John Legend: We need to #SayHerName: Happy birthday, Breonna Taylor (Op‑ed)
A long past due reckoning has arrived on America's doorstep this spring. With protests against police violence in every state in our nation, I've been keeping an eye on Louisville, Kentucky, not far from where I grew up in Ohio. Like so many places, protesters fighting police violence in Louisville have been met by even more violence from the Louisville police. But day after day, the people of Kentucky have shown up, demanding justice for Breonna Taylor.
Breonna should be celebrating her 27th birthday today. Like so many Black women, she was an essential worker, an emergency medical technician, the kind of first responder we depend on to save lives during this ongoing pandemic. She had planned on becoming a nurse and dreamed of being a wife and mother. She was on her path. But after midnight on March 13, officers from the Louisville Metro Police Department barged into her apartment, fired off more than 20 bullets, eight of which ultimately took Breonna's life. They had the wrong home and an illegal no-knock search warrant.
Her boyfriend Kenneth, a licensed gun owner, thought someone was burglarizing their home and fired his gun to defend his household. In turn, the police responded with a hail of bullets and turned their peaceful night into a tragedy. Kenneth Walker was arrested that night, separated from Breonna's body, and because he'd shot one of the officers in the leg in the exchange, charged with attempted murder. Weeks later those charges were only dropped after thousands of people took action and protested in the streets for justice.
Now is the time for us to join together and emphatically SAY HER NAME. Black women created this call to action because we continue to wrongly talk about the generations-long crisis of police and vigilante violence in a gendered way, as if it only happens to Black men. On Breonna's 27th birthday, I say her name and the names of Eleanor Bumpers, Atatiana Jefferson, Nina Pop, Aiyana Jones, Sandra Bland, Korryn Gaines, Pamela Turner, Tyisha Miller, Miriam Carey, Chynal Lindsey, Shelly Frey, Darnisha Harris, and too many more. I'm sending more than my thoughts and love and prayers to Breonna Taylor's family. Today I use my platform to demand justice for this essential person, this woman, daughter, sister, and friend. While her loved ones need to be indeed in our prayers on this hard day, we also must commit to never stop fighting for justice in her name.
When I look at what led to the murder of Breonna, I see intersecting issues that need to be addressed as we continue our ongoing work to transform our criminal justice system and make our country more safe for Black people.
In the last week, police unions across the country have been talking about the protests as a "war" in their cities. But there has been a war on black communities for a long time now. This "war" turns police departments into small armies who patrol what they believe to be "battlegrounds'' rather than neighborhoods, populated by "combatants" rather than hard-working people with families and dreams, like Kenneth and Breonna.
When the Louisville police were issued an unconstitutional no-knock warrant by a judge, they continued this war. Now the country seems to be on fire, and everyone is asking why. What we need to move forward is accountability. After Breonna's murder, the police department and the prosecutor closed ranks to protect their misconduct. Although District Attorney Thomas B. Wine ultimately dropped charges against Walker, he has not brought charges against the LMPD officers, Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison, and Myles Cosgrove, who took Breonna's life.
I began Free America because I wanted to support the important long-standing work of organizers committed to transforming our justice system. I quickly learned that true transformation is impossible without focusing on district attorneys who hold too much power to deny Black people justice again and again. Now for the first time, Color of Change has created a directory to help us start this work. I hope you will join our movement to take up this fight locally and elect prosecutors who will hold the murderers of Black people accountable. We've also joined the call to end the police's war on Black communities by asking that local governments redirect significant portions from police budgets to other services that will make communities healthier and safer.
As we continue to work towards systemic change, I join Breonna's community in the immediate demand for justice: Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, Attorney General Daniel Cameron, and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer should finally arrest the three officers who killed Breonna and charge them with second-degree murder. Until elected officials create consequences for egregious and fatal police misconduct, they will continue to kill us with impunity.
To help combat systemic racism, please consider donating to these organizations:
- Color of Change, which works to move decision makers in corporations and government to be more responsive to racial disparities.
- Equal Justice Initiative, which provides legal services to people who have been wrongly convicted, denied a fair trial, or abused in state jails and prisons.