges being dropped.
Fortuitously inhabiting a country where, notes Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The officer carries with him the power of the American state and the weight of an American legacy”—both of which have long fallen disproportionately on black bodies—Mattingly has thus been free to retire from the Police Department, write a “tell-all” book about the raid in which he whines about “the woke mob,” and rebrand-himself, Kyle-Rittenhouse-like, as a conservative speaker whose sole dubious qualification is having a barbarous hand in killing Breonna Taylor. In his grievance-laden book, Mattingly says he wants his story “to make a difference. “I want society to stop insisting on someone to blame for every crisis and tragedy,” he writes. “I don’t want another Breonna Taylor or another John Mattingly.” By unfathomably equating his fate with hers, notes one sage, he indisputably proves once and for all that “white victimhood is so powerful it can leap a locomotive in a single bound.”
His hosts for last week’s dinner-with-black-trauma-on-the-side were the Republican Women of South Central Kentucky, who in a now-deleted Facebook post dutifully parroted his paranoid cant. Mattingly, they said, would “share what really happened… what he saw, and how the media’s narrative has been corrupted and twisted to fit into a false, woke storyline.” Still, not everyone was there for it, even in deep-red Kentucky. He was originally scheduled to speak at the Bowling Green Country Club with a GOP gubernatorial candidate, but they backed out after a ripple of outrage appeared. Much of it echoed that of Kentucky Democratic Chair Colmon Elridge, who, citing the evening’s price tag, termed “abhorrent” the right’s ongoing fetish of lionizing those who kill innocent black people, “from Till to Taylor…Apparently the worth of a murdered innocent Black woman is a country club dinner at $40 per person, tax and tip included.”
The event was then moved to a second-floor space for private events at Anna’s Greek Restaurant, where Mattingly was reportedly introduced to “raucous applause” from about 80 people. The problem—or one problem—was that it’s not really a private space: Other patrons said that, as they sat at their dinners, the lights were dimmed and graphic audio and video began loudly playing on the restaurant speakers, complete with gunshots. As Mattingly went through his grisly presentation and appalled guests started murmuring in protest, Mattingly fan-boys, demonstrating a long-honed skill of white supremacists, glared menacingly down at them. In interviews and social media posts afterwards, guests, including veterans and people of color, said they found the spectacle “disturbing,” “disgusting,” and “traumatizing.” The local branch of the NAACP ripped the event as “beyond reprehensible,” charging it violated “the most fundamental principles of human decency.”
For black viewers or listeners, of course, it also presents one more ugly example of the right’s persistent celebration of black death at the hands of police—and, as an inevitable result, the belittling and diminishing of black lives. “It’s already traumatizing that we are bombarded by these images…constantly coming up against these little snuff films where Black lives are ended,” writes Toure in The Grio. He cites “searing” images of scores of black killings “we can call up at any time…We can see, in our mind’s eye, so many killings….Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice…We see the footage in our minds….We carry that around with us all the time.” The impact of that baggage is “surely corrosive,” he writes, never mind when it’s used to make a tawdry buck to sell a shitty book. For many critics, the whole vile debacle—Breonna’s murder, the justice she didn’t get, her free killers resurfacing to hawk their plaints and wares while glad crowds applaud them—summon nothing so much as the American lynchings so many modern Black killings are likened to.
There were, of course, thousands through the 19th and into the 20th century; many featured making a buck on the horrors. On August 7, 1930, a white mob broke into a Marion, Indiana jail to lynch three young black men wrongly accused of murdering a white man and raping a white woman. Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, both 19, were beaten and tortured, then hung from trees as a crowd of thousands gathered; James Cameron, 16, survived. When the bodies were cut down, people rushed to take parts as souvenirs, and photos were later bought and sold as postcards. On May 25, 1911, Laura Nelson and her teenage son L.D., both black, were kidnapped from an Oklahoma jail and hung from a bridge, where hundreds came to see; more photos as postcards. On June 15, 1920, a white mob of up to 10,000 stormed a jail in Duluth, Minn. holding six black circus workers falsely accused of rape; the crowd got to three—Isaac McGhie, Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson—and beat and hanged them. More postcards. Warning: very graphic photo here.
Jon Mattingly, meanwhile, had a swell time re-living his lynching for profit; afterwards, he posted on Facebook, “Food was amazing and staff was even better!” Commenters were appalled: “What a vulture…And great entertainment too! How fun for you!…You are a murderer…Everything you put in your mouth will turn to ash…Shame shame shame…” and, after admitting it was maybe “a mistake” to broadcast his spiel, “You seem to make a lot of mistakes. Good thing you didn’t make the mistake of being a black woman sleeping in her own home.” Astonishingly—or not (see shameless)—he angrily argued with “all of you slamming a good man.” The GOP ladies defended themselves too: The event was “taken out of context,” Mattingly is “also a victim,” none of them “are racist,” and “other individuals with firsthand experience relating to this case are welcome to request an opportunity to speak to our organization.” Yes, well. Kenneth Walker is still “deeply traumatized” and Breonna Taylor is still dead, so neither is available.
Postscript: Witnessing that Duluth lynching was an 8-year-old immigrant boy named Abraham Zimmerman. Long afterward, he evidently described it to his son Robert, who was born 21 years later. Or maybe Robert, a curious, precocious boy who became Bob Dylan, learned about it on his own, found some of those photo postcards in the old junk stores he loved to explore his entire life. In any case, when Dylan came to write what’s been deemed the sixth greatest song of all time—and some of us might put it higher—he bitterly recalled the photos, marking America’s own, profane “chimes of freedom,” to begin Desolation Row:
They’re selling postcards of the hanging,
They’re painting the passports brown,
The beauty parlor’s filled with sailors,
The circus is in town.
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