(Culture)

1 Year After Breonna Taylor's Death: Reflecting On Her Life, Legacy, & The Continued Fight For Justice

"I'll never really fully be satisfied until justice is served.”

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Tamika Palmer, mother of Breonna Taylor, poses for a portrait in front of a mural of her daughter at Jefferson Square park on September 21, 2020 in Louisville, Kentucky. Demonstrators gathered to prepare for possible unrest in wake of the Grand Jury decision regarding the officers involved in the killing of Breonna Taylor. Taylor was fatally shot by Louisville Metro Police officers during a no-knock warrant at her apartment on March 13, 2020 in Louisville, Kentucky. Demonstrators have occupied the park for 118 days.

Across newscasts and social channels, many have spent this week reminiscing on the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak, which had sequestered millions of Americans to their homes by this time last year. For Tamika and Ju’Niyah Palmer, this week brings something else to mind — the very last days that their daughter and sister respectively, Breonna Taylor, would spend on earth. On Mar. 13, 2020 at 12:40 am, four police officers breached Taylor’s home and killed her while she slept — a loss that sparked an outcry around the world. One year after Taylor’s death, her family is still fighting for accountability, action, and justice — but the road ahead remains an uphill battle.

In a Mar. 11 interview with WLKY, a news anchor asked Taylor’s mother, Tamika, what emotions come up as they approach a year since the day. “Anger, still. I can't believe it's a year later and we're still just asking people to do the right thing,” said Tamika. When asked what that right thing is, she put it simply: “Charging the officers.” Leading up to that fatal Mar. 13 raid, Taylor was a 26-year-old woman, an essential worker, a beloved daughter, sister, friend, and girlfriend — and in an instant, she became a symbol of the uncompromising threats that Black women face daily, even while at rest in their own homes.

For the past year since (288 days since organizing en masse, as tallied by members of the movement), activists and protesters have been decrying that same failure of the justice system in Louisville, her hometown — particularly at Jefferson Square, a public park in the backyard of the state’s Capitol. Shameka Parrish-Wright, Operations Manager of The Bail Project and co-chair of the Kentucky Alliance Against Racist & Political Repression, renamed the park “Injustice Square” — and has set up a station that provides resources for youth activists who are seeking justice for Taylor on the ground. “It’s exhausting. We’re tired. But this movement has ignited a flame for justice that will never go out,” Parrish-Wright tells TZR.

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As seen in other active movements against police killings (Taylor’s death was mourned at the same time as the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd in 2020), consistent pressure from the public has been a consequential agent of change. On Jun. 5, which would have been Taylor’s 27th birthday, the #BirthdayForBreonna campaign emerged — with a goal of galvanizing local and state officials to action through a flood of birthday cards and social posts. Days later, Kentucky Mayor Greg Fischer passed Breonna’s Law: a citywide ban on no-knock warrants in Louisville. Of course, these successes haven’t been without a few major upsets. In September 2020, Attorney General Daniel Cameron made the much-criticized decision not to prosecute any of the four officers in connection to her killing.

"I'll never really fully be satisfied until justice is served," Tamika told WDRB News in a Mar. 11 interview. “I’ve always felt like I’ve had one job. It was to protect my kids ... She's gone, but it's still my job to make sure that she gets justice.” Parrish-Wright, whose daughters went to school with Taylor and has just announced her plans to run for Mayor in 2022, speaks on the matter of progress by policy: “They’re trying to pacify us with little things, but we have come too far to accept crumbs,” says Parrish-Wright. “Many of us have redirected our energy to fight for policy, so that nobody in [Kentucky’s] 120 counties has to go through this ever again. And I hate that it took that beautiful soul, I hate that it took her life to bring us to this point. But here’s where we are, and we don’t ever wanna be here again.”

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In order to make that certain, there are two outstanding pieces of legislation in Kentucky today: House Bill 21 (HB 21; Breonna’s Law), which calls for a complete ban on no-knock warrants, including mandatory drug and alcohol testing for officers in fatal incidents. It also names the bill after Breonna, as a way of forcing recognition and accountability onto the Louisville Metro PD for the consequences of their wanton actions. A piece of legislation has never been named after a Black woman in Kentucky — a wrong that Rep. Attica Scott hopes to “right” with this bill.

The second is Senate Bill 4 (SB 4), which significantly limits the legal grounds to use a no-knock warrant, requiring clear evidence of a violent crime and onboarding more players in the warrant-signing process. SB 4 would also make no-knock warrants reserved to certain hours of the day, and only actionable by officers in a highly-trained unit wearing body cameras. In a Mar. 10 discussion, the House Committee noted promise in both bills, urging its sponsors to work together and add a few amendments, including stationing an EMT nearby at the scene of any executed no-knock warrants.

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With just days left until Kentucky’s legislative session is set to end on Mar. 16, activists are hoping that attention around the one-year anniversary of Taylor’s death can help apply pressure to local lawmakers. “That’s where the people's power comes in,” says Parrish-Wright. “Those from the outside can keep calling to make sure that Senate Bill 4 gets those adjustments — and that it’s actually named after Breonna.”

To help fight for #JusticeForBreonnaTaylor and bring these bills to bear, it’s not just up to Kentuckians — people all over the country can take action and enact meaningful change. “Whether you’re making calls, whether you’re sharing — there’s a way for everyone to participate in this movement,” says Parrish-Wright. “People always say, ‘What would you have done in the Civil Rights era?’ We know now. This is our Civil Rights moment.”

Here are some actions you can take:

  1. Call the Kentucky State Legislature Message Line at 1–800–372–7181 and ask the Senate and House Judiciary Committee to vote YES on Senate Bill 4 and House Bill 21 to protect Kentuckians against deadly no-knock warrants.
  2. Send a pre-scripted email to members of the Kentucky Judiciary Committee letting them know that you support Senate Bill 4 and House Bill 21 (Breonna’s Law) and urging them to do the same.
  3. Follow @UntilFreedom and @BailProject for updates on the #JusticeForBreonnaTaylor movement, and consider making a donation to both efforts.