One year ago, Breonna Taylor settled down for the evening with her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker. She expected a quiet night with just the two of them watching movies, laughing, comfortable together while negotiating the beginning of a pandemic that was still a mystery to so many people. Going to bed that evening, how could she ever imagine that the safety and sanctity of her home would be compromised and that her death would spark a national movement aimed squarely at police misconduct and the desperate need for reform.
Today, we remember the passing of the 26-year-old promising EMT worker whose light was prematurely extinguished when she was fatally shot by Louisville Metro Police officers. We remember how she was killed after officers entered her home executing a search warrant for drugs that were never found. We remember how Walker tried to defend their home, firing a warning shot at who he believed to be an intruder after saying officers never identified themselves. We remember how former Officers Brett Hankison, Jonathan Mattingly, and Myles Cosgrove were never convicted or held responsible for her death.
We remember the weeks of protests and the miles pounded in marches in Louisville and other cities demanding justice for Breonna. We remember state Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who came under fire for the way he handled the case against the officers including the grand jury’s decision to indicate only one of the three and not based on the charges surrounding her death. Most importantly, we remember Taylor’s family, acknowledging the grief and loss endured by her sister Ju’Niyah Palmer and her mother, Tamika Palmer who once described Taylor as “simply amazing.”
Now, on the one-year anniversary of Taylor’s death, BET.com spoke to several notable activists and philanthropists who also remember Breonna Taylor by discussing her impact, her legacy, and how the world can continue to celebrate the life of the young woman who sparked a global movement for change.
BET.com: How has the country changed since Breonna Taylor’s death a year ago?
Rep Maxine Waters: Since Breonna’s death, more people have focused on the fact that innocent Blacks are dying at the hands of police officers. People we pay to protect and serve us and would really like to get involved in doing something about it. And so whether that means joining another protest or getting involved helping to make law in different states, or whether it is simply responding to a discussion on a radio station, people are more involved and wanting to do something about these needless deaths that are taking place, and I’m very pleased about that.
BET.com: What do you think Breonna’s legacy will be?
Brittany Cooper: She reminded us that violent policing takes precious folks from us day-in-and-day-out, and that we deserve a system that works to protect us and service us. But also, I think she reminds us that there is no racial movement for justice without Black women at the center and prominently featured.
BET.com: You have been a life-long advocate for women and the equity and empowerment of Black people. You have participated in countless marches, but for Breonna, you went to Louisville, and protested until you even got arrested. Why was this particular situation so different for you?
Tamika D. Mallory: It was listening to Breonna’s story, knowing that she was at home, asleep and that officers went to her home and did not announce themselves and that her boyfriend, Kenny Walker, tried to defend his home and his woman. They ended up becoming villains. And for me, it was so troubling that I felt like we had to get involved.
The second thing that really motivated me was how the media and the local authorities were trying to use Breonna’s past affiliation with another individual as a reason that she would become a candidate for execution. For me, that it was a requirement of my organization, Until Freedom, to join the fight, because all of us have a ‘Ray Ray’ or someone in our family or in our past who we have tried to help along the way. I did not want Breonna Taylor’s story to go to the wayside because people were too afraid to address an issue that for far too long has been used against Black people were being affiliated with people who may have done something wrong somehow makes us criminals, and again, candidates for execution even while sleeping in our own homes.
BET.com: If you had the opportunity to speak with Tamika Palmer, Breonna’s mother, from one mother to another, on the anniversary of her death, what words of comfort would you offer?
Rep. Maxine Waters: I would like to say that, while we are all feeling pain, while we’re all wanting to make sure that this doesn’t happen to anyone else, we can never, ever know, and feel the pain that you’re feeling at the loss of your daughter. But I would like you to know that there are many of us who really care and who are really working hard to ensure that we rein in these rogue police officers, etc.
And so, despite the fact that you’ve lost your daughter, and that you are mourning, and you will probably never stop, I want you to know that we will keep fighting. We will keep trying. We will keep working. We’re so pleased that you are hanging in there and doing everything that you can to let the world know that you lost the most precious thing that any mother could have — a daughter.
Tina Knowles Lawson: I am in contact with Tamika and I just communicated with her a few days ago and my prayers are always with her. As is my gratitude for being such a soldier.
I think, you know, social media is absolutely a way for everyone to pay tribute to her in their own way. Prayers are powerful. I’m sending prayers all the time for, not only Tamika, but all the parents who have lost their children to police violence or just violence period. Write a prayer, put it on social media, you know, if that’s the day that you want to go burn a candle for her, I think that’s a wonderful gesture as well.
Breonna was a person who delivered service to people. So, if you can do a service for someone in your community, that is a tribute to her as well.
Brittany Cooper: I would tell her thank you so much for allowing us to walk this journey with you. Thank you for your daughter. Thank you for her life. Thank you for all that you have sacrificed to allow us to publicly grieve. And my prayer for you is that in your grief you feel comforted. You feel surrounded, and you know, that we will never forget Breonna’s name. We will not let her die in vain.
BET.com: How would you suggest people celebrate Breonna’s life today?
Tamika Mallory: One of the things that Until Freedom is doing this weekend in conjunction with community grassroots organizations in Louisville, and also, Breonna Taylor’s mom, Tamika Palmer, her sister, Ju’Niyah and other family members is that we’re feeding 1,000 people in the local Louisville community. Breonna was a family person who they describe as being the glue; the one who kept everyone together. And I truly believe that if we’re going to honor Breonna, we can’t just live for the story of how she died. We must live our lives in the way in which she lived hers and I believe that is service to the community.
So, in honor of Breonna Taylor, wherever you are, at this one-year anniversary mark, go out and serve. Do something nice for another person and do what Breonna has done for us all, which is to wow us with her smile.
Brittany Cooper: From all accounts, Breonna liked to have a good time, and we should not just remember people in the worst moment of their life. You can make a toast to Breonna, you can think about the ways that you’re gonna fight for justice or you can simply celebrate the fact that after we’ve all been through so much this year, especially Black people, celebrate that you are still here and able to make a change.
For more on the legacy of Breonna Taylor, visit BET.com.