You likely have heard the name Breonna Taylor in recent conversations about police brutality. Taylor was killed in her Louisville, Kentucky home in March, and more than three months later, only one of the three officers involved in her murder has been fired. The brutal murder of Breonna Taylor was under-reported and did not incite nearly as much outrage as other similar acts of violence. While some may say that Taylor’s case received less media attention simply due to the timing of other news stories, this injustice is not isolated, reflects a wider trend, and emphasizes a need for intersectionality in social justice organizations such as Black Lives Matter.
What Happened to Breonna Taylor?
On March 13, 2020, in Louisville, Kentucky, three police officers entered the home of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency room technician, on a no-knock search warrant. Police suspected that Taylor’s residence, which she shared with boyfriend Kenneth Walker, had been used to receive packages that may have contained drugs. This warrant has been referred to by lawyers for Taylor as “another wild goose chase to try to get drug dealers” that Taylor got “lumped right into the middle of.” After an exchange in which Walker fired a gun, believing the plain-clothed police officers to be intruders, the police fired many shots, hitting Taylor at least eight times, resulting in her death.
The Louisville police claim that they fired their weapons only because Kenneth Walker fired at them first; however, the extent of force used was in no way equal. Mr. Walker is said to have fired his weapon one time, hitting an officer in the leg. That officer was expected to make a full recovery, but Mr. Walker was charged with attempted murder of a police officer. In turn, we know that the police fired at least eight times, if not more, and none of them have been charged. While this is a clear case of misuse of force, only one of the three officers involved, Brett Hankison, was fired from the police force, and none of the three faced any criminal charges. The other two officers involved, Jon Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove, have not been fired, but have rather been placed on “administrative reassignment” by the Louisville Police Department.
In response to protests around the country demanding justice for Taylor and other Black victims of police violence, Greg Fischer, the mayor of Louisville, Kentucky, has agreed to sign a law banning no-knock warrants, such as the one that led to Breonna Taylor’s murder. This law, which will be known as Breonna’s Law, will also require officers to activate body cameras at least five minutes before executing any search warrant, and will mandate that officers wait for an occupant to open the door before entering the premises. A similar law has since been proposed statewide by Senator Rand Paul.
What Makes Floyd’s Case Different Than Breonna?
After the horrific murder of George Floyd in broad daylight in late May, more than 140 cities around the country erupted in protest. While Taylor’s name was often added into conversations triggered by Floyd’s murder, she was killed in March, and few people were talking about it until May.
Some sources have said that this disparity is due to the news cycle at the time of Taylor’s death being dominated by Covid-19 news, as it was at the height of stay-at-home orders and lockdown measures. While this may have had an effect on the coverage, it still does not explain the wildly different responses between Taylor’s and Floyd’s deaths, as Floyd’s murder also occurred during intense Covid-19 coverage, and still gained much more attention. A more compelling argument is that while there is no video evidence of the police murdering Taylor due to the failure to wear body cameras, the incredibly graphic video of Floyd’s murder horrified many Americans and made them feel more compelled to act. Even with these two extenuating circumstances, many have noted that the lack of coverage in Taylor’s case is all too common in cases regarding Black women.
Justice for Breonna: Too Little, Too Late
Kimberlé Crenshaw, a social justice advocate and professor at Columbia Law School, coined the term intersectionality to explain the complexities of existing at a crossroads of multiple identities. For instance, one’s experience as Black cannot be separated from one’s experience as female. The Black experience, therefore, is not a monolith, but a nuanced combination of many different people all existing at a crossroads that involves Blackness. This nuance is incredibly important, and often overlooked, when it comes to police brutality. While there are complicating factors as to why Breonna Taylor’s murder garnered less attention than George Floyd’s, one glaring difference may be the gender of those involved. As Crenshaw says, “Although Black women are routinely killed, raped, and beaten by the police, their experiences are rarely foregrounded in popular understandings of police brutality. […] Yet, the inclusion of Black women’s experiences in social movements, media narratives, and policy demands around policing and police brutality is critical to effectively combatting racialized state violence for Black communities and other communities of color.” We cannot understand or solve police brutality without recognizing the experiences of women of color. Police brutality is too often part of the Black experience in the United States, but too often is our focus put on Black men. Women such as Breonna Taylor deserve better. They deserve to be mourned, celebrated, and have their names known.
While it is not possible to tell what exactly would have been different had Breonna’s murder garnered national attention sooner, it is easy to see that already, the short time that her story was in the spotlight is coming to a close. National outrage over George Floyd’s murder helped to arrest the officers involved, yet only one out of three officers involved in Breonna’s case has even been fired from the police force. All too soon, the news cycle will forget about the tragic murder of Breonna Taylor, and her murderers will still walk free. We cannot let this happen.
As social justice advocates, it is essential that we do not stop talking about Breonna Taylor. This being said, her case is a microcosm of a larger issue of underrepresenting injustices to women of color. I urge you, next time you see a headline about a Black woman being mistreated by the police, take the time to read, to learn her name, to fight so that there isn’t a next time.
The Say Her Name movement was created by Crenshaw to remind people on social media that “If black lives really do matter, all black lives have to matter. That means black lives across gender have to be lifted up.” Use the hashtag. Call your representatives and demand that laws banning no-knock warrants are passed in your city. Sign this petition, demanding the officers who murdered Breonna be fired. Continue to demand justice for Breonna Taylor and others like her. Remember that her life mattered. Do not let people forget, and do not let her death be in vain.