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On the 1-year anniversary of Breonna Taylor's death, activists take stock of the 'Say Her Name' protests

Marquise Francis
·National Reporter & Producer
·8-min read

One year ago, Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black emergency room technician from Louisville, Ky., was shot and killed in her apartment by three police officers during a botched raid.

A summer of intense protests over Taylor’s death and those of two Black men — Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd — gave rise to chants of “Black Lives Matter” and, in honor of Taylor, “Say Her Name.”

Coming up to March 13, the anniversary of Taylor’s death, protests in Louisville have largely dissipated, but her family, friends and supporters continue to work to keep her name top of mind.

On Saturday, Until Freedom, a social justice organization co-founded by civil rights activist Tamika Mallory, plans to march for Taylor once again to mark the anniversary of her killing. And while the crowds will gather specifically in honor of Taylor, Mallory believes “this movement has grown beyond Breonna.”

“It’s really about justice for Black women who are killed by the state and Black women who are unjustly treated in our society,” Mallory told Yahoo News. “We have found a way to connect Breonna Taylor's legacy to real, true, deep community empowerment work.”

Tamika Mallory
Civil rights activist Tamika Mallory speaks at a press conference in Louisville, Ky., last September. (Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

In addition to Saturday’s march, Until Freedom is holding numerous events this weekend, including an activist training forum at the Muhammad Ali Center that will aim to feed 1,000 residents of Louisville’s West End neighborhood.

“There’ll be community, there’ll be family and there also will be protests,” Mallory said.

Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, told Yahoo News that the approach of the one-year anniversary of her daughter’s death has been difficult.

“Some days are harder than others,” Palmer said this week. “But I got great people around me. … It helps pick you up on days that you don’t even want to get up.”

For some activists, the weekend’s events are proof that Taylor’s life was not taken in vain.

“Breonna’s legacy is going to be similar to that of Trayvon Martin, where he raised the consciousness level in America around Black Lives Matter,” civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, a member of the legal team for Taylor’s family, told Yahoo News. “Breonna Taylor raised the consciousness level in America that Black women’s lives matter too.”

But what happened on that fateful night of Taylor’s killing will be forever etched in the nation’s memory.

Breonna Taylor
Breonna Taylor. (Courtesy Breonna Taylor family)

Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, were awakened in the early morning hours of March 13, 2020, by loud pounding on the front door by police officers executing a warrant to search for drugs. Walker, fearing that the apartment was being broken into, grabbed his licensed gun and fired one shot, hitting Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly in the leg. Mattingly, Officer Brett Hankison and Detective Myles Cosgrove then returned fire, striking Taylor six times. She died in the hallway of her apartment. No drugs were found in the home, Taylor’s family said in a lawsuit.

Following the shooting, Palmer contacted Louisville activist Christopher 2X, the founder of Christopher 2X Game Changers, a nonprofit organization that promotes early childhood education, for help getting answers. 2X said he joined the family when they toured the “still fresh crime scene” of Taylor’s apartment.

“The barrage of bullets that I witnessed firsthand ... was very devastating,” 2X told Yahoo News, singling out the pool of Taylor’s blood on the floor.

While the Louisville Police Department has fired the officers who served the warrant at Taylor’s apartment, no one has been charged in her death. Walker, however, was arrested and charged with assault and attempted murder for firing the shot that hit Mattingly.

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, the first Black man to hold the office in the state’s history, said at a Sept. 23 press conference that the officers were justified in opening fire because Walker fired at them first. Cameron’s message further inflamed tensions in the community. Daily protests picked up steam and several businesses in downtown Louisville were damaged before the National Guard was deployed.

Downtown Louisville, Ky.
Downtown Louisville on Sept. 23, 2020. (Jeff Dean/AFP via Getty Images)

“Things in the city [for seven months] were very volatile, as it should be,” Christie Welch, a 2019 graduate of the University of Louisville and deputy director of Christopher 2X Game Changers, told Yahoo News. “It was just protests every day.”

Through it all, the “Say Her Name” chants served as a rallying cry. But as the weather in Kentucky got colder into November and December, the protests that had lasted for months started to die down.

“It’s like we had so much momentum and so much fervor and so much vigor for the cause, then things just started to settle down and just fizzle out to a point to where you wouldn’t even expect it being a year later,” Welch said. “There’s hardly any protests anymore, hardly anyone’s even saying her name, even though that was the movement.”

Mallory, on the other hand, believes that the lack of protesters in the streets is not a reflection of a movement that has lost its purpose.

“There’s a time for mass protest and then there is a time for strategic planning and real brick-and-mortar organizing,” she said. “There has not been a movement that I have studied where thousands or millions of people have been sustained in the streets over a long period of time, just because the nature of humans is that people must return to their regular lives.

“But it is a responsibility of the organizers to continue the strategic work of getting laws passed and feeding communities with not just physical food ... but with knowledge of how they continue to fight for themselves,” she added.

The Breonna Taylor memorial
The Breonna Taylor memorial in Louisville. (Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

In June, the Louisville Metro Council passed Breonna's Law, which bans no-knock police warrants. Mallory and others are pushing for the law to be adopted statewide and have been organizing with activists in cities in Texas, Michigan and Virginia for its adoption there.

Taylor’s family also reached a historic $12 million settlement with the city of Louisville in September for compensatory and punitive damages, as well as legal fees.

Crump, the family’s lawyer, said these moves are evidence that all the protests and calls for justice have yielded results. When he first learned about Taylor’s killing last March, only the family was saying her name.

Today, “millions upon millions of people are saying her name,” he said. “If they don’t say her name at the same fever pitch at the height of everything that was going on, that does not take away from the fact that she changed America forever.”

This week, charges against Walker, Taylor’s boyfriend, were permanently dismissed with prejudice, meaning Walker cannot be charged in the future.

A protestor calls for the crowd to
Chanting "Say Her Name, Breonna Taylor" in Louisville during the September protests. (Jeff Dean/AFP via Getty Images)

2X, meanwhile, has been instrumental in pushing for an FBI investigation into whether Taylor’s civil rights were violated. He says the investigation should be wrapped up soon and he’s “fairly confident” that someone will be held accountable for her death.

“I believe that there's going to be some level of accountability in regards to charges that will address what I truly believe, that Breonna Taylor’s civil rights were violated,” 2X said. “I don't have a crystal ball that I can get all the answers … but based on what I do know, I think there's going to be some level of accountability, and we'll see where it lands.”

The FBI maintains that it is “actively investigating all aspects of the death of Breonna Taylor.”

“FBI Louisville has made significant progress in the investigation since it was initiated in May 2020, and will continue to work diligently until this investigation is completed,” Katie Anderson, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Kentucky, told Yahoo News.

Protest signs
Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Mallory remains cautiously optimistic.

“The FBI investigation is critical,” she said. “They need to file civil rights charges against all the officers who were there that evening and fired their weapon, but also their superiors and others who stood by and did not do anything to try to save Breonna Taylor’s life.

“But I have not seen the FBI show up in ways that it needs to, to protect Black lives [in the past],” she added. “Hopefully this will be different … but you'll have to show me for me to believe it.”

Crystal Hill contributed to reporting to this piece.

Cover thumbnail photo illustration: Yahoo News; Jon Cherry/Getty Images, Brandon Bell/Getty Images

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