Name: Breonna Taylor
Title: Essential Worker and Unintended Martyr for Change in Fight for Police Reform
SpeakHer Greatness: Breonna Taylor did not intend to be a martyr. On that fateful night when Louisville Police executed a no-knock warrant that with excessive use of force and inferior police work ended with her losing her life, the ER technician had simply been home, relaxing and watching a movie with her boyfriend as the two were preparing for bed. As with many cases of brutality perpetrated by police against Black and brown people, the victim was attempting to live life much as the rest of us do as we go about our daily and nightly routines. Much like Sandra Bland in 2015, Breonna Taylor’s death has amplified the urgency of placing Black women and femmes at the center of movement spaces, something that the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation and organizations such as the African American Policy Forum—home of the #SayHerName campaign—have been committed to since their inceptions.
Taylor was shot and killed last March by plainclothes police officers during a botched raid on her apartment while she and boyfriend Kenneth Walker were sleeping. The police came firing at her front door to connect her to her ex-boyfriend’s participation in selling drugs, but he was already in custody for his crimes. Taylor was 26 when she was killed, but her death did not go in vain as it became the focus of national protests (in addition to the uproar over the murders of Ahmaud Arberry and eventually George Floyd) against systemic racism and police brutality. Ending no-knock warrants — which is how the police were able to suddenly breach her home with a battering ram — became one of the demands of protestors. People across the country kept their attention on Taylor’s situation, reminding any and everyone to “arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor.” It was all over social media, and people from everyday individuals to celebrities, particularly in the NBA and WNBA, were wearing the phrase on their clothes. The WNBA specifically partnered with Kimberlé Crenshaw, creator of the #SayHerName campaign and #WhyWeCantWait, to amplify the calls for justice for Taylor.
On June 23, 2020, three months after the incident, the LMPD fired officer Brett Hankison for firing blindly through the apartment’s patio door window. On September 23, the state grand jury indicted him on three counts of wanton endangerment, but only for endangering Taylor’s neighbors.
Detectives Myles Cosgrove and Joshua Jaynes were fired from the Louisville Police Department for their involvement in the raid. Cosgrove, who according to federal investigators ultimately was the one whose bullets killed Taylor, fired 16 rounds into the apartment. Jaynes was the one who sought the warrant. Despite some disciplinary action taken, none of the three officers involved were charged by a grand jury in her death.
As for Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, he fired a single shot at officers during the raid, assuming they were intruders. He was arrested that night and charged with the attempted murder of a police officer, however, the charges were dropped. Walker then filed a lawsuit over his arrest, asking the court to declare him immune citing Kentucky’s stand your ground law to protect him from further prosecution.
Taylor’s family settled a lawsuit against the city of Louisville for $12 million. As part of the settlement, Louisville agreed to use social workers to provide support on some police patrols, require commanders to review and approve search warrants, and offer incentives for officers to live in neighborhoods they serve, among other changes. “Justice for Breonna means that we will continue to save lives in her honor,” Tamika Palmer, Taylor’s mother said at a press conference following the settlement. “No amount of money accomplishes that, but the police reform measures that we were able to get passed as a part of this settlement mean so much more to my family, our community, and to Breonna’s legacy.”
For many people, the results of this situation show that there is still much more work to do when it comes to police reform. Controversial no-knock warrants have been banned in Louisville in a law named for Taylor, so that’s a start. As of March 4, a new motion was put into play to dismiss any further charges against Walker with prejudice. If passed, he will be immune from anything else being brought up in relation to this case.
Two other officers involved were subsequently fired from the Louisville Metro Police Department, but none of the officers involved who discharged their weapons faced criminal charges for actually killing Taylor.
Her death not only put the police’s treatment of Black women in the forefront but it also motivated a lot more people to be vocal in the need for sweeping changes within police departments around the country. Any one of us, any one of our sisters, any one of our daughters, could have been Breonna Taylor. So the fight continues in her name, for the protection of her legacy and for the protection of Black women everywhere.