Two years after Breonna Taylor’s death, her family still searches for justice
Two years to the day after officers of the Louisville Metro Police Department shot and killed her daughter, Breonna Taylor, Tamika Palmer was back in Jefferson Square Park, also known as BreeWayy, Breonna Square or Injustice Square.
It was once the beating heart of Louisville’s 2020 protest movement, sparked in large part by the police killing of Taylor, a 26-year-old, Black emergency room technician, in her home. The park has been mostly quiet for months, but on Sunday, more than a hundred people gathered there with Palmer and her family to remember Taylor and continue calls for accountability and justice.
A few hours later, Palmer was set to be on a plane bound for Washington, D.C., where she’s scheduled to meet with U.S. Department of Justice staff to pursue federal charges against the officers involved in her daughter’s death.
“Kentucky has failed us. Kentucky has failed Breonna Taylor. Kentucky has failed our community,” Palmer’s sister and Taylor’s aunt Bianca Austin said from a stage in the square.
The gathering came just ten days after a Jefferson County jury found Brett Hankison not guilty of wanton endangerment of Taylor’s neighbors, for bullets he fired that traveled into an adjacent apartment. He was the only officer indicted in connection to the case. Two officers who fired their weapons during the middle-of-the-night raid, Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove, as well as others who participated in obtaining or serving the search warrant went without any criminal legal consequences from the state.
“I want people to know that just because we haven't been able to get justice in the state of Kentucky, we are not done fighting for justice for Breonna Taylor,” Palmer’s attorney Lonita Baker told the crowd. “The Department of Justice is still investigating.”
Baker represented Taylor’s family, along with high-profile attorney Ben Crump, in a record $12 million settlement agreement with the city. In addition to the payment, the city also agreed to a number of police reforms, including utilizing the police department’s “early warning system” to identify problem officers, expanded drug testing of officers and a housing credit to incentivize officers to live in certain low-income census tracts.
The family has long said these changes do not constitute full justice for them, without convictions of the officers involved.
Without a state-level conviction, Taylor’s family and the wider protest community are pinning hopes on federal charges for alleged civil rights violations by the officers. On Sunday, leaders also encouraged the crowd to seek justice by voting out the political establishment they believe failed Taylor.
“We have an opportunity to get justice in a different type of way,” new Louisville Democratic Rep. Keturah Herron said, “by going to the ballot box election season.”
The rally featured many political candidates who hope to draw support from the protest movement: Shameka Parrish-Wright, a protest leader who is running for mayor of Louisville; Karl Price, who is challenging incumbent Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell; Charles Booker, who hopes to challenge Rand Paul for U.S. Senate; and Tracy Davis, who is running against Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Mary Shaw — the judge who signed the warrant used to raid Taylor’s apartment.
“If we don’t do anything else this election season, the one thing we must do is go to the box and make sure that Mary Shaw is no longer a judge in the city of Louisville,” Herron said.
While most of the crowd gathered around the stage for speakers and performances, 8-year-old Austin Ellis and a few other boys around his age were in the heart of the park using colored chalk to create their own tribute to Taylor, their older cousin.
“She used to make me laugh a lot,” Ellis said. He and his cousin Takarri Dukes drew Taylor’s name in giant bubble letters on the brick walkway. Ellis added a string of hearts.
“When they shot her, I was crying for fifty hours straight — two days,” he said.
Ellis said he wants justice, “but they won’t give it to us.”
Dukes, his cousin from Michigan, said he wants justice too. Asked what that means to him, he answered: “Make life fair.”
Later, Ellis' mother, Bianca Austin, joined her son in the walkway to see his art. She said about 80 people came to Louisville from all over the country last night to have dinner and remember her niece.
“That’s what she did, bring us all together,” Austin said.
At 3:13 p.m., the family and their supporters released dozens of blue balloons into the sky, in honor of Taylor, who was killed on March 13, 2020.
Chants of her name filled the square once more.