The response to Taylor’s case is only now gaining momentum—thanks to the work of Black activists and supporters taking every opportunity they can to highlight the need for justice for unarmed Black women and children killed by police.
It has been 143 days since Breonna Taylor was killed, and no arrests have been made for her senseless death. The 26-year-old was fatally shot by Louisville police serving a no-knock warrant in the early morning hours of March 13. Police in plain clothes shot her eight times; her boyfriend Kenneth Walker returned fire, and was arrested and taken to jail. Taylor died alone in her hallway without any medical attention.
What crime did this EMT and aspiring nurse commit that evening? Dozing off while lying in bed, watching a movie with her bae. Taylor was in the right place—her home—at the wrong time and she is now dead.
It has been 143 days and calls for justice have gone unanswered. Sure, there’s an FBI investigation, one officer has been fired, but the other two involved officers are still on the force. There have been rumblings it will be hard to bring criminal charges against the police involved; there isn’t videotaped evidence, though there is the eyewitness account of Walker and extensive investigative reporting demonstrating incompetence at best and an execution at worst.
Two months after her brutal death, George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis, and the gut-wrenching video of his last moments sparked a worldwide protest movement.
Yet the response to Taylor’s case is only now gaining momentum—thanks to the work of Black activists and supporters (mostly women) taking every opportunity they can to highlight the need for justice for unarmed Black women and children killed by police
For the first time in history, Oprah Winfrey gave up the cover shot of her publication O Magazine to run a photo of Taylor. “Her life matters,” the cover line reads.
During the #challegeaccepted social media challenge—in which women post a black and white photo of themselves to celebrate one another—many instead are posting photos of Taylor to call for the arrest of her killers.
Even the Tampa Bay Rays have used their social media to shed light on Taylor’s killing. The official team Twitter account sent the tweet the morning of opening day, July 24: “Today is Opening Day,” it read, “which means it’s a great day to arrest the killers of Breonna Taylor.” (The tweet was condemned by Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who contacted the Rays president to express his disdain.)
Taylor is finally becoming part of the national dialogue around race and racism that exploded following the uprisings around the police killing of George Floyd.
But why is it that the cases of Black women and girls killed in their homes by police—Atatiana Jefferson, Korryn Gaines, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, to name a few—do not receive the same spotlight and energy given to cases of Black men killed by police?
Activist scholars Dr. Patricia Hill Collins, bell hooks, and Dr. Kimberle Crenshaw have been writing about triple consciousness and intersectionality for decades. Black women exist in a precarious space; our allies are often our oppressors so Black women’s specific issues are sometimes obscured or made invisible because of our continued subjugation within the larger groups.
When folks talk about race and racism, they are largely talking about Black men, and when they talk about gender, they are often talking about white women. Where does that leave Black women? Like Taylor’s case, nowhere.
If you add class to the discussion and move beyond binary constructions of gender, it is clear that the lives of Black women, cis, trans, or otherwise are devalued in this country. Ironically, the Black Lives Matter movement was founded by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, three Black women, two of whom identify as queer. They have done amazing work in the area of social justice. While many can easily name DeRay McKesson, Shaun King, and others associated with the movement, the three women who actually founded it are barely acknowledged in the media.
Therein lies the rub. Black women are rarely centered in these broader conversations, even in their own creations like the Black Lives Matter movement. When we experience similar incidents like police brutality, sexual assault, violence, or femicide in alarming numbers like in South Africa and Turkey, the response just isn’t the same.
Brayla Stone, Merci Mack, Shaki Peters, Draya McCarty, and Bree Black are five Black trans women killed in July—do you know their names? How is it we can live in a country that reacts so briskly and valiantly to the murder of George Floyd as we should, but has yet to respond with the same intensity and energy for Breonna Taylor and the Black women and girls murdered by police who have come before her?
This is why the #SayHerName initiative is so important; it elevates the voices and stories of Black women who are often silenced, othered, or made invisible because of racism, sexism, transphobia, and the like.
What happened to Taylor is a function of the ways in which race and gender intersect in this country. The way society at large has treated her is a microcosm of the ways in which Black women are too often marginalized and discarded, despite the myriad and influential ways we contribute to said society.
If your life is valued by society, justice can and does occur. In 2017, Justine Ruszczyk was an unarmed white woman killed outside of her home by police in Minneapolis. Mohamed Noor, a Somali-American officer, was charged, arrested, and convicted of the murder and is now serving a 12.5 year sentence in prison. The city quickly settled Ruszyck’s family’s lawsuit, agreeing to an astounding $20 million settlement.
To think we haven’t stood up collectively for someone like Breonna Taylor—who saved lives as an EMT during her short life—with the same energy as other victims is despicable. America has a problem with Black women, and one O magazine cover and a series of tweets isn’t going to fix it.
But it’s a start.