Tomorrow marks one year since Breonna Taylor was taken from us. How do you measure a year? It’s one year that her mother, Tamika Palmer, has had to hold grief at bay in order to pursue a semblance of accountability. One year that her partner, Kenneth Walker, has had to mourn while fighting for his own life against a retaliatory system that initially charged him for a warning shot he fired in self-defense. One year that Black women have seen themselves in yet another instance of state-sanctioned violence.
Like many of you, my first introduction to the Black Lives Matter movement came through the deaths of cisgender Black men like Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown. I can walk into many rooms and find people that can name three, maybe even five Black boys or men killed by police: Sean Bell. Amadou Diallo. Freddie Gray. George Floyd. Tamir Rice. Philando Castile. And they should name them, because any loss of life is someone to advocate for. But what about the many Black women killed by police? Would you be able to name five without Googling? Or would you stop after Sandra Bland and Atatiana Jefferson? What about Charleena Lyles? Korryn Gaines? Rekia Boyd? Eleanor Bumpurs? Mya Hall?
As I began organizing and not just showing up to actions, I became more conscious of the ways I had been denying my own Black womanhood by not keeping that same energy for the Black women victimized by the inherent violence of policing and incarceration. As Kimberlé Crenshaw shared in an interview with Mic, “[Black women’s] funerals aren’t the site of activism, their mothers don’t get invited to the State of the Union or the White House as a symbol of commitment to eliminating this problem. That element of erasure sends a message that these losses of life don’t matter.” I realized, and am still realizing, that people will not always show up to amplify our stories. We must make it so.
Breonna Taylor’s death was one of the first times this country mass-mobilized for a Black woman. Breonna’s family, supported by groups and organizations like Black Lives Matter Louisville and Until Freedom, continued to show up until there was no choice but to #SayHerName, as the African American Policy Forum has coined. More often than not, it falls on under-resourced local organizers and family members to keep names and campaigns alive.
We showed up for Breonna. Hopefully you did too, not only because she was an essential worker or because you resonated with the tweets she left behind, but because the state had no right to take her from this world, and her Black life should have mattered enough. Black women must be at the center of organizing, not only when there’s an election to win, but also when our bodies are on the line. Police brutality and the prison industrial complex is a feminist issue and should be treated as such—especially if non-Black feminists of the 21st century want to be more than their predecessors could manage.
This Women’s History Month, reconsider how you approach the intersection of racial and gender justice. Intentionally reflect on your existing relationships with Black women in your community, workplace, friend groups, and more. Take accountability for the ways you mirror harmful systems in your interpersonal relationships. Follow and donate to support the work of the African American Policy Forum, Survived and Punished, and Justice for Black Girls to stay connected to the advocacy led by and on behalf of Black girls, femmes, and women. Don’t lament about the fact that “no one is talking about this.” Many are, and perhaps it’s you who’s not doing enough to be a part of that work. Now is a great time to change that.
Lastly, do not forget that this violence is systemic and individual accountability, no matter how satisfying, will never bring back Breonna. But we can stop the cycle of violence in its tracks by building a new vision of safety that doesn’t treat Breonna Taylor as collateral damage for its racist and profiteering agendas. As Mariame Kaba and Andrea Ritchie wrote in an article for Essence, “We want more justice for Breonna Taylor than the system that killed her can deliver.” We want a world where Black women are free to dream—both literally and figuratively. We have so much work to do to get there.
Brea Baker serves as a community liaison for Justice For Black Girls.
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