By Norma Adams-Wade
“This story is being reprinted in Texas Metro News as part of a partnership with The Dallas Morning News.”
It was clear from the beginning that U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Donald Trump wanted rising Republican star Daniel Cameron to win the Kentucky attorney general’s race last November. So say many commentators and news analysts who have followed the career of the young lawyer, who some observers say viewed McConnell as a father figure and who McConnell, in turn, had viewed as a worthy protégé since Cameron won a high school scholarship in McConnell’s name.
Perhaps the most interesting characterization of Cameron, who was 34 during his campaign, was as a charismatic Republican version of a young Barack Obama during the latter’s early political campaigns. Cameron presented as clean-cut, nice-looking, articulate, and having all the right credentials of a middle-class family (his mom a college professor, his dad owner of a coffee shop), strong education, and blue-blooded, professional supporters.
Yet Cameron’s work as special prosecutor in the police shooting of Breonna Taylor by Louisville police sent his meteoric rise into a nosedive. Many African-Americans now roundly condemn him as a sellout and right-wing puppet. In July, he even was criticized for celebrating his second marriage during the height of protests over Taylor’s death. Cameron fends off most criticism as just par for the course. Meanwhile, police associations and many conservatives—including high-profile author and commentator Candace Owens—continue to back Cameron.
Still being debated is whether Cameron’s political views and staunch support of law enforcement and many conservative causes tainted his prosecution of the three police officers accused in Taylor’s death. The case has seen many rapid developments. But for better or worse, Cameron will likely remain in his role. He is up for re-election in 2023 and, in the meantime, is in charge as the Taylor case proceeds. In his first political race, Cameron became Kentucky’s first Black attorney general and the first Republican to win the office since World War II. His rise was so slick and impressive that he even dazzled the state’s Black community leaders, Black Democratic loyalists, and radical Black independents who have traditionally viewed any Black Republican as, in one observer’s word, an “oddity.”
At the University of Louisville, Cameron was a defensive back for the football team, president of the Student Bar Association at the school’s Brandeis School of Law, and the law school’s commencement speaker. He spoke at this summer’s Republican National Convention, and Trump included him on his early list of 20 possible Republican nominees to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Ricky L. Jones was one of Cameron’s left-leaning college professors. In an op-ed piece titled “The Curious Case of Daniel Cameron” that ran last October in the Louisville Eccentric Observer, an alternative weekly, Jones wrote that his former student was “a favorite of right-wingers … [who] has been personally groomed by McConnell … [and] even caught the eye of President Donald Trump.”
In the column, Jones, who is Black, wrote that he and Cameron were “as different as night and day.” Yet despite all the cards indicating he shouldn’t like Cameron, he found that he did. “I’m a radical … who doesn’t like most politicians on either side of the aisle,” he wrote before going on to say that among his students, Cameron “was actually one of my favorites…one of the smartest, most respectful undergraduates I’ve ever encountered, and I’m happy to see him do well.” However, interviewed by Louisville NBC affiliate WAVE-TV on Sept. 23 after the acquittal of two of the three police officers accused in Taylor’s death and what many labeled a slap-on-the-wrist indictment of the third, Jones roundly denounced Cameron as smug, arrogant, tone-deaf and myopic. By now, details of the Taylor case are highly known, and the spotlight continues to glare on Cameron.
The attorney general took office in January, and then Taylor was killed in March. Protests grew as the case lagged, and calls for the officers’ arrests drew widespread support from both average citizens and celebrities, including Oprah Winfrey and Beyoncé. Cameron finally announced the grand jury’s decision on Sept. 23. Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician, and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, were in bed at their Louisville apartment about 1 am March 13 when they were awoken by a loud knocking at the front door. Plainclothes police officers were there to execute a warrant in a narcotics case and burst into the apartment.
According to records, Walker, a licensed gun owner, struck an officer in the thigh after firing in the belief that an intruder was entering. In response, records indicate, police fired 32 times, with six bullets hitting Taylor in the hallway, killing her. No drugs were found. Throughout a slow and tedious six-month investigation, demonstrators across the nation demanded that murder charges be filed. Investigators focused on three officers: Detectives Myles Cosgrove and Brett Hankison and Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly. Protests ignited anew after a grand jury declined to indict any of the officers for Taylor’s death, saying that the three were protected by law because Walker fired first.
Hankison was indicted on a charge of wanton endangerment after it was found some of his bullets entered a neighboring apartment where people were sleeping. Protests like this one held Friday, Oct. 2 by University of Georgia students in Athens, Ga., were reignited nationwide after the grand jury handed down its decision in the Breonna Taylor case. (Joshua L. Jones) Debate continues over what Taylor family lawyers and supporters see as discrepancies and curiosities regarding events of the night Taylor died. Questions include: Did officers knock on Taylor’s door and announce themselves as police? Why did Cameron argue to the grand jury that neighbors, but not Taylor, were endangered? And did Cameron display a pro-police agenda in the evidence he chose to present? He argued that a witness said police announced themselves before entering. But Taylor attorneys wonder if jurors heard from the dozen people who the family says contended no such announcement was made.
Critics continue to revile the criminal justice system as incapable of fairly representing people of color and the underserved—and Black women in general. Even an unnamed grand juror filed a court motion asking that jurors be allowed to speak publicly to counter some reports about the evidence they did or did not receive—a rare move since grand jury proceedings are generally kept secret. There’s no predicting where the case will go from here, including during the officer’s trial. The city of Louisville agreed last month to pay the Taylor family a $12 million wrongful-death settlement and to make changes to police policies. The FBI is still exploring whether the case involved civil rights violations. So, as Jones, the university professor, wrote in his opinion piece: “Let’s see how this scene in the curious case of Daniel Cameron ends. It should be interesting.”
Norma Adams-Wade is a veteran, award-winning Journalist, a graduate of UT-Austin and Dallas native. She is also one of the founders of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) and was inducted into the NABJ Hall of Fame.