Hunger strikers demand justice for Breonna Taylor

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  • Black Lives Matter protests are still reverberating and now protesters in the US are on hunger strike seeking justice for Breonna Taylor, a woman killed at home by police in March. Marie Claire's Dami Abajingin asks why the killing of black women is rarely centre stage in narratives about police brutality and why #SayHerName matters

    This year Breonna Taylor should have been celebrating her 27th birthday. Taylor was a key worker, an emergency room technician who dreamed of becoming a nurse.

    But shortly after midnight on March 13th, three plainclothes police officers entered her home using a no-knock search warrant – a court document authorising police to enter a home without permission. Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, were reportedly asleep when the commotion began. Walker (a licensed gun owner) called 911 and, thinking the drug raid was a burglary, shot at one of the police officers hitting him in the leg; the police retaliated with more than 25 bullets.

    Taylor was shot eight times. She died on her hallway floor. According to her family, Taylor took ‘five to six minutes’ to die from her injuries and did not receive urgent medical care from the officers.

    Police had suspected Taylor’s flat was being used to receive drugs by a gang based at a different address 10 miles away. One of the suspects was an ex-boyfriend of Taylor. What makes this case even more saddening is the suspect they were searching for was already in custody. No drugs were found in the property. Not one of the officers have been charged to date. Ex-Detective Brett Hankison, was accused of ‘blindly’ firing 10 rounds into the apartment, displaying ‘an extreme indifference to the value of human life’ was fired but is appealing the decision. A lawsuit filed by Taylor’s family accuses the officers of battery, wrongful death, excessive force and gross negligence.

    say her name

    A demonstrator holds a painting of Breonna Taylor during a protest near the Seattle Police Departments East Precinct on June 7, 2020 (Getty Images)

    Now four hunger strikers in Louisville, Kentucky are demanding two city officers involved in Taylor’s death – Sgt John Mattingly and Detective Myles Cosgrove – be fired and stripped of their pensions. The four strikers will live-stream their strike on their Facebook page, Hunger Strikers for Breonna.

    One of the strikers, Ari Maybe, spoke to local paper Courier Journal, about the hunger strike on private property. ‘It’s not like a sit-in, where we can be arrested. It’s not like a protest, where there’s a beginning and an end. We control the beginning, the end and the entire narrative.’

    Maybe explained that the strikers will have support from around 35 others, including medical personnel and a crew responsible for the Facebook stream.

    The deaths of many black women, like Taylor, killed by police rarely receive the same response as the death of black men. As a black woman, to say this makes me feel devastated would be a huge understatement. To be clear, it is not by any means a competition – every single one of these deaths (and the countless others we are unaware of) are a tragedy. However, the fact of the matter is after a black woman is killed by police there are hardly ever protests, no public outcry. Even in death, the lives of black women and girls are seen as being of less value. This gave rise to the #SayHerName campaign; a social movement that seeks to raise awareness for black female victims of police brutality and to ensure that racism faced by women is not left out of the Black Lives Matter movement.

    It’s been argued that when black women and girls such as; Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Tanisha Anderson, Atatiana Jefferson and Charleena Lyles are killed by police it is often in their homes – and because of this domestic location there is no viral video to fuel the outrage that their deaths also deserve. However, I don’t think it is that simple. There are many murders of women that have generated huge public outcry and these murders have no accompanying video footage – but they have happened to white bodies. Piers Morgan argued on Good Morning Britain that if Madeline McCann was a black girl her disappearance would not have garnered as much media attention. His statement was met with shock by many non-black women but he was simply saying something most black women know to be true – something which is reaffirmed every single time the loss of a black female life goes unnoticed.

    say her name

    Flowers, photos, and other items are placed at a memorial for Charleena Lyles at the apartment building in which she was killed in Seattle, Washington, June 2017 (Getty Images)

    The need to bring black women into the narrative cannot be overstated; time and time again the stories of black women killed by police are excluded from the national, let alone the international news agenda. Many UK news outlets have only recently published the story of Breonna Taylor’s death in the first week of June. She was killed in March. As a society, each and every one of us can take meaningful steps towards changing this. Being an ally means taking action; it is not a performative post – it is beyond a black box. If you would like to show solidarity, here are some suggestions on where to begin.

    Say her name – don’t forget their names

    1 Sign the official petition for justice for Breonna Taylor 

    This is demanding the officers who unlawfully shot Taylor to be charged and arrested.

    2 Support black women

    On Blackout Tuesday and for days following there were thousands of posts praising black-owned fashion and beauty brands and content creators. This has to be sustained; a one-off is not good enough.

    3 Empower yourself with knowledge

    Many have said they are listening but are they actively seeking? Asking your black friend to educate you; while it may be well-meaning, is actually rather indolent – especially during this difficult time. There are a plethora of resources, Black Feminist Thought by Patricia Hill Collins is a great place to start.

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