It’s been 103 days since the Louisville Police Department SWAT team burst into Breonna Taylor’s home and murdered her. Breonna was shot at least eight times by police. She was not a primary suspect and, though police were executing a drug warrant, no drugs were ever found.
Like so many Black women, Breonna, 26, was an essential worker. She was an emergency medical technician, responding to crises in her community during the COVID-19 pandemic. Her mother, Tamika Palmer, later shared that “all [Breonna] wanted to do was save lives.”
We must say Breonna Taylor’s name.
Kimberlé Crenshaw, a professor of law at UCLA and Columbia Law School, started the #SayHerName campaign to bring attention to Black women who have been brutalized and killed by law enforcement. It is a reminder that Black women fall victim to police brutality and systemic racism, too. And as Black women, we live in fear for our sons, brothers, and husbands, but we also fear for ourselves.
This concern is not new. Let’s remember one of our country’s foremost voices in the fight against police brutality was civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer. In 1963, Hamer and a group of other activists were traveling back home after attending a voter registration workshop in South Carolina. When the bus made a stop in Winona, Mississippi, a restaurant owner refused to serve the group. When the group returned to the bus, Hamer and her colleagues were arrested by police. As Hamer later recalled: “They beat me till my body was hard, till I couldn’t bend my fingers or get up when they told me to. That’s how I got this blood clot in my left eye — the sight’s nearly gone now. And my kidney was injured from the blows they gave me in the back.” Fannie Lou Hamer’s courage to share her experience helped center Black women and girls in the fight for justice within our law enforcement system.
And so, after 103 days and no justice, I say Breonna Taylor’s name. I say the names of Sandra Bland, Atatiana Jefferson, Aiyana Jones, and the countless others who were killed by police or who died in police custody. And I am also demanding change.
Last week, the Louisville Police Department fired one of the officers involved in Breonna’s killing. Let’s be clear: this is not justice. Every officer involved in Breonna’s death must be arrested. I, along with Representative Lucy McBath, also demanded the Justice Department launch an independent investigation into Breonna’s killing and whether the Louisville Police Department has engaged in a pattern or practice of constitutional violations. This would put us on a path to securing answers and justice for Breonna Taylor’s family.
Additionally, it’s time we reimagine our justice system by taking steps to improve community trust and hold officers accountable for misconduct. We can start by calling on Congress to pass the Justice in Policing Act. Here’s why we need this bill enacted into law:
First, we need a national use of force standard. Today, for most officers around the country, the standard is whether use of force was “reasonable.” But we know one can reason away just about anything. A much more fair and just standard is whether the use of force was “necessary,” meaning the officer had no other option. Under our Justice in Policing Act, if an officer used excessive force on a citizen, they would be prosecuted in federal court.
Second, we must have a national ban on no-knock warrants in drug cases, a practice that allowed the officers to enter Breonna Taylor’s apartment without warning. Earlier this month, the Louisville Metro Council unanimously passed Breonna’s Law, banning Louisville police from using no-knock search warrants. It’s time we ban no-knock warrants in drug cases across the country.
Third, as a former prosecutor, I know that independent investigations into police misconduct are imperative. No matter how well intentioned a district attorney or a state’s attorney may be, when they are called upon to investigate the misconduct of a police officer that works in the department they work with every day, there will be an appearance of conflict, if not an actual conflict. To ensure the confidence of the public, we need independent investigations.
And lastly, we need to expand pattern and practice investigations into police departments and give state attorneys general the authority to investigate systemic misconduct within departments. As Attorney General of California, I activated civil pattern and practice investigations into police departments, so I understand how critical these investigations are in rooting out misconduct and abuses. Under President Obama, the Justice Department conducted numerous pattern and practice investigations into police departments, including Ferguson, Missouri following the killing of Michael Brown. But under President Trump, the Justice Department has slowed these investigations to nearly a halt.
There are meaningful, commonsense solutions to make sure what happened to Breonna never happens again and to start to bring justice to Breonna’s family. Congress just has to have the will to act.
Breonna Taylor worked to save lives during the COVID-19 pandemic; it is time for us to honor hers.Share :