Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron had always found the Left to be intolerant of black conservatives, but the spate of character assassination attempts he has faced recently have gone “beyond the pale.”
In a recent interview with National Review, Cameron, the first African-American to ever be independently elected to statewide office in the Bluegrass State, detailed the experience of being on the receiving end of a firestorm of criticism over his investigation into the police shooting of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor.
Much of the backlash has centered on his own identity as a black man.
Perhaps most notable was rapper Megan Thee Stallion’s Saturday Night Live performance earlier this month in which she played a clip of activist Tamika Mallory calling Cameron “no different than the sellout Negroes that sold our people into slavery.”
The 34-year-old attorney general, in just under a year of being in office, has found himself at the center of one of the nation’s most contentious cases of a fatal encounter between police and black Americans.
Louisville police fatally shot Taylor during a botched drug raid in March. Officers were executing a search warrant shortly before 1 a.m. on March 13 when they used a battering ram to enter Taylor’s home. The officers claim they knocked and announced themselves to no response, but Taylor’s boyfriend Kenneth Walker says he did not hear police identify themselves.
Walked fired a shot when the door opened. He said he believed someone was breaking in.
Walker’s shot hit Sargeant Jonathan Mattingly in the thigh, police said, leading Mattingly and Detectives Myles Cosgrove and Brett Hankison to fire 32 rounds in response, striking Taylor six times in her hallway, where she stood next to Walker.
Outrage, which had been brewing in the months since the fatal incident, boiled over last month when the grand jury decided, on the recommendation of the attorney general’s office, to indict Hankison for wanton endangerment for firing into the empty apartment next to Taylor’s. None of the officers involved were charged in Taylor’s death.
Cameron’s office made the recommendation after spending thousands of hours examining evidence in the case from mid May up until just days before the grand-jury presentation began last month.
In public remarks about the investigation following the grand-jury decision September 23, Cameron called Taylor’s death a tragedy, but said his job was to investigate the facts of the case. After combing through ballistics evidence, 911 calls, police-radio traffic, and interviews, Cameron found that there was no wrongdoing on the part of Cosgrove and Mattingly, who were justified in returning fire.
“The decision before my office as a special prosecutor in this case, was not to decide the loss of Miss Taylor’s life was a tragedy. The answer to that question is unequivocally yes,” he said.
“I deeply care about the value and sanctity of human life deserves protection. And in this case, a human life was lost. We cannot forget that,” he said. “My job as the special prosecutor in this case was to put emotions aside and investigate the facts to determine if criminal violations of state law resulted in the loss of Miss Taylor’s life.”
The facts, he said, are that Cosgrove and Mattingly returned fire after being fired upon and were justified in doing so.
“Sometimes the criminal law is inadequate to respond to or address a tragedy,” he told National Review.
“Frankly that, in my judgment, is the case here. But that doesn’t exclude my responsibility to make sure that we stand up for truth and justice in this office, and make sure that the facts lead us to conclusions,” he said.
Cameron said he recognizes that in his role, and with all public service positions, most decisions will be met with criticism, but some of that criticism has been “beyond the pale,” he said.
MSNBC host Joy Reid said on her show last month after the grand-jury decision that Cameron’s identity as a black man came second to his party affiliation and criticized him for having done “nothing but give a speech.”
“You have to always look at [political] party,” she said. “Party is the religion now in America, especially for Republicans. Don’t look at the fact that this guy is black. That does not mean anything. He is a Republican, through and through.”
On Reid’s show, Alicia Garza, an original founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, was similarly critical, comparing Cameron to the segregation-era politician Bull Connor who fought against civil rights for blacks.
“I think what I saw this morning was a Bull Connor speech in 2020. And . . . unfortunately, it was being given by a black prosecutor,” Garza said.
Cameron said he hopes the harsh backlash he has received will shine a light on the hypocrisy of the Left.
“What I hope people are seeing in this process is that a lot of those folks who preach tolerance are really being exposed for their intolerant views,” he said. “There are really a lot of intolerant people here to black folks who might have different philosophical views or don’t subscribe to a liberal orthodoxy.”
Cameron is a lifelong conservative, having been raised by two conservative parents in the former frontier town of Elizabethtown, Ky. Growing up, he worked in the coffee shop that his dad owned, and his mother taught at a community college.
“My parents are conservatives. Owning a small business lent itself to that viewpoint. Our connection to faith and church and that background sort of lent itself in our views to the Republican Party and our views on smaller government,” he said. “It wasn’t until I got to undergrad that I realized that not everybody held those views.”
Cameron studied at the University of Louisville, where he played football and later earned his law degree, in 2011. He was the recipient of one of ten McConnell scholarships, a competitive academic prize at the university, beginning an influential mentor-mentee relationship with Senator Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.).
Cameron went on to intern in McConnell’s Senate office and then clerked for a federal judge who had also previously worked for the Senate majority leader.
McConnell hired Cameron as general counsel in 2015. In that role, Cameron helped McConnell identify and promote conservative judges to the federal bench and helped to shepherd through the nomination of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.
It was McConnell who encouraged Cameron to run for attorney general.
Cameron thanked his mentor shortly after winning the AG race against Democratic competitor Greg Stumbo, becoming the first Republican elected to the office since 1944.
He said the senator “changed the trajectory of my life” by recommending that he run for the role.
“I’m proud to call him a friend, I’m proud to call him a mentor,” Cameron said.
Speaking to The Hill last year, McConnell said there are “a lot of similarities” between him and his protégé.
“Neither of us when we started out were well connected and had to start from scratch. But he’s earned this opportunity and he deserves the credit,” McConnell said. “All you could credit me with was observing the real talent.”
McConnell has supported Cameron’s work in the Taylor case, saying last month that he had “conducted exactly the kind of thorough, impartial investigation that justice demands.”
“I have full confidence in the attorney general’s painstaking pursuit of facts and justice,” he said.
But not everyone has been so kind.
The Megan Thee Stallion stunt, which Cameron called “pretty disgusting,” was just one in a series of racial attacks on the attorney general.
“There are folks that had already made a determination about how they want to see this case play out and when that didn’t happen, they’ve responded in a way that is not very civil in my judgment,” he said, saying the SNL incident was “just another demonstration of that.”
“It’s not uncommon for folks to make wild accusations about black conservatives,” he said. “This isn’t the first time it happened to me, and it certainly won’t be the last.”
Last year during the AG race, it was clear that race would play a role of outsized importance when the Lexington-Herald Leader published a cartoon depicting Cameron latching onto the coattails of a Ku Klux Klan robe worn by President Trump.
This is what the @HeraldLeader —a “tolerant,” left-leaning newspaper—thinks about black folks who dare to be Republican. You’re a racist following the KKK unless you hate @realDonaldTrump. Let’s make history on November 5th and show we don’t take orders from the elites anymore. pic.twitter.com/gjnCT4eOsg
— Daniel Cameron (@DanielCameronAG) October 27, 2019
Cameron blasted the cartoon then as evidence of liberal intolerance of “the idea of folks that look like me who happen to be Republican.”
He told National Review that “there’s a long list of black conservatives who have been disparaged just because of the political philosophy that we have.”
“I hope it exposes the intolerance of the Left and how they don’t respond in civil public conversation or discourse. The way they respond is to hurl insults at black conservatives, and it’s disappointing,” he said.
“I wake up every day and my skin is black and I’m fully aware of that,” he added. “But my responsibility as the attorney general is to be the attorney general of all of Kentucky. I ran on the idea that this office needs to be about the rule of law, and our responsibility to enforce the rule of law, regardless of the outcomes or the consequences to me whether personally or politically that is my responsibility.”
In a speech at the Republican National Convention in August, Cameron called out Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden for his disparaging remarks about the black community, including black Republicans.
“I think often about my ancestors who struggled for freedom,” he said. “And as I think of those giants and their broad shoulders, I also think about Joe Biden, who says, if you aren’t voting for me, ‘you ain’t black.’ Who argued that Republicans would put us ‘back in chains.’ Who says there is no ‘diversity’ of thought in the black community?”
“Mr. Vice President, look at me, I am black. We are not all the same, sir. I am not in chains. My mind is my own. And you can’t tell me how to vote because of the color of my skin,” he added.
Cameron recognizes that, as someone who holds public office, he is opening himself up to criticism and said he supports civil discourse and peaceful protests.
In July, more than 100 people gathered on Cameron’s front lawn to demand the officers involved in Taylor’s death be charged. Police arrested 87 protesters including Leslie Redmond, the president of the NAACP’s Minneapolis chapter; Houston Texans wide receiver Kenny Stills; and Porsha Williams, a member of the cast of The Real Housewives of Atlanta.
Jefferson County attorney Mike O’Connell ultimately dropped the felony charges against the protesters.
“Peaceful protest has been a part of our history,” Cameron told National Review. “But when we see these violent elements try to hijack peaceful protests and we’ve seen some of the looting and vandalism and burning of American cities, I mean that is disheartening.”
He believes it will take an effort from leaders on both sides to denounce that sort of conduct and “let people know that that’s outside the bounds of what is normal and appropriate.”
“I am always optimistic about the future of this country and always know that cooler heads will prevail,” he said.