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Tamika Palmer fights for her daughter, Breonna Taylor, by opposing Daniel Cameron

Breonna Taylor's mother Tamika Palmer and her daughter Ju'Niyah with a group of Until Freedom canvassers in west Louisville.
Divya Karthikeyan
Breonna Taylor's mother Tamika Palmer canvasses in west Louisville with her daughter Ju'Niyah.

With days left before Kentucky’s election, Tamika Palmer is channeling her pain into a call for action. Louisville police killed her daughter, Breonna Taylor, in 2020, and Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron decided not to indict anyone for her killing. Now, he’s running for governor — and Palmer is speaking out to oppose him.

It’s 5 p.m. on a recent Tuesday in west Louisville’s Russell neighborhood, and a team of canvassers are knocking on doors ahead of Election Day.

There’s a familiar face in the group: the mother of a Black woman who would have celebrated her 30th birthday this year, had her life not been cut short by Louisville police.

Palmer emerged as a figure in the racial justice movement that created a riptide in America after police killed her daughter.

Now, Palmer is working to defeat Cameron as he runs for governor.

Cameron’s office investigated the Louisville Metro Police officers who raided Taylor’s apartment, and said the officers who fatally shot her were justified in their actions. His handling of the investigation was the hardest thing for Palmer, and she wanted to do something about it, she said.

“I want people to remember, like this thing happened to Breonna. But the thing of it is, it could happen to anybody. And for Cameron, it's clear that he doesn't care who it happens to. He will side with the police, right or wrong. So it's not even, at that point, it doesn't become about Black and white. You know, it's about life, period,” she said.

This year, Palmer linked up with Until Freedom, a New York-based advocacy group for a campaign called Vote for Breonna. They focused on registering voters and highlighting Cameron’s track record.

“Part of what we're saying is that we know that a grave injustice was done to Breonna. And that alone means we cannot support this individual in any way, shape or form,” Until Freedom cofounder Angelo Pinto said.

T-shirts of Breonna Taylor at Until Freedom's Vote for Breonna event.
Divya Karthikeyan
T-shirts of Breonna Taylor at Until Freedom's Vote for Breonna event.

For Palmer and many other Black Kentuckians, Cameron’s actions have been jarring and complicated.

“Here we are rallying for Black people to be in these positions to get in these rooms, to be these great people. And here we are with this Black man who is the complete opposite of everything we wished for,” she said.

In a statement, a Cameron campaign spokesperson called Taylor’s death a tragedy, and said she thinks most Kentuckians believe he “followed the law.”

But two years after Cameron’s decision not to indict anyone for Taylor’s death, the U.S. Department of Justice leveled federal charges against four officers. The trial for one of them, Brett Hankison, began this week. He’s facing civil rights charges for allegedly using unjustified and unconstitutional excessive force.

Cameron released an ad before the primary election this year defending what he called “tough prosecution” and expressing support for police.

Neither campaign has focused much on the Taylor case. Democratic incumbent Andy Beshear hasn’t used it to attack Cameron. In fact, Beshear himself faced criticism for sending Kentucky’s National Guard to Louisville during the 2020 protests, where a guard member shot and killed Black restaurant owner, David McAtee.

Beshear’s campaign spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Palmer said there’s no perfect person for the job in this situation. But, given the choices, Beshear is the best pick, she said.

A part of her feels happy Cameron isn’t bringing the issue up, she said.

“I think that even engaging him continuously in that with her, her name just kind of glorifies him to an extent. So on that end of it, I'm grateful that that's not an ongoing topic, you know, but people need to not forget it as well,” she said.

As attorney general, Cameron has defended Kentucky’s laws restricting abortion access, fought to maintain the ban on gender-affirming medical care for minors, argued against EPA regulations for coal and clean water and railed against pandemic-era restrictions.

Louisville activist and poet Hannah Drake said those set the stage for any law Cameron could enact if elected, and she said the Black community would feel that first.

“When you pass certain laws, Black people understand the impact, that it’s going to hurt everybody. But Black people just get hit more, because they're already starting at a spot of disadvantage,” she said.

The vast majority of Kentucky residents are white, while less than 9% are Black.

In Louisville, almost a quarter of residents are Black and more than half of registered voters in the city are Democrats. Across Kentucky, though, Republicans have an edge, and about 10% of voters are registered as “independent” or “other.”

Shameka Parrish-Wright is the executive director of Louisville nonprofit VOCAL- KY and a Democratic candidate for Louisville Metro Council. She said getting voters to actually turn out is a growing challenge.

“What happens, though, is that they don't get to the polls, necessarily. It used to take a few contacts, and now it takes seven to nine contacts to actually get those folks to the polls,” she said.

Kevin Morris is a researcher at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, a progressive public policy institute. He studies how high-profile police killings and violence can motivate voters, especially when movements are led by the most-impacted people.

“It can also have these really wonderful spillover effects and get other people kind of excited about politics again, which is such a good thing,” he said.

On the canvassing excursion, volunteers like Palmer and others said reaching young voters or previously disenfranchised voters could help Black communities realize their potential electoral power.

Palmer said she’s finding a balance between honoring her daughter’s memory, and pushing for change.

“It is mentally exhausting. It's terrible, right? It's so much you carry with it, right? I become this, this face. And so I feel like I'm failing the people if we don't get this thing done. But I know in my heart of hearts that I've done what I can do, you know. So I hold on to faith, because something's got to happen at the last minute. Something has to happen. And so I'm holding on to faith that we the people will pull it together and get the job done,” she said.

Election Day is November 7. No-excuse early voting is open Nov. 2-4. The Kentucky Public Radio voter guide has information on statewide candidates and a tool to find your voting location.

Clarification: This story was updated to clarify that the Brennan Center for Justice is at New York University's law school.

Divya is LPM's Race & Equity Reporter. Email Divya at dkarthikeyan@lpm.org.

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