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Justiça / 11/09/2020

Breonna Taylor, the police victim in her own home who inspired campaign for justice

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Breonna Taylor, the police victim in her own home who inspired campaign for justice


Almost six months after Breonna Taylor was killed with at least five shots, fired by plainclothes policemen who had broken into her apartment door in the middle of the night, her name continues to be repeated by protesters, politicians and celebrities in the United States.

Initially, the death of the young black woman at the hands of the police, which occurred on March 13 in Louisville, Kentucky, did not attract national attention.

But two months later, in May, the death of another black American, George Floyd, in the custody of a white police officer in the city of Minneapolis (Minnesota), sparked a wave of protests against racism and police brutality in every country. United States and also in other countries.

On the streets across the country, protesters began to mention Breonna's name and call for justice. The “Say her name” campaign spread during the protests, drawing attention to this and other episodes in which black women were victims of police violence.

"People started to realize that this was also a very shocking case," says political scientist Shea Streeter, the University of Michigan, to BBC News Brazil.

"I think a lot of people were surprised and almost ashamed that they hadn't heard (about Breonna's death)."

Celebrities began to highlight the case on social media in an effort to prevent it falling by the wayside. Oprah Winfrey, Beyoncé, Viola Davis, Kim Kardashian West, Jennifer Lawrence and LeBron James are among the dozens of artists and athletes calling attention to Breonna's death and calling for the guilty to be punished.

A documentary on the case opened on Friday (4/9) on the FX channel and the Hulu streaming platform.

As a result of the commotion, Louisville went on to ban the use of the unannounced warrants tactic employed by the police in the case, in which agents can break into and search a person's home without notice and without identifying themselves (ie, the resident) may have their home invaded without knowing that it is the police).

In late June, one of the officers involved in the death was fired. Two others were placed on leave. But despite calls family, protesters and celebrities for those involved to be held criminally responsible, this has not happened so far.

Divergent versions

Breonna was 26 years old, worked as a medical emergency technician in a hospital and had plans to become a nurse.

On March 13, she and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, 27, were sleeping in the apartment she shared with her younger sister (who was traveling) when they were awakened shortly after midnight with a loud knock on the door.

Walker and the police give differing versions of what happened next. Unlike the case of George Floyd, who was captured on video and seen by millions of people worldwide, there are no images of Breonna's death, and there are doubts about several details.

The agents involved in the case, Jonathan Mattingly, Myles Cosgrove and Brett Hankison, say they knocked on the door several times and announced it was the police. But Walker said he and Breonna asked several times who he was and heard no answer.

Several neighbors also said they had not heard the police announce their presence. A resident of the building, interviewed by The New York Times, said he heard agents say "police", but only once.

The police broke down the door. In a statement, Walker said that because they had not heard an answer after asking several times who it was, he and Breonna thought the apartment was being invaded, having no idea it was the police.

Walker, who is carrying weapons, then reacted to what he thought was an assault, shooting towards the door and hitting one of the policemen in the leg. The police, in turn, when hit, responded with about 20 shots. Breonna was hit several times. The bullets also hit a neighboring apartment.

Walker called 911, the emergency number in the United States, asking for help and saying that someone had broken open the door and shot his girlfriend. When emergency services arrived, more than 20 minutes after the shots, Breonna was dead.

Ex boyfriend

In a statement published in Vanity Fair magazine, Breonna's mother, Tamika Palmer, says she was woken up by Walker on the phone saying the house had been broken into and Breonna was injured.

Palmer says he went immediately to the scene, but received no information the officers present. Only at 11 am the next morning did he learn that his daughter had been killed, and that the body was still in the apartment. But no one told him that the shots had been fired by the police.

The police action was part of an investigation involving Breonna's ex-boyfriend, who was suspected of selling drugs and who had been convicted of trafficking on previous occasions. He lived at another address, far away.

But, based on Breonna's relationship with the suspect, the police received permission a judge to carry out a search warrant in her apartment as well.

“Breonna Taylor's death was a tragedy. Period, ”Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said last month after details emerged about his connection with his ex-boyfriend.

Lawyers hired by Breonna's family say no drugs or money of suspicious origin were found in the apartment.


Over the months, Breonna's death has gained more attention, becoming one of the symbols of police brutality in the United States.

"What is most disturbing about Breonna is that you assume you are safe in your own home," says political scientist Christian Davenport, a professor at the University of Michigan, to BBC News Brazil.

"She was doing what everyone else does," he says, noting that many people identified with the case.

“The fact that the sanctity of the home has been violated when, in the United States, private property is one of the most sacred things. How can someone be victimized (by the police) inside their own home? ”

On June 5, the date on which Breonna would turn 27 and at the height of protests against racial injustice in the country, dozens of famous names used their social networks and the hashtag #SayHerName to ask that the three police officers who shot them be arrested and prosecuted.

Almost six months after his death, the movement continues. Last month, during the Democratic national convention, the party's vice presidential candidate, Kamala Harris, spoke about Breonna. Former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and former first lady Michelle Obama also mentioned her name.

Oprah Winfrey even paid for the installation of 26 billboards (one for each year of Breonna's life) in Louisville asking for justice in the case. She also put Breonna on the cover of her magazine, O, the first time in the publication's 20 years that the cover is not illustrated with an image of the presenter.

“She was like me. She was like you, ”wrote Oprah in the magazine's September issue. "Imagine if three unidentified men invaded your home while you were sleeping."

"We have to use any megaphone we have to ask for justice," said the presenter.

In June, Beyoncé wrote an open letter to Kentucky attorney general Daniel Cameron asking him to do justice to the case and "demonstrate the value of a black woman's life."

On Monday (31/08), tennis player Naomi Osaka wore a mask with the name of Breonna during a match at the US Open, to draw attention to the case. "I know tennis is watched all over the world, and maybe there is someone who doesn't know the story of Breonna Taylor," said the athlete.


Researcher Philip McHarris, Yale University, points out that the attention generated by the case is the result of a long effort by activists to focus on police violence against black women.

"Historically the focus has been on black men killed by the police," McHarris tells BBC News Brasil, noting that there are several other cases in the United States of black women killed by the police.

But despite protests in the streets, petitions and mobilization on social media, none of the policemen responsible for the shooting was criminally charged. The case is being investigated by state officials and the FBI.

Hankison, the sacked officer, was criticized by the chief of police for breaking department rules by making at least 10 shots in an "irresponsible" manner, without having a clear visibility. He's appealing the decision.

Breonna's boyfriend Walker was arrested and charged with attempted murder against the policeman who was shot in the leg. Two months later, the charges were dropped. This week, he announced that he is suing the city government and the police, claiming that his action is protected by state law and that he acted in self-defense.

"I was raised by a good family," Walker said at a news conference. "I am a legal owner of weapons and would never knowingly shoot a police officer."

Kentucky is one of the American states there is a law called “stand-your-ground”, which allows residents to defend their home with lethal force if necessary. Walker shot unidentified people who were breaking into the property and can therefore claim that his action is protected by that law.

But Kentucky is also one of the states police officers who use lethal force in self-defense have the same protections as ordinary citizens, even in the event that the agents may have triggered the episode with their actions.

The officers involved in Breonna's death opened fire after they were hit by Walker's shot. Therefore, they can be protected for having acted in defending themselves. With that, both Walker and the police could claim self-defense.

The type of search warrant used in Breonna's apartment, without warning or identification by the police, is prohibited in various parts of the country because of the risks it poses, with several cases of innocents killed by mistake and also of police officers killed by residents who thought their house was being robbed and they opened fire.

In addition to the law that banned its use in Louisville, a proposal that makes the ban federal was also presented to Congress. Both were named after Breonna Taylor.

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