Over five months ago, a 26-year-old Black woman died. Her name has now become known all over the country. Her name is Breonna Taylor.
Activists are still demanding for her killers to be arrested, charged and convicted. She was fatally shot by former Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) officer Brett Hankinson and current officers Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove. The officers had attained a no-knock search warrant in order to look for drugs and illicit cash. They forcibly entered the apartment and killed Ms. Taylor after exchanging gunfire with her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker. Neither drugs nor illicit cash were found in the apartment.
“The main demands that the community and Breonna’s family are asking for is that the police officers involved are fired and charged with the murder,” said Keturah Herron, a local organizer in Louisville. “It’s been very slow. We’ve seen other jurisdictions take immediate action against police officers in the last few months when they’ve been involved in any type of excessive force that has caused death, and we have just not seen that here in Louisville.”
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. On Aug. 23, the 34-year-old Republican tweeted little information regarding the investigation.
“The investigation remains ongoing, and our office does not plan to make an announcement this week,” he wrote. “We continue to pursue the facts in this case through an independent and thorough investigation.”
He then name-dropped Breonna Taylor at the Republican National Convention on Aug. 25.
“It was General Dwight Eisenhower, a future Republican president, who said, ‘Democracy is a system that recognizes the equality of humans before the law.’ Whether you are the family of Breonna Taylor or David Dorn, these are the ideals that will heal our nation’s wounds,” he said.
The Louisville police department held a press conference after Ms. Taylor’s death announcing that the LMPD Public Integrity Unit would be investigating the shooting. The Jefferson County Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Wine and his office were initially supposed to review the investigation, but in May, his office released a statement recusing the office from the Breonna Taylor investigation, and they requested a special prosecutor be assigned. The office was prosecuting Mr. Walker, Breonna Taylor’s boyfriend, at that time, for attempted murder of an officer.
“Because our office is prosecuting Mr. Walker’s case, Mr. Wine believes that our office is conflicted from reviewing the LMPD Public Integrity Unit investigation,” the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office said in the statement. “We are requesting that the matter be assigned to a special prosecutor to review the investigation for future action.”
The investigation was then passed to Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s office.
David Dorn was a Black retired police captain who was killed during the lootings that took place after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn.
The day after Mr. Cameron’s GOP convention speech, Tamika Palmer, Breonna Taylor’s mother, released a statement in response.
“It was nice to see him using a national platform to remind those watching the Republican convention of my daughter’s name,” she said. “I hope the next time we see him he’s telling the country he’s charging all officers responsible for my daughter’s death and is committed to getting her overdue justice.”
Ms. Herron, who is also the policy strategist for the ACLU of Kentucky, believes that the city and state waited for and are waiting for the Republican convention and Kentucky Derby to pass before announcing a decision.
“I think now at this point in the game, because it’s been so long, I believe that they know what has happened. I believe that they know what they’re going to say,” she said. “I honestly think that they are now kind of waiting it out until these events pass by before they make an announcement.”
She also finds it interesting that any time police are involved in a shooting where a civilian is killed, the police, the media and the city tries to vilify the victim.
“We’ve seen it with George Floyd, we’ve seen it with Trayvon Martin and we’ve also recently seen it with Jacob Blake a couple of days ago,” she said. Mr. Blake is a Black father shot seven times in the back by a White police officer in Kenosha, Wisc., and left paralyzed
Her comment was in response to a 39-page internal report by the LMPD that tried to link Breonna Taylor with Jamarcus Glover, a target in a drug probe who was arrested the day Ms. Taylor was shot. According to the Louisville Courier Journal, the report “provides no explanations or evidence aimed at justifying the shooting that has sparked three months of protests in Louisville, Kentucky, and national outrage.”
Ms. Herron said it’s disrespectful and distasteful that the department would go back years to paint a picture of Breonna Taylor to justify her murder.
“I think that what we have to be aware of and stick to is that police have a duty to do thorough investigations and have thorough evidence before they go in and do any type of search warrant. And it’s very obvious that in this case, there was no reason for them to go to Breonna Taylor’s house that night,” she said.
“For one, Glover, the main suspect, was already in police custody, and so for them to go back now and try to do this deep investigation and trying to damage her character, it’s disrespectful. And I think that it just goes to show that the way the system is set up, our system doesn’t care about Black bodies.”
“Black people are the only people in this nation that are not allowed to go through the system. They are not allowed to defend themselves in front of the court of law,” she continued. “It just sheds light on this bigger issue of, the system has not been created for us. It was not founded for us, and we continue to see how that continues to harm us, from policing from the beginning to also justice in the courtroom.”
Those who have been demanding justice for Breonna have been actively pushing legislation. On June 11, Louisville’s Metro Council passed Breonna’s Law, which banned the use of no-knock warrants in the city.
Other pieces of legislation proposed, Ms. Herron said, include legislation about policing and proposals to stop the local police department from using militarized tactics such as tear gas and pepper balls against unarmed protesters.
State Representative Attica Scott (D) is pushing for Breonna’s Law to be statewide.
“I filed Breonna’s Law because I was listening to people in my community, folks that I was out protesting with who were very clear that we need to end these home invasions by police, or these no-knock warrant raids,” she said.
The three main pieces to the bill are to end no-knock warrants in Kentucky, to mandate that body cameras be turned on five minutes before a search warrant is served and five minutes after it’s served and to wait 10 seconds after a warrant is served before entering a property.
“It’s so important to pass Breonna’s Law for Kentucky because we have to protect people across the commonwealth from violent police and violent police actions. And by passing Breonna’s Law for Kentucky, we are protecting people from Appalachia to rural, western Kentucky and all counties in between,” she said. “And it’s important to pass Breonna’s Law because as Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley often says, the people closest to the pain should be the closest to the solutions. I’m from Louisville. I’ve been out protesting. I’ve been teargassed by the police along with my 19-year-old daughter, so I know how important public policy is and changing public policy so that we can protect the people.”
Rep. Scott is working to get the bill heard during the interim session happening up to December. She sent the request to House leadership on Aug. 24 and hopes that the bill is heard and discussed so that when January arrives, the bill will be ready to be voted on.
She commends the people of Louisville who have been out protesting at what she and other activists call “Injustice Square Park” for nearly 100 days.
“They’ve done an amazing job of continuing to say her name, to amplify her story, to push back on the police narratives about her and to demand justice,” she said.
She urges other states to file their own Breonna’s Law like Pennsylvania and Virginia did.
“That’s the kind of transformative change we need in this country,” she said.