Breonna Taylor. It’s the name heard around the world that shook it to its core. One of way too many names that we are asked to say and remember so that injustice does not swallow up the legacy of our fallen brothers and sisters in the battle against racism in America.
Taylor was just 26 years old on March 13, 2020 when the Louisville police stormed her apartment on a now-banned no-knock warrant and fired off 32 rounds, at least six of which struck and fatally wounded her in her home. One’s home is a place that is supposed to be safe, a sanctuary. The message that was sent from the incident has always been jarring to me: We are not even safe in our own homes.
We know much about her death, but what is often not celebrated enough, is Taylor life. For that part of her story, I will refer to her as Breonna.
According to family and friends, Breonna was a hard-working, ambitious woman with goals she set in motion to accomplish. Most of us are familiar with the photo of her smiling with her EMT certification in hand and a bouquet of flowers in front of the same American flag whose lack of values would betray her later on in life. She was working to improve her credit score, saving up to buy a house, and looking to start a family with her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, who witnessed her death. She also planned to go back to school to get her nursing degree, committing her life’s work to taking care of others.
Her loved ones described her as bubbly, outgoing, assertive, and a girly-girl whose style, hair and makeup was “always on point.” On the flipside, Breonna was also into vehicles and wanted to start an all-girl car group. The more we learn about her, the more you can’t help but wonder what it would have been like if her name became famous for doing what she loved, Black excellence so to speak, rather than being a martyr in the fight to reform police.
Breonna Taylor was so much more than the figure that she has become. So much more precious than the performative activism and conscience check that mentioning her name on social media has grown into. Still, there are those who say her name consistently, repeatedly like a chant, hoping the call to action will remind people there is still work to be done. Not just in her case, but with the overall protection of Black women, period.
Some days I feel disconnected from the entire situation. I refuse to accept that something like this could just happen and the people responsible would be able to get away with it, scott-free. And then reality kicks in and I realize this same self-denial is a side effect of the constant gaslighting and turning of the other cheek when it comes to protecting Black women and demanding that our lives, voices and bodies be taken seriously and covered from the racist and sexist evils of the world.
The fact of the matter is that violence against Black women happens at a shockingly alarming rate. It happened to Oluwatoyin Ruth “Toyin” Salau, the 19-year-old Nigerian-American activist, hairdresser, model and college student who disappeared shortly after tweeting about her sexual assault. Aaron Glee Jr. was later arrested and charged with kidnapping her and murder. He also confessed that he raped her multiple times. It happened to a Harlem woman earlier this year who was beaten and mauled by a group of men after spurning their advances. It happened to transwomen such as Muhlaysia Booker, a 22-year old African-American woman who was assaulted and murdered in Dallas, Texas while others circled around her to film her attack and yell out insults and slurs. Kendrell Lavar Lyles, 34, was convicted of her murder.
All it takes is a simple search to pull up story after story with gruesome details of women being brutally threatened, attacked and murdered in a variety of spaces and settings. It’s happened to so many women, so many times that in 2019, the murdering of women in America was labeled an “epidemic” by The Guardian. Around the time of Breonna Taylor’s death, The Washington Post reported that nearly 250 women had been fatally shot by the police since 2015. Eighty-nine of those women, like Taylor, were killed in their own homes. According to the New York Times, 48 of those women were Black and there were only two charges in all of their cases.
And as these events keep happening it becomes more and more clear that we need to not only protect Black women but define exactly who and what we are protecting them from so this becomes more than a “cultural moment” or cry for help, but a practical and executable call to action.
Every now and then, when reading a news story regarding Taylor and her family, I feel we need to say more than the names of the victims. For every hero, there is a villain. Say the names of the officers who have yet to be prosecuted: Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison and Myles Cosgrove. Not repeatedly, not in memory, but in action that leads to more than just their casual termination from the Louisville metro police department. Say their names in letters and phone calls to government officials and those with the power to properly prosecute them for their crimes. Say their names in courtrooms until justice is served. Don’t let them off the hook for one moment. They are never the innocent ones here: Breonna was. Never forget.
It is important that we protect and preserve Breonna Taylor’s legacy. Not just on the anniversary of her death or by hallmarking the birthdays she should have celebrated each year. Not just during Black History Month or Women’s History Month or during protests. All of those things are significant and meaningful and symbolic and important. However, we must allow her, even in the afterlife, to be the Black woman she was always meant to be. It’s important that we honor her life, her dreams, the love she had for her family and friends. It’s important that we don’t allow her name to become a vague warning or reminder. That we continuously take action in our everyday lives, as women and as men, to make sure that what happened to her never happens to anyone else again.
Let us collectively create an environment that is safer and more sound for Black women in this world. And when that environment is threatened or compromised, justice must be served.