Breonna Taylor was sleeping in her own home on March 13 when police stormed into her apartment just after midnight with a battering ram and shot her at least eight times. Almost three months later, none of the police officers involved have been charged with a crime.As waves of protests spread across the United States…
Breonna Taylor was sleeping in her own home on March 13 when police stormed into her apartment just after midnight with a battering ram and shot her at least eight times. Almost three months later, none of the police officers involved have been charged with a crime.
As waves of protests spread across the United States and around the world to push for justice for George Floyd, who was killed by police on May 25, activists are shining a spotlight on the case of Breonna Taylor as well and calling for a sharper focus on the police violence that Black women experience.
“I wanted to make sure that if we were finally going to be doling out justice that she would get some too,” says Cate Young, the writer who is leading the Friday action for Taylor. “It’s terrifying to feel like if it happened to me, no one would care enough to do anything about it.”
Friday, June 5, would have been Breonna Taylor’s 27th birthday. A grassroots group of women—artists, coders, social media experts, and influencers, led by a Black woman writer—are marking the occasion with digital celebrations of her life and demands for justice: the #BirthdayForBreonna campaign. It’s a virtual art show, a political action, a memorial service, and a party. We’re all invited to contribute.
The story of Taylor’s killing is so horrifying—so violent, so blatantly arbitrary—that it almost seems unreal. Suspecting that Taylor’s apartment was being used to store drugs, police rushed in late at night with a no-knock warrant, the Louisville Courier Journal reported. (Taylor wasn’t a suspect in the case, and no drugs were found in her apartment.)
Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, who was sleeping with her in her bed, says he fired his legally owned gun in self-defense against intruders who, he says, hadn’t announced themselves as law enforcement. (An officer’s leg was wounded, but he is expected to make a complete recovery.) Officers fired shots, hitting Taylor eight times.
There is no footage of the shooting, since the officers who were involved were not wearing body cameras. The three officers have been placed on leave, but to date, none of them have been charged.
Police forcibly entering a private home, shooting a woman to death, and not swiftly facing consequences seems, even in a country with a well-documented racist police brutality problem, unbelievable. But it happened to Taylor. And after a burst of news, her death was quickly overshadowed by the then nascent pandemic.
“I watched as her name just stopped coming up,” Young says.
More than two months later, the FBI opened an investigation into the shooting, the New York Times reported. Louisville mayor Greg Fischer has suspended no-knock warrants and promised to update the policy to require all officers to wear body cameras while serving warrants, or doing work that requires them to identify themselves as officers. But the officers who entered Taylor’s home still walk free.
Taylor was an emergency room technician who, her mother Tamika Palmer says, had plans to become a nurse and hoped to start a family. She was serving as an essential worker just as the coronavirus pandemic began to take hold in the United States. She is remembered as someone who loved to help people. “She didn’t deserve this,” Palmer told the Courier Journal.
Between the coronavirus pandemic and the justified outrage over the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, the name Breonna Taylor didn’t rise to the top of most people’s full newsfeeds. After immense public pressure, the office who was filmed kneeling on Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes has been charged with second-degree and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in his death, and the three other officers who were on the scene have been charged with aiding and abetting murder. But there has been no justice for Breonna Taylor.
“It has been three months since Breonna was murdered, and not one of the officers who killed her have been charged,” California senator Kamala Harris tells Glamour. “We can’t erase Breonna Taylor and the many Black women killed at the hands of law enforcement. Black women are sadly the victim of police violence and systemic racism that has spanned generations. Police reform is possible, we just need the political will to act.”
The actions that Young and a network of women have created to mark Taylor’s birthday are simple and direct. You can do them one after another in a few minutes, or you can choose to spend more time on them, channeling your heartbreak and outrage into creative projects. All of the information is laid out on this website. But here’s an overview of what
Flood your timeline, on IG, Twitter, TikTok and Facebook, with images of Taylor and original art (here are a few really gorgeous online options) made in celebration of her life. If you’re an artist, you can add your own contributions. Use the hashtags #SayHerName and #BirthdayForBreonna. Don’t forget to tag the artists!
“When there isn’t a video account, something people can see with their own eyes, it’s harder to get people to understand the gravity and the injustice and harder to gain momentum in the media,” says Ariel Sinha, the artist who created the image of Taylor that’s being used in the birthday campaign.
Sinha, who has also created portraits honoring Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, says, “I didn’t want their lives reduced to or defined by the violence of their killings, so I chose vibrant colors and peaceful flowers—and I chose to draw them with their eyes open and looking straight at the viewer as if to say, ‘Look at me. Look me in the eye. I’m not a symbol or a statistic. I was a human being with a family and a bright future ahead of me and that was taken away from me.’”
Call for change.
Sign the official petition calling for charges against the officers, for damages to be paid to Taylor’s family, for a special prosecutor to be appointed for Taylor’s case, and for Congress to push for legislation banning no-knock warrants. You can sign on to all these demands in just a second. And you’ll join a group of signatories that includes Janelle Monáe and Megan Thee Stallion.
Give generously, if you can.
Send a #BirthdayForBreonna card to the Louisville mayor as well as the governor and attorney general of Kentucky demanding that Breonna’s killers be charged. Artist Ayla Sidney made a gorgeous printable card. You can find their mailing addresses right here. Don’t be afraid to keep sending cards after Friday—you can treat June as Breonna’s birthday month.
Then send an email to that same group. Victoria Wilson, a web-development project manager, created a link that redirects to an automated email, so sending it literally takes five seconds. You can send it in the time it took to read this sentence.
Wilson collaborated with a coworker to build a code that redirected users from a link to an automated email, which she wrote with Young’s help. “It felt amazing to be able to do something tangible and help in demanding justice for Breonna Taylor,” she says. “I’ve struggled quite a bit with the fact that I haven’t been able to get out and protest due to the pandemic and me being immunocompromised. I’ve also been very frustrated by the fact that the unjust murders of Black women are often forgotten about and overlooked in this fight for racial equity and justice. This reaffirmed for me that there are many roles to be played in this fight; you just have to tap in.”
Know the history.
Taylor joins a group of women who have experienced a double injustice—first killed at the hands of law enforcement, then treated as an afterthought, even in death. She rests in power with Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Tanisha Anderson, Atatiana Jefferson, Charleena Lyles, and other Black women whose killings seldom dominate the news. But with the help of Black women, Taylor’s name is making its way, at long last, into headlines and viral tweets.
Michelle Obama spoke out about her. Meghan Markle referenced the killing in an emotional address to her high school’s graduating class. Gabrielle Union tweeted a call to bring Taylor’s killers to justice. Senator Kamala Harris has called for an investigation into the shooting and has continued to draw attention to Taylor’s story in public statements.
For anyone wondering how to be useful in the face of giant systems of inequality that are older than our own country—the #BirthdayForBreonna campaign is your in. “I just wanted to do something,” Young, the campaign creator, says. “I’ve been watching the news and it’s made me feel helpless, and this is kind of a way to do something. I cope a lot better when I have work, and so I made some work for myself, basically.”
Taylor’s story is outrageous, even among the many stories of horrific violence perpetrated against Black Americans by police and civilians. Her birthday should be an outrage of colors and art, of mourning and rage, of action and hope. Come to the party, the memorial, the stay-at-home protest. It’s BYOR: Bring Your Own Rage. The #BirthdayForBreonna team will bring everything else, right here.
Jenny Singer is a staff writer for Glamour. You can follow her on Twitter.