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I cried for Breonna Taylor and all the Black women in my life

The grand jury decision shows once more I can’t protect the ones I love

I didn’t cry after I heard that no one would be charged in Breonna Taylor’s death – only one officer was indicted, for shooting at the neighbor’s wall. But six hours later, while I talked to my two nieces, hot tears wet my face.

Like Taylor, they are Kentucky girls, too. The oldest never leaves the house without her glittery lip gloss, and the youngest loves dressing up in tulle skirts. Yet, despite their youth, I can’t protect them. This knowledge feels like the helplessness of losing control of the wheel. Like trying to fight gravity. Impossible.

So, talking to my nieces, I didn’t “Say Her Name.” I kept our conversation superficial, realizing that one day too soon the twinkle in their eyes will dim. No matter how much I tried to put my arms around my nieces and protect them, I would never be close enough.

I tried to listen as they told me about their day, but all I could think about was the news. The decision not to charge the officers in Taylor’s death sends a loud message to Black women: We can’t save our nieces. Or our sisters or friends or mothers or aunts.

The girls saw I was distracted. “She must be cleaning,” I heard one explain to her sister, interrupting my reverie. “No,” I said. “I’m just getting ready for bed.”

It seemed like every Black celebrity in America pleaded for justice for Taylor. I saw LeBron James in a tomato-red hat at a news conference demanding the cops who killed her be arrested. I read Beyoncé’s letter urging Kentucky’s attorney general to charge the three officers. Even Oprah Winfrey’s 26 billboards placed throughout Louisville with Taylor’s face the color of cocoa couldn’t bring justice.

Sydney Brown looks out into the crowd as she joins demonstrators on the steps of the Louisville Metro Hall on Sept. 24. A Kentucky grand jury indicted one police officer involved in the shooting of Breonna Taylor with three counts of wanton endangerment. No officers were indicted on charges in connection to Taylor’s death.

Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

On Wednesday evening, I was flooded with helplessness. I sobbed in my Maryland apartment until I had to blow my nose because the decision was an eerie memo directed toward Black women. America doesn’t let Black girls be children.

I read a study about how Black girls are often mistakenly perceived to be biologically older than they are, which is unfair. My nieces’ Black girlhoods are already abbreviated. I study their brown faces and easy smiles. My nieces may not understand it now because they’re only 14 and 4 years old, but they will soon.

Like all Black women, I’m living in a society that sends me insidious messages about my worth. I’ve learned how to move in a world with land mines. Sometimes, it grinds me, but I’ve learned to accommodate it. Naively, I was hoping my nieces wouldn’t have to mirror my experiences with white supremacy. The grand jury decision in Kentucky brought me back to the sad, grinding reality of America. No matter how many poems or books or affirmations I try to fill my nieces’ uninfected minds with, it will never be enough.

Jenisha Watts is The Undefeated’s general editor for culture. Her Twitter bio quotes the late Toni Cade Bambara: Don't leave the arena to the fools.