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Why Kentucky's Black Attorney General Faces Scorn From Black Activists

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Many African Americans said they felt betrayed by the justice system when Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron announced last week there would be no murder charges filed in the police killing of Breonna Taylor. For months, protesters have demanded that the three officers who raided Taylor's apartment be held accountable for her death. Now many are also calling into question the attorney general himself, a Black man they accuse of working against the interest of Black people. NPR's Adrian Florido reports from Louisville.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: When he decided he would charge only one of the three officers not for Taylor's death but for recklessly firing his gun into her neighbor's apartment, Attorney General Daniel Cameron acknowledged the decision will anger Black people.

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DANIEL CAMERON: I understand that, as a Black man, how painful this is, which is why it was so incredibly important for make sure that we did everything we possibly could to uncover every fact.

FLORIDO: He said that after hearing the evidence from his prosecutors, a grand jury had decided the officers who raided Taylor's apartment and returned fire after a shot from her boyfriend had acted lawfully.

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CAMERON: But my heart breaks for the loss of Ms. Taylor. And I've said that repeatedly. My mother, if something was to happen to me, would find it very hard.

FLORIDO: It was a claim many Black activists found hard to stomach.

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TAMIKA MALLORY: Daniel Cameron is no different than the sellout Negroes...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: What?

MALLORY: ...That sold our people into slavery.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Come on. Talk that talk.

FLORIDO: On Friday, activist Tamika Mallory spoke in downtown Louisville with Breonna Taylor's mother standing beside her.

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MALLORY: That is who you are, Daniel Cameron. You are a coward. You are a sellout. And you were used by the system to harm your own mama, your own Black mama. We have no respect for you.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: None at all.

(APPLAUSE)

MALLORY: You do not belong to Black people at all.

FLORIDO: It's a sentiment many Black people in Louisville have expressed in recent days. Marcus Reed (ph) runs a restaurant near where Breonna Taylor was killed.

MARCUS REED: I don't know what - if they hypnotized him or whatever. But he's not for us. You know, his skin is Black, not the way he thinks, you know? He don't really care about us.

FLORIDO: He said his friends and family all agree. But it's a charge that Cameron, a 34-year-old Republican and the first African American elected Kentucky attorney general, rejects. His office declined an interview request. But here's what he said at last month's Republican National Convention in a speech criticizing Democrats and the, quote, "anarchists" he said were tearing up American cities and attacking police.

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CAMERON: They believe your skin color must dictate your politics. And if you fail to conform while exercising your God-given right to speak and think freely, they will cut you down.

FLORIDO: But Black activists have scorned him also, they say, because he's closely aligned himself with police unions. He's sued Democratic Governor Andy Beshear over his executive orders aimed at containing the coronavirus, which has disproportionately affected Black people. University of Louisville political scientist Dewey Clayton says the Breonna Taylor decision was a tipping point.

DEWEY CLAYTON: People are saying something's got to happen here. And public policy has got to change. So I think you're getting the boiling over of a lot of frustration.

FLORIDO: But he said he wouldn't go as far as questioning Cameron's Blackness.

CLAYTON: I don't think it's a fair charge to call him a race traitor simply because he didn't seem to bring any homicide charges, which everyone knows is very difficult anyway.

FLORIDO: Because of Kentucky law that gives police officers leeway in performing their duties. But he said the case has nonetheless been an important test for the attorney general. And he said Cameron has not looked good refusing to answer basic questions, like whether his office recommended additional charges to the grand jury. That's led people to demand Cameron release transcripts of the grand jury proceedings. Professor Clayton said if he does, it could help Cameron regain credibility among the broader Black community.

Adrian Florido, NPR News, Louisville.

(SOUNDBITE OF AHMAD JAMAL'S "ARABESQUE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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