The Case of Breonna Taylor
Writer: Laila Michel
Graphic Designer: Pat Sevikul
2020 was a wild year for the United States of America, but there was one moment in particular that I don’t think I will ever, ever be able to recover from. With her name having died down in the media, and many still unclear about the specifics of her death, I felt like now is a good time to clearly lay out, dissect, and discuss the tragic murder of Breonna Taylor.
Breonna Taylor was a 26 year old EMT who lived in Louisville, Kentucky. She had been working on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic. She was a daughter, a sister, a girlfriend, and a Gemini!
Her mother says "She was a better version of me. Full of life. Easy to love."
Breonna was killed on March 13, 2020 by police officers in plainclothes who entered her home unannounced. After her murder, there followed a complicated series of lawsuits and arrests that all became kind of a blur. It is unanimously understood that she is another victim of the police brutality that disproportionately affects African Americans. When she did not receive justice, it demonstrated how this violence against black people takes its intersectional toll on black women. Nonetheless, I want to dissect her case through the lens of a timeline so that we can clearly see how she was failed on multiple levels, multiple times. Laid out like this, it will become evident that her death was preventable, and that the lack of justice comes from the negligence of her humanity on a systemic level.
Officers Cosgrove, Hankinson, and Mattingly went to the home of Breonna Taylor to serve a warrant about a drug trafficking investigation. Breonna’s ex-boyfriend sold drugs, and a judge believed he had used her apartment to receive packages.
Breonna’s current boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, was staying with her at the time. Walker’s name was not on the warrant.
The warrant was “no knock”, which means the officers weren’t obligated to announce themselves before coming into Breonna’s home. The officers say they did anyway and so does one other witness who gave inconsistent statements. Multiple other witnesses say the officers did not announce themselves, and Breonna’s lawyers disputed that claim.
Kenneth Walker and Breonna Taylor, both in bed, hear banging at the door. They call out asking who it is, but they don’t hear anyone announce themselves. Kenneth fears it is Breonna’s ex trying to break in, so he grabs his legal firearm to get ready to defend his girlfriend.
The police bust in and there’s a shootout. Breonna is shot 5 times. Walker shoots Officer Mattingly in the thigh; he later makes a full recovery.
Breonna lays dying for at least 5 minutes. No medical assistance is called until her boyfriend takes initiative and calls 911. Even on the 911 call, Kenneth still didn’t know that it was the police who were in his home. Breonna dies shortly after.
Kenneth Walker is then arrested for the attempted murder of a police officer.
No drugs are found in Breonna’s apartment.
Kenneth Walker is released from jail into home confinement.
Breonna’s mother files a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Louisville. She argues that the police made significant miscalculations when serving their warrant: they assumed Breonna was alone, they didn’t turn on their body cams, and they were dressed in plainclothes.
The charge of “attempted murder of police” against Kenneth Walker is dropped by Louisville.
However, an FBI investigation opens up.
Would’ve been Breonna’s 27th birthday.
Breonna’s Law is unanimously passed in Louisville. The law bans all no-knock search warrants and requires body cameras to be turned on before every search.
Jamarcus Glover, Breonna’s ex-boyfriend, is arrested for drug trafficking.
The prosecution offers Jamarcus a plea deal if he admits that Breonna was also guilty of drug trafficking. He refuses all offers and doubles down on her innocence.
The wrongful death lawsuit passes, Breonna’s family wins $12 million. Their settlement also includes minor police reform, such as sending social workers along with police to de-escalate situations where police are not qualified.
Breonna Taylor’s case sees the first stages of court and already, she is not receiving justice.
Officer Hankinson is the only officer facing criminal charges. He’s charged for “wanton endangerment” because of the wild, careless shots he fired at the wall of her apartment.
Officer Hankinson pleads not guilty.
A member of the jury is granted permission to speak freely about the case. They say that zero homicide charges were explained to them. The entire trial was about wanton endangerment, not the murder of Breonna.
Another juror is granted permission to publicly discuss the trial and agrees with the first juror’s statements.
The Attorney General, Daniel Cameron, doubles down on his wanton endangerment charges. He says that no murder charges are necessary.
Officer Mattingly sues Kenneth Walker for shooting him in the thigh, even though Walker only shot back in self-defense and Mattingly made a full recovery. Mattingly says it caused him emotional distress and gave him trauma.
January 6, 2021:
Detective Josh Jaynes, the man who applied for the warrant to search Breonna’s home, is fired. Detective Myles Cosgrove, the officer who shot and killed Breonna, is also fired.
From the start, Breonna Taylor was not treated like her life was valuable. The police made careless miscalculations about a warrant that shouldn’t have been approved in the first place, as she no longer had ties to the main criminal. Her justice was immediately in jeopardy when Cosgrove, Mattingly, and Hankinson all failed to turn on their body cameras. No matter what the outcome of the situation was afterwards, major evidence would not be recorded because of their negligence.
The officers then failed to successfully announce themselves, and without their uniforms on they looked like burglars. Instead of trying to de-escalate the situation to preserve life, they had a reckless shootout. Then the officers inhumanely denied Breonna medical attention but proceeded to arrest her boyfriend. The circumstances of her death are egregious and preventable already, but it gets worse as justice for these horrible acts is denied to Breonna again and again down the line.
Fortunately, charges against Kenneth Walker were dropped and Breonna’s Law was passed. Still, the prosecution tried to coerce Jarmarcus Glover into saying Breonna sold drugs, which was a shameful attempt at tarnishing her name even in her death. The officers who murdered her have also not been punished and justice has not been served. Breonna’s name was trending worldwide and many celebrities were pleading for the arraignment of officers Mattingly, Hankinson, and Cosgrove. The Louisville Police Department refused to fire or charge any of the men for months. Breonna was on the face of Time magazine and a documentary in her honor was in the works, but in real life there was still no justice.
The failure of LMPD to even attempt to hold the officers accountable proves how much the humanity of black people--specifically black women--is overlooked. After George Floyd was murdered, the officers involved were immediately fired and subsequently charged. None of the officers were charged for Breonna’s murder when her case first went to court, and only two officers involved were fired the next year. The drywall of Breonna Taylor’s apartment received justice before her black life did.
It is unacceptable, inhumane, and downright insulting to black women everywhere that an inanimate piece of drywall received lawful justice before a black woman did. It is a slap in the face to watch this happen to someone who looks just like you, yet it isn't a surprise. The sad reality of this country is that black women are the most disrespected people to walk across its grounds.
The entirety of last summer, black women showed up for everyone else while the world pushed their needs to the side. Because of intersectionality, being black and a woman lends itself to a specific type of oppression that the general conversations can’t truly advocate for. The fight against racism ignores the specific needs of their gender. Feminism ignores the specific needs of their race. Black women are stuck in a weird corner where uplifting their race and their gender still does not uplift them, but when they try to create their own conversation they’re met with backlash.
To combat this, the fight against racism needs to be inclusive of everyone, not even just women. We also need to keep our LGBTQ+ and disabled family in the forefront of our minds so that their needs are not overlooked in the fight for black liberation. Feminism also needs to be intersectional. White women need to acknowledge the privilege they still hold within the gender and make space for their black sisters/sisters of color to share how their race also affects their womanhood. The voices of black women and women of color need to be uplifted in the fight against the patriarchy.
Of course, preventing another situation like Breonna Taylor’s would take more than inclusive anti-racism and intersectional feminism, but those practices are a start that any individual can explore on their own. Major police reform and change at the systemic level needs to happen for black women to start seeing even a fraction of the justice that the American legal system owes them. We need justice for Breonna Taylor and every other black woman who has been unjustly killed at the hands of police. The United States of America is not the country it was built to be until respect is shown to black women, the backbone of this nation.
Sept. 23, 2020, Breonna's memorial at Jefferson Square, Louisville (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
What to Know About Breonna Taylor’s Death - The New York Times (nytimes.com)
Facts: What we know about the shooting death of Breonna Taylor (msn.com)
2 Louisville Officers Fired Over Role In Breonna Taylor's Death : NPR
Louisville settles Breonna Taylor's wrongful death lawsuit (nypost.com)