On March 13, a group of plainclothes police officers raided Breonna Taylor’s home in Louisville, Ky., using a battering ram. Without identifying themselves, the officers entered Taylor’s apartment using a no-knock warrant and opened fire, fatally shooting Taylor at least eight times.
Police officers claimed to be investigating two alleged drug dealers who worked out of a house more than 10 miles from Taylor’s home. A judge issued a warrant under the pretense that one of the two men used her apartment to store a package. (Tragically, we now know the main suspect was already in custody by the time the police raided Taylor’s home, and no such package was found.)
Louisville police claim that Kenneth Walker, Taylor’s boyfriend—who believed the officers were intruders—opened fire first when they entered, wounding one of the officers in the leg. Walker was originally charged with attempted murder. However, earlier this month, the charge was dropped.
The prosecuting lawyer in Taylor’s case, Benjamin Crump, asked, “[The officers] had the main person that they were trying to get in their custody—so why use a battering ram to bust her door down and then go in there and execute her?”
No one has been charged with Taylor’s murder. But, now, two months after the Louisville police killed Taylor, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear called for both a state and federal review of the police investigation into the shooting. Finally.
Today marks what would have been Breonna Taylor’s 27th birthday. Today especially, activists and members of Taylor’s community urge individuals to #SayHerName—a campaign created to raise awareness about the number of women and girls that are killed by law enforcement officers.
Taylor, an African American emergency room technician, worked on the frontlines during the coronavirus pandemic. Her mother claimed that she planned on continuing to aid her community in the future by becoming a nurse; she also noted Taylor’s other future plans: “She had a whole plan on becoming a nurse and buying a house and then starting a family. Breonna had her head on straight, and she was a very decent person.”
Taylor’s case did not initially gain community traction, infuriating as it is. In fact, the initial stories covering her murder did not even mention her name at all; rather, they were focused on Taylor and Walker as suspects.
The coronavirus pandemic likely overshadowed community response regarding Taylor’s murder. However, it is not unusual for Black death to be overlooked and under-prosecuted. In fact, it is a systemic, racist and detrimental trend that activists have been working fiercely to combat, especially over the past week.
Yet, Taylor’s story has not sparked the same fury as that of George Floyd. And tragically, neither Black women’s experiences with police brutality nor their immense dedication to social justice movements is widely discussed.
This 2016 profile of Kimberlé Crenshaw, co-founder of the #SayHerName campaign, proves the need for the movement:
When she speaks at public meetings, Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw has a trick. She asks everyone to stand up until they hear an unfamiliar name. She then reads the names of unarmed Black men and boys whose deaths ignited the Black Lives Matter movement; names such as Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Trayvon Martin. Her audience are informed and interested in civil rights so “virtually no one will sit down.” Crenshaw says approvingly.
“Then I say the names of Natasha McKenna, Tanisha Anderson, Michelle Cusseaux, Aura Rosser, Maya Hall. By the time I get to the third name, almost everyone has sat down. By the fifth, the only people standing are those working on our campaign.”
Senator Kamala Harris tweeted, “We can’t forget about Black women in our quest for justice.”
Harris’ words echo those of many activists who are now recognizing Taylor’s story.
Black women, like Taylor, face similar challenges of institutional racism as their male counterparts: The Prison Policy Initiative found that Black women are more likely to be incarcerated than white women. Additionally, Black women are more likely than white women to be pulled over in traffic by police officers.
Without recognizing the story of Breonna Taylor, the U.S. cannot possibly begin to create reform in policy and law. Without an intersectional approach, changes in conduct will overlook the most marginalized. For instance, to date, there is not any official means of collecting information on cases of police sexual misconduct, an abuse that disproportionately affects Black women.
Actions to Take to Honor the Name of Breonna Taylor
Writer and feminist Cate Young urges action and notes important steps in which individuals can partake to make concrete change.
Celebrities have an immense power to dictate where we focus our attention. Recently, singer/actor Demi Lovato, has been utilizing her platform to inform how we can honor Taylor’s memory, largely taking inspiration from Young.
Actor Kerry Washington also publicized the importance of donating time and funds to bring attention to Taylor’s death, support to her family and power to her honor.