More Than The Face Of A Movement: Remembering Breonna Taylor

On a searing hot summer day, hundreds crowd around Metro Hall in downtown Louisville.

“We are so grateful that many have gathered on this date to remember a wonderful young lady,” a man’s voice booms over the loudspeaker.

The date is June 6, 2020.

Hundreds release balloons outside Metro Hall June 6, 2020 to mark Breonna Taylor’s birthday.

Breonna Taylor would have turned 27 the day prior. This event is a celebration of her life, which was cut short when Louisville Metro Police officers raided her home last March, firing 32 rounds and killing her.

“We celebrate her life, we celebrate her legacy,” the speaker, who says he had preached at Tayor’s funeral, continues.

Katrina Smith, a cousin of Taylor’s, says Taylor loved everyone, even people she hardly knew; she was just that kind of person.

“I’ve known this child since the day she came out of the womb,” Smith says. “I’ve never seen a bad bone in her body towards anybody.”

When police showed up at Taylor’s apartment after midnight on March 13, 2020, they were serving a search warrant related to a drug investigation involving her ex-boyfriend.

But they never found any drugs or money at her home.

In the year following her death, demonstrators around the country have chanted her name as they demanded justice for her death and an end to police violence. Her face has appeared on billboards and on the covers of national magazines. She’s had a roadway in her Michigan hometown named after her, and has been memorialized in song, art and poetry, such as a recent work by Atlanta poet W.J. Lofton, called “Would You Kill God Too?”

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But Taylor was also a daughter, a sister and a friend.

A ‘Happy’ Child

Taylor was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1993.

Her mother, Tamika Palmer, described her to Vanity Fair last fall as a “happy baby” who didn’t cry a lot.

“Everybody loved Breonna,” Palmer said in the interview. “Who wouldn’t love a baby? But literally she was everybody’s baby.”

She said Taylor was an old soul, who loved music and singing — a favorite song was the ‘90s R&B track “Last Two Dollars.”

Palmer also told the magazine that Taylor didn’t give her much trouble growing up. She was good with computers from a young age, and loved to jump Double Dutch.

Taylor was a teenager when she and her family moved to Louisville.

She went to Western High School, where she befriended Erinicka Hunter and Shatanis Vaughn her sophomore year.

Hunter and Vaughn told NPR they were “inseparable;” the “three amigos” is what they called themselves.

They said Taylor enjoyed card games like Skip-Bo. She also “could fry some good chicken.”

Her teachers remember her as someone who was going places.

“Bre was brilliant,” Western math teacher Leah Dix-White said during an event held in the school’s library last fall. “She had a math mind. She had a beautiful mind.”

Dix-White and her colleagues had gathered to share memories of Taylor shortly after a grand jury announced their decision based on the Kentucky attorney general’s investigation.

The Breonna Taylor Memorial at Jefferson Square Park in September of 2020.

Just one Louisville Metro Police officer, Brett Hankison, who had already been fired, would face charges for endangering Taylor’s neighbors. None would be charged for her death.

After she heard this, Dix-White wrote a letter to Taylor and posted it to social media.

Reading the letter out loud at the fall event, she said she wrote it “in hopes that I can express myself, maybe heal or deal with my own selfish grief, anger and pain.”

“I could always count on you to help others with their work,” she read from the letter. “Your smile and laughter in classes is what I remember most.”

Stephanie Holton, who has been the youth service center coordinator at Western for about 26 years, recalls Taylor as an outgoing and friendly kid.

“There were probably several times that I can remember that she would bring students into the service center to see me,” she told WFPL.

Taylor always advocated for others, she added.

“Based on her personality and how she was, I wouldn’t have been surprised if she would have gone into social work,” Holton said.

A portrait of Breonna Taylor outside of Roots 101 Museum on Nov. 7, 2020.

Holton later learned that Taylor wanted to be a nurse, which made sense to her because Taylor was a natural caretaker.

After high school, Taylor attended the University of Kentucky for a semester in 2011.

She returned to Louisville, eventually getting a job as an EMT. But she got burnt out, family members have said on social media, and she then began work as an ER technician.

At 26, Taylor seemed excited about where her life was going.

She had recently gotten a new car, and had aspirations of buying a house.

During a Feb. 14, 2020 phone call with a friend, Taylor said she had recently gotten her insurance in her own name.

“I ain’t even on my mama’s no more now, like what, I did all of that,” Taylor said.

The phone call is one of many audio files LMPD released in October as part of its internal investigation.

Lonita Baker, one of the attorneys representing Taylor’s family, said she learned about who Taylor was through stories told by those who were close to her.

“What I learned about Breonna, she’s very much that person that was everyone’s cheerleader, that pushed everyone around her to be their best selves,” Baker said during an event Sunday organized by The Temple. “She just loved helping people. “

Family Still Fighting For Justice

Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, who was with her the night she died, had been making plans for the future.

In October, Walker told CBS News’ Gayle King that Taylor had a good sense of humor, “always laughing.”

“We were friends for a long time before it evolved into anything else, so I think that’s how I knew she was the one,” he said in the interview. “

Walker’s mother, Velicia, spoke at a rally in Louisville late last May.

She said Taylor is the kind of person you pray for your son to meet, and she already thought of her as a daughter.

“Her engagement ring is in my jewelry box right now,” Velicia Walker said to the crowd gathered for the May rally. “There are baby shoes that they were preparing to have a life for. I’m making it personal. I’m personally pissed.”

Taylor’s family hasn’t wavered in their pursuit of justice over the last year.

Attorney Ben Crump, with Tamika Palmer by his side, speaks about police accountability during a press conference on Aug. 24, 2020.

Last November, Tamika Palmer spoke during a march to move a memorial to Taylor from Jefferson Square Park to its new home at the Roots 101 Museum.

“The fight is just starting for us,” Palmer said to the crowd. “It’s a long way, so we’re not going anywhere. I’ll fight to the death of me if I have to.”

There has been some progress.

The city agreed to settle a wrongful death lawsuit with Taylor’s family for $12 million and promised a series of police reforms — though some reforms, like an early warning system for officers who misconduct records, were already supposed to have been in place. Two more LMPD officers, Myles Cosgrove and Joshua Jaynes, have lost their jobs over their actions in the case.

But a state board declined Palmer’s request to have a new special prosecutor appointed, and no additional charges have been brought against any officers. So the family continues to push for accountability. They’re holding a rally in downtown Louisville Saturday.

Tamika Palmer outside Roots 101 following a march that brought parts of her daughter’s memorial to the museum. She says this fight is not over.

Breonna Taylor’s sister, Juniyah Palmer, posted about her on Instagram earlier this year.

She said her heart was “heavy” thinking about how it’s been almost a year since she’s seen or hugged Taylor.

“Sister i miss you more than anybody can imagine.”

Breonna Taylor was killed one year ago this week. Here is WFPL’s series remembering her.

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