Breonna Taylor should have spent Friday getting ready and dressing up to celebrate her birthday with her close-knit extended family.
“She was a diva,” her mother Tamika Palmer said, underscoring that the day would have been completely about her elder daughter.
Instead, Taylor, a 26-year old emergency room technician, last changed outfits between her wake and her funeral, an affectionate tribute from her family.
“We had to change her wardrobe for her,” Taylor’s aunt, Tahasha Holloway, said, with a chuckle. “Or she would have gotten mad at her mama.”
Had she lived, Taylor would have turned 27 on Friday.
On March 13, she was fatally shot by Louisville police officers in the apartment she shared with her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker. The police were executing a “no-knock” warrant in connection with a drug case.
“Today you would’ve turned 27! I am still super sad and hurt you aren’t here anymore,” Taylor’s younger sister, Ju’Niyah Palmer wrote in an Instagram post. “I wish heaven had a phone or visitations because I would be there daily.”
Palmer lived with her sister and Walker but was not at home at the time of the shooting.
On the night Taylor died, police banged on the door but did not identify themselves and forced themselves into the apartment with a battering ram, Lonita Baker, the lawyer for Taylor’s family said. Walker assumed it was a break in, and fired his gun low to the ground as a warning shot. He hit an officer in the leg.
The police returned “so much gunfire, it was an immediate drop to the ground” situation, and Walker pulled Taylor down as around 20 rounds were fired, Baker said. Taylor was shot at least eight times, resulting in her death according to a lawsuit filed by her family.
No drugs were found, according to the family’s lawsuit, which accuses the police of wrongful death, excessive force, and gross negligence. Walker was charged with the attempted murder of a police officer, but the charges were later dropped.
Baker said that Walker did not know until much later it was the police who had shot at them. He called his own mother, and then called the police, to report that intruders had broken into the apartment and that his girlfriend had been shot.
For Taylor’s mother, the jolting call from her daughter’s boyfriend was the only indication that something had gone wrong. The police didn’t contact her.
“Without Kenneth calling me, I don’t know when I would have ever found out,” Palmer said.
“He is here because God wanted someone alive to tell the story of what happened that night,” Baker said.
The police were out looking for a suspect for a man who didn’t live at Taylor’s address and had been arrested hours before her death.
None of the officers involved with the shooting have been charged. Three were placed on administrative leave. Louisville Police Chief Steve Conrad, who announced his retirement after Taylor was killed, was fired just hours after a black man, David McAtee, was shot and killed Monday in an incident involving the police and the National Guard relating to potential curfew violation.
On May 21, the FBI opened an investigation into Taylor’s death.
No body cameras were activated during the incidents involving the shooting deaths of Taylor or McAtee. The police department has since announced that all sworn officers would be required to wear body cameras.
Last week, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer announced that the police department’s use of no-knock warrants has been suspended indefinitely, after initially limiting their use after Taylor’s death.
Her death was sandwiched between the deaths of two black men — Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd — which drew uproar and protests. The videos of Floyd’s final moments have sparked 10 days of protests against police brutality both throughout the country and internationally.
In comparison, Taylor’s death has drawn much less attention, despite the harrowing tale of an emergency health care worker being killed in her home.
“I just think that it’s more common that it happens to black men, so people just take to it more,” Palmer, her mother, said. “Black women are usually looked over because it doesn’t happen as often but it is still happening to us. It still should be looked at as the same.”
“I never thought that my daughters would be killed by the police,” Palmer said. “But I definitely had talks with my daughters about trying to avoid police and if they did come into contact with the police, how to conduct themselves in terms of not being hurt.”
Palmer started worrying more once her daughters started driving and becoming more independent.
“In general, for black people, there’s always an awareness of police presence, wherever. As kids you pick up on that,” Holloway, Taylor’s aunt, said, “There’s just an inherent thing. Like you don’t want to have too many people in your car. You just don’t want them to pull you over. Period.”
“At some point we’ve all known somebody affected by violence,” Palmer said. “But for it to be your child, I’m not sure everyone understands that feeling.”
Palmer, who lives about five minutes away from her daughters, is used to seeing or talking to Taylor every day. On Friday, Palmer took the day off from the dialysis center where she works.
“I thought I’d be with my daughter and celebrating her birthday,” she said.
Her voice cracked as she thought about her day, full of interviews, instead of going to dinner with her child. Maybe they would play games after — Taylor was a fan of Skip-Bo and Phase 10, which her mom and aunt groaned about.
Taylor and Walker, whose birthdays are close together, had planned on taking a cruise this year.
Taylor’s family still planned to spend her birthday together honoring her memory.
Holloway remembers her niece as someone who balanced “enjoying her life” with “staying on the path she wanted to be on” — nursing school, buying a house, taking trips with her friends.
“Even though she’s very sensitive, she’d tell you, ‘You need to do X, Y, Z.’ And if she hurt your feelings or something like that, she’d say, ‘Oh, I didn’t mean that, but I definitely meant what I said,’” Holloway said.
The time leading up to her death was already difficult because of coronavirus. Palmer worried about Taylor working in the emergency room throughout the pandemic, but Taylor hard brushed aside her mother’s concerns.
On Friday, Taylor’s employer, the University of Louisville, announced the Breonna Taylor Memorial Scholarship Fund for black women in Kentucky pursuing a career in nursing.
Palmer says she never imagined she would be grieving for her own daughter, but is thankful for the renewed calls for justice around Taylor’s death.
“I have so many people saying her name and trying to get justice for her.”
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