Breonna Taylor. Her name has taken the country by storm since June, has been chanted alongside George Floyd and many others during the protests against racial injustice and police brutality in the United States. Yet Breonna Taylor’s death occurred months earlier, on March 13th. Her death received little media attention at the time, however, after the video of a police officer killing George Floyd in Minneapolis leaked, Taylor’s story began gaining national headlines.
Shortly after midnight on March 13th, three police officers in Louisville, Kentucky, broke into the apartment of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency room technician working on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic. Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, were sleeping in bed at the time. After hearing the loud noise and thinking someone was breaking in, Walker, a licensed gun owner, fired his gun and injured an officer. The officers allegedly fired more than 20 rounds in return, shooting unarmed Taylor eight times and killing her. For more than 20 minutes after being shot, she received no medical assistance.
The police arrived at Taylor’s home in search of busting two men selling drugs. The officers, believing the men were sending packages to Taylor’s home, received a “no-knock” warrant that allowed them to enter her residence without warning and without identifying themselves as police. While they were at Taylor’s apartment, the drug dealers they were originally investigating were already in custody across town. No drugs were found in Taylor’s apartment.
Why did it take so long for her story to receive the level of attention George Floyd, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and other victims of police brutality have received? And why is it that the police officers responsible for her death, five months later, still have not faced any criminal charges?
Let’s talk about intersectionality. The term was first coined in 1989 by Kimberlé Crenshaw, the executive director of the African American Policy Forum and the creator of the #SayHerName campaign. The theory of intersectionality gave a name to the compounding nature of discrimination and oppression when one belongs to more than one marginalized community. While it has since expanded to include many aspects of social identity including sexuality, class, ability, and nationality, it was first created to address the unique form of discrimination that black women, like Breonna Taylor, face in the United States. To recognize the existence of intersectionality is to recognize that black women face discrimination that is different from that of white women and from that of black men.
So how do the intersectional identities of being black and a woman manifest in the United States? For one, the stories of black women have historically been underreported in the media. The “Missing White Woman Syndrome” describes how the media has established a hierarchy where race, gender, and class determine which stories receive more coverage than others. To highlight just how pervasive the issue is, Crenshaw and lawyer Andrea Ritchie released a report detailing the deaths of over 70 black women who have died at the hands of the police over the last three years. When we talk about police violence, we, more often than not, attach a male face and name to the victim. But by doing so, we are participating in the erasure of the many black women who have been victims of police violence. Like Sandra Bland. Natasha McKenna. Tanisha Anderson. Michelle Cusseaux. And many, many more.
So why do we need to #SayHerName? Because the stories of these women often go unheard if we don’t. As Dr. Ibram X. Kendi states in his bestseller “How to be an Antiracist”, by saying Black Lives Matter, we are saying that All Black Lives Matter. Black men’s lives. Black women’s lives. Black children’s lives. The road to justice starts with us amplifying the voices that have historically been neglected. And we cannot afford to be silent.