LOUISVILLE—Until Freedom, a social justice organization led by activist Tamika D. Mallory, hosted a four-day conference, BreonnaCon, to organize, educate, train and keep up the demand that officers who shot a young Black woman to death in a no-knock raid be charged and prosecuted.
It also kicked off a 30-day campaign, with activists from the New York-based group moving into the city to fight for justice for Breonna Taylor, who was shot to death in her sleep as cops invaded her home.
The four-day event included community services, food and school supply giveaways, male and female empowerment forums, a barbeque, park revival and protests. Events closed Aug. 25, with protests designated as “Good Trouble Tuesday,” a phrase coined by the late civil rights leader and U.S. Representative John Lewis who used civil disobedience to fight America’s legal racial segregation.
After six months of protesting, little has changed and no charges have been filed against cops involved in the death of the 26-year-old EMT. She was hit by eight of the 20 shots cops fired in her apartment. Louisville Metropolitan Police Department narcotic officers entered into her home without notice. She was sleeping when the officers forced their way in March 13, seeking someone who didn’t live at the address and who had been arrested earlier the same day.
Officers crashed the apartment Ms. Taylor and her boyfriend Kenneth Walker III were inside. Mr. Walker admitted firing his legal gun as intruders broke into his home and he called 911. He was initially charged with attempted murder of a police officer but was later released from jail and charges were dropped.
“We’re hoping that at least four of the officers involved that evening is arrested and charged. Oftentimes people talk about three of the officers, Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison and Myles Cosgrove who were on the scene that night who fired their firearms. But we are also including Officer Joshua James, who is on administrative leave right now. He’s the officer who applied for the no-knock warrant from the judge in which he lied in the information presented to the judge. It was not factual so we believe that he is equally if not even more responsible for what happened that night,” Ms. Mallory told The Final Call.
The decision on whether or not the officers will be criminally charged lies on the shoulders of Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, the state’s first Black attorney general. The 34-year-old Republican spoke at the GOP national convention and mentioned Ms. Taylor’s name but offered no information about her case.
Local activism for a national cause
Celebrities, athletes, activists and groups across America have spoken out about Breonna Taylor’s death. Still, none of the officers involved in her death have been arrested.
BreonnaCon put people and the focus on the ground in the city where the killing occurred and where the legal process can hold the cops involved accountable.
Approximately 1,000 people marched to the Louisville Police Training Academy building then blocked streets near the world-famous home of the Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs. Protestors walked in the middle of the streets towards the bridge to the campus of the University of Louisville.
“What the (explicit) are y’all doing? They are setting us up,” a protestor yelled as militarized police with high powered weapons blocked the bridge behind protestors. On the opposite side, police prevented movement of protestors as officers encircled them and made arrests.
Ms. Mallory said being in Louisville for weeks was a humbling experience. “We have left our families behind. A number of leaders came from across the country to join us. One of our dear brothers who I have just a soft heart for and that is a young man who was one of the leaders on the ground in Ferguson,” she said.
“We all know that the Ferguson movement is where we really began to see what young folks were made of. In this new time within the civil rights era and social justice fight and that is our brother Tory Russell. So, we are on the battlefield in BreonnaCon.”
Shaun King, columnist and, civil rights activist, spoke at a BreonnaCon press conference. “We are calling for justice for Breonna and what I’ve learned is that you don’t get nothing that you don’t demand. So, we’re demanding it and people are organizing around smart policy changes that will change these systems to prevent these types of shootings from ever happening in the first place,” he said.
“A beautiful thing that’s happening now is people are getting organized in smart, deep ways. Change takes strategy, it takes deep commitment and that’s hard to do during a pandemic. … It’s powerful.”
The press conference at Simmons College, an HBCU, was dedicated to the many families that have lost loved ones to police killings and violence. Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton joined Tamika Palmer, Breonna Taylor’s mother, George Floyd’s nephew and other families.
“It means everything to be here and stand in solidarity with Breonna Taylor’s family and the rest of the families. It shows that you’re not in this alone. Hopefully, these killings will stop and the racial profiling and the social injustices and everything that’s going on in this country need to be addressed,” said Brandon Williams, a nephew of George Floyd, who died in the custody of Minneapolis police officers in May with a cop kneeling on his neck. His videotaped death ignited protests and unrest around the country.
“Until Freedom is very specific about going to places where folks don’t usually go. We are very intentional about bringing people into this work who are not always on the frontline. They’re not always protesting; they don’t necessarily have entry points into the work. Maybe they feel uninvited or won’t be included because they’re dancing on a poll at night or standing on a street corner in the daytime,” said Ms. Mallory. “Our goal is to draw those people in so that we can change their lives and get them to be a part of this movement that is about them as well.”
Pastor Jamal Bryant, of New Birth Church in Atlanta, said, “The first thing is the church has to become more involved in the process, to move from the sidelines to the frontline. And I think that the whole policing structure in America has got to be dismantled and rebuilt. We can no longer stand by and watch, we must get in the fight.”
Historically injustice and racism have been common practice in Kentucky and throughout America and leaders like Mattie Jones, a longtime civil rights activist and legendary freedom fighter wields influence in Kentucky.
One of her mentees, Rochelle Mitchell, 32, from Louisville, said, “I feel like the only solution to what is happening to us as a people is that we have to come together as a community. As a community, we have to decide what we want and what we need amongst each other and then move forward demanding what we want and what we need from the powers that be so to speak.
“We have to fight power with power. We have the power but it’s up to us to recognize we have the power and use that power to fight for our community. Then we can move forward and live a successful life here in America and around the world. We know we are not the only ones who are oppressed. We have many ethnicities that are being oppressed: the Palestinians, the Muslims, Africans, you name it, it’s just so many.”
A service day was held Aug. 22 at the Louisville Urban League building. Until Freedom and volunteers gave over 500 boxes of food, school supplies, masks and other safety items to families for nearly three hours. Cars lined up the street and wrapped around the building to get served and greeted with smiles and cheers.
Susan Tyson, a volunteer for Until Freedom, said, “I’ve been on the streets since day two of protesting. But being with Until Freedom has really shown me a way to strategically approach. It is not necessarily only about Breonna Taylor because unfortunately it keeps happening over and over again. It just happened in Wisconsin. So, the fight continues and what we are saying … ‘Until Freedom.’ This is a marathon and we can’t stop now, until we get what we want and that’s justice,” she said.
An empowerment event for women included reality show cast members from “The Real Housewives of Atlanta”, Porsha Williams and Phaedra Parks, Gizelle Bryant from “The Real Housewives of Potomac” and Yandy Smith-Harris from “Love & Hip-Hop New York.” The event was filled to capacity and people were outside wanting to get in.
Both men and women events were held at the same time.
At the male empowerment forum, young and old talked about issues surrounding Black men. Kenneth Walker III, Breonna’s boyfriend, attended the session. He chose not to speak to the group at the Kula Art Gallery. His father, however, Kenneth Walker, Jr., told The Final Call about challenges his family and son have faced.
“My son was in jail for about a month on charges of attempted murder of a police officer. But they dropped the charges with prejudice, meaning that they can bring them back any time they want,” explained Mr. Walker, Jr.
“It has been very difficult for him. I think he has a severe case of PTSD. It’s going to be a long and difficult road for him in recovering from this, if ever. Breonna was the love of his life.”
“I want to see justice for both families, but mainly for Breonna. What a beautiful soul and beautiful young lady. There is no way that she should have ever lost her life in that manner and that he should have been in that situation defending his home and his soul mate,” said Mr. Walker, Jr.
Infinite Community Achievement, LLC, which serves teenage boys in Lexington, Ky., participated in the men’s event. Fifteen-year-old Jordon Holmes appreciated being at BreonnaCon and felt youth have an important role to play in improving things.
“I want to start off saying, what the cops did to Breonna Taylor was really ruthless and belligerent and us as Black people need to come together more as a nation. I’m here today with my ‘family.’ And at first, I really didn’t know if I should come or not. But now, I know why I came, it really has changed my life. I’m like ‘wow’ this is really an eye-opener. We must be more active and do everything to make the community better,” he said.
“We are the last, next generation and everyone is looking up to us to make a change in this earth, so it starts with us younger people, as youth we need to step up and start following people and make better choices in our pathway. And we need to raise our sons and daughters to know this isn’t right,” the teenager added.
Louisville State Representative Attica Scott authored “Breonna’s Law” for Kentucky to end police no-knock warrants. “Too often people think that Black folks are only in Lexington and Louisville. Black people are in every single one of our 120 counties in Kentucky, every single one,” she said.
“Breonna’s Law for Kentucky would mandate that when a law enforcement officer is involved in violence against the people they are supposed to protect and serve, they have to submit to alcohol and drug testing,” added Ms. Scott. “You don’t get to wander off for an hour or more and we don’t know where you are or what you’re doing. In the third piece of Breonna’s Law for Kentucky, it would be mandated that five minutes before a warrant is served, and five minutes after body cameras have to be on.”
“We’re now being attacked by the Kentucky State Fraternal Police Order for Breonna’s Law. But we will not back down, we are going to keep fighting,” said state Rep. Scott. “This is a policy movement that’s going to all across the country and I appreciate all of the support on the Breonna’s Law for Kentucky, we’ll get it done.”
Pennsylvania state Senator Tim Kearney has filed the Breonna’s Law in Pennsylvania.
“You may not understand our mission. Some folks may not understand why we do things the way that we do but what we know is that at many of the events that we had in the activities this week we met people who said, ‘I’m from this town but I’ve not attended a protest, but I’ve learned more about what you all are doing. I’m going to say Breonna Taylor’s name,’ ” said Tamika Mallory of Until Justice.
“Breonna Taylor is not just a young woman who was killed, she’s a young woman who had a life. That’s why we came here to be diverse and we protest for sure. We’re the first ones that will go out there and protest, but we also understand that the importance of uplifting the community and giving people the vital tools that they need to feel a part of this work. That’s what BreonnaCon is about,” she said.