Photo by Alexis Hunley
Photo by Alexis Hunley

The entire internet, it seems, is calling for the arrests of the officers who killed Breonna Taylor in her Louisville, Kentucky, home. The viral meme goes like this: take any subject and insert a reference to Taylor. For example, on the first day of the delayed baseball season the Tampa Bay Rays tweeted: “Today is Opening Day, which means it’s a great day to arrest the killers of Breonna Taylor.” On Friday, Oprah Magazine began erecting some 26 billboards in Louisville making the same plea for arrests.

But it’s not that simple, partly because of a tangled legal doctrine that applies to Kentucky and 28 other states. There is no specific law in these jurisdictions addressing police shooting in self-defense, which means officers have the same rights and obligations as any resident. Yet police have the unique power to initiate violence—like knocking down the door of a private home in the middle of the night—that other people don’t.

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