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Breonna Taylor verdict: why her family’s fight for justice is far from over

Breonna Taylor’s family have described the decision not to charge anyone with her death as “outrageous and offensive” – now, more than ever, we need to continue to say her name.

Updated 24 September: Family and supporters of Breonna Taylor have called a grand jury’s decision not to charge anyone with her death “outrageous and offensive” to her memory.

The verdict, which was announced yesterday, charged Brett Hankison – one of the three officers present on the scene – with “wanton endangerment” related to shots fired into a neighbour’s apartment during their raid on her home, not with Taylor’s death. The other two officers present at the scene face no charges.

Prominent civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, who is representing the family, said the verdict “denied Breonna justice” and asked law enforcement agencies and their representatives to “take a long, hard look in the mirror”.

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“Today’s news falls far short of what constitutes justice, but by no means does it define this movement or this moment in our history,” Crump said in a statement following the announcement. “The grand jury may have denied Breonna justice, but this decision cannot take away her legacy as a loving, vibrant young Black woman who served on the front lines in the midst of a devastating pandemic.

“Her killing was criminal on so many levels: an illegal warrant obtained by perjury. Breaking into a home without announcing, despite instructions to execute a warrant that required it. More than 30 gunshots fired, many of which were aimed at Breonna while she was on the ground. Many others fired blindly into every room of her home. A documented and clear cover-up, and the death of an unarmed Black woman who posed no threat and who was living her best life.

“Yet here we are, without justice for Breonna, her family and the Black community.”

Crump continued: “The rallying cries that have been echoing throughout the nation have been once again ignored by a justice system that claims to serve the people. But when a justice system only acts in the best interest of the most privileged and whitest among us, it has failed.

“For the sake of Breonna Taylor, for the sake of justice, and for the sake of all Americans, law enforcement agencies and their representatives throughout the country need to take a long, hard look in the mirror. Is this who you are? Is this the example you want to set for the rest of the world and for future generations?”

Crump also said he hoped that the FBI’s ongoing investigation into potential violations of federal law in the case would “get the justice for Breonna that the grand jury refused her today.”

Protestors take to the street in Louisville, Kentucky after the decision not to charge anyone for Breonna Taylor's death was announced
Breonna Taylor: protestors took to the street last night after the grand jury's decision not to charge anyone in relation to Taylor's death.

Following the announcement last night (23 September), protests have erupted in the city of Louisville, Kentucky, despite a 9pm curfew which was put in place ahead of the verdict. Two officers have been shot during the protests and one suspect is in custody.

Speaking after the grand jury had presented their decision, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron said the investigation into the officer’s actions found they were “justified in their use of force” because Taylor’s boyfriend Kenneth Walker had fired at them first – a move Walker says was self-defence.

As a result, Cameron said, prosecutors were unable to pursue charges in relation to Taylor’s death. 

“The decision before my office as the special prosecutor, in this case, was not to decide if the loss of Ms. Taylor’s life was a tragedy. The answer to that question is unequivocally yes,” he said. “There’s no doubt that this is a gut-wrenching emotional case and the pain that many people are feeling is understandable.”

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Cameron continued: “There is nothing I can offer [Taylor’s family] today to take away the grief and heartache as a result of losing a child, a niece, a sister and a friend.”

Although a verdict may have been reached in relation to Taylor’s death, the wide-scale protests and social media outrage to the decision are a clear sign that the fight for justice is far from over. 

As reported 17 September: It’s been just over six months since 26-year-old Breonna Taylor was shot dead by police in her home.

The shooting – which preceded the death of George Floyd – has become yet another example of the painful and dangerous reality Black people continue to face in many countries, so much so that Taylor’s face has made appearances on Black Lives Matter protest banners and murals across the globe.

But despite the best efforts of Taylor’s family and protestors across the globe, the fight to get real, tangible justice for this horrific loss of life continues.

On Tuesday (16 September), the city of Louisville, Kentucky agreed to pay Taylor’s family a $12 million settlement – reportedly the largest financial sum paid in a police misconduct case in the city’s history. They also agreed to a number of key reforms to policing in the city, including a requirement to have all search warrants approved by a senior officer. 

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This is, of course, a step in the right direction for Taylor’s family. But what it isn’t is proper, proportionate justice for a young woman whose life was stolen from her.

Speaking after the settlement was announced, Taylor’s mother Tamika Palmer described the settlement as “only the beginning” of her battle to seek justice and stressed the importance of pursuing criminal charges for the police officers who fatally wounded her daughter.

“As significant as today is, it’s only the beginning of getting full justice for Breonna,” she said. “We must not lose focus on what the real job is, and with that being said, it’s time to move forward with the criminal charges, because she deserves that and much more.”

Breonna Taylor mural
Breonna Taylor has become a symbol of the Black Lives Matter movement across the world.

Palmer continued: “Her beautiful spirit and personality is working through us all on the ground, so please continue to say her name. Breonna Taylor.”

The Taylor family’s lawyer Lonita Baker echoed Palmer’s statement, describing the settlement as just one “layer” in the family’s mission to seek justice.

“Justice for Breonna is multi-layered,” she explained. “What we were able to accomplish today through the civil settlement against the officers is tremendous, but it’s only a portion of a single layer.

“When officers cause the death of an individual it is imperative that we seek justice, not only in the criminal system, but also in our civil system.”

Baker continued: “It’s important to know here that a financial settlement was non-negotiable without significant police reform. And that’s what we were able to do today. Today what we did what we could do to bring a little bit of police reform and it’s just a start. But we finished the first mile in the marathon and we’ve got a lot more miles to go to until we achieve and cross that finish line.”

Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, died when she was shot at least five times by police officers who used a “no-knock” warrant to enter her home in the middle of the night. The warrant was granted as part of a drug investigation into her ex-boyfriend, whom police believed had used Taylor’s address to receive parcels – it has since been confirmed that no drugs were found at her address.

Breonna Taylor’s mother Tamika Palmer speaks outside Louisville City Hall after the settlement was announced.
Breonna Taylor’s mother Tamika Palmer speaks outside Louisville City Hall after the settlement was announced.

Taylor and her partner, Kenneth Walker, who had been in bed on the night of the shooting, got up when they heard a loud banging at the door.

After the officers broke the door off its hinges and barged into the house, Walker, who believed the men to be intruders, fired one shot in defence and hit one of the officers in the thigh.

In response, the police fired several shots, at least five of which hit Taylor. She died soon after on her hallway floor.

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Since those events in March of this year, Taylor’s family have been fighting for the police officers involved – Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison and Myles Cosgrove – to face criminal charges for their actions, as well as campaigning for police reform.

At an earlier stage in the case, Taylor’s family saw the first glimmer of justice with the passing of Breonna’s law, which saw the use of controversial “no-knock” warrants – like the one used in Taylor’s case – banned in Louisville, Kentucky. But since then, the family have struggled to make progress.

Most notably, none of the officers involved in Taylor’s death have been arrested or charged with any crime, and only Hankison has been formally fired. Mattingly and Cosgrove have been placed on administrative reassignment.

Black Lives Matter protest signs
Breonna Taylor is just one of many Black people who have lost their lives to the police in 2020.

This last fact alone shows just how important it is that we continue to say Breonna Taylor’s name.

In the case of George Floyd – a Black man who was killed by police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota – public pressure from protestors in the city and marches around the world means that those involved are currently facing murder charges (the trial date is currently set for 8 March 2021).

And it’s not just Taylor’s name we should be shouting from the rooftops. It’s Jacob Blake – who was left paralysed from the waist down after he was shot seven times in the back while his children were in the car. It’s Ahmaud Arbery – who was out jogging when he was fatally shot by two white men while another man filmed the confrontation. And that’s not forgetting Elijah McClain, Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin. Or here, in the UK, with Belly Mujinga, Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry. 

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If we want to see a future where Black people aren’t murdered for the colour of their skin, we need to keep saying the names of people like Taylor and ensuring that their families get justice. 

The anti-racism movement is still just as important as it was when it was trending on Twitter a couple of months ago – and if we want to see real change, it’s all of our responsibilities to take action, educate ourselves further and make our voices heard.

How you can help

This is not an exhaustive list of everything you can do to help the anti-racism movement, but we’ve collated a list of resources to get you started.

Support justice for Breonna Taylor

  • Sign the petition: Sign the change.org petition, which calls for charges to be filed immediately against the officers involved, here.
  • Donate to Breonna Taylor’s family: There has been a GoFundMe set up to benefit Taylor’s family, who are “missing out on some work (and sleep) in this fight for justice.”
  • Donate to the Louisville Community Bail Fund to help protestors on the ground.

Other campaigns to support

Not sure how? Here’s what to do:

Support anti-racism charities

For more information on charities and initiatives, you can support here in the UK, you can check out our guide. If you’ve got the means, why not consider setting up a regular payment?

Educate yourself

Developing a greater understanding of the systemic racism and white privilege that exists in our society puts us in a better position to challenge, understand or dismantle it. Some examples of books to read include: 

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