The Murder of Breonna Taylor: an Explainer

Today, marks one year since Breonna Taylor was killed by a police officer in her own home. The murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Nina Pop, and a list of countless others too long to fathom — would be the spark that reignited what would become the largest civil rights movement that Millennial and Generation Z youth would witness to date.

The Black Lives Matter protests against gross racial injustices would ring from the mouths of millions in protest, not just across the United States, but the world.

Today, we remember Breonna Taylor. We mourn for her family. And we fight for justice for her death.

Who was Breonna Taylor?

Breonna Taylor was a 26-year-old African American woman born in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Raised by her mother Tamika Palmer, she would go on to become an EMT for the city of Louisville in June of 2016 while she also worked as an emergency room technician for two local hospitals. Her mother would say, “[She] is full of life… and all it has to offer.”

What happened to her?

On March 13th, 2020, plain-clothed Louisville Metro Police officers arrived at Taylor’s apartment shortly after midnight as part of an investigation into an ex-boyfriend suspected of drug trafficking. Within minutes of executing their “no-knock warrant, Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by the officers.

By the officers’ account, they knocked on the door, announced themselves, and did not receive a response. Department Officers Myles Cosgrove, Brett Hankinson, and Sergeant Jonathan Mattingly then forced the door open with a battering ram after 12:30 a.m

According to Breonna Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, however, he and Breonna lay sleeping when they were jolted awake to loud bangs at the door — not to the sound of knocks or to the announcement of police presence as described by the police. Both Walker and Taylor called out for the individual to identify themselves but received no response.

When Police broke down the door, Walker fired a warning shot at what he thought were intruders hitting Sergeant Mattingly in the thigh. The officers returned fire, striking Breonna Taylor multiple times. She died within minutes. Police made no attempt to revive her.

Walker called 911 stating that “somebody kicked in the door and shot my girlfriend.” He was arrested and charged with attempted murder of a police officer.

What happened after the shooting?

The charges against Kenneth Walker were dropped. No drugs or money were found in Taylor’s apartment. All officers involved were placed on administrative reassignment while the Louisville Metro Police Department’s Integrity Unit conducted its own investigation. The incident report filed by the Department has been widely criticized for containing multiple discrepancies and proven falsehoods, including omitting Breonna Taylor’s injuries and a claim that no force was used to enter the apartment

Were the officers held accountable for their actions?

More than three months passed before the Louisville Metro Police Department fired Officer Brett Hankinson.

Hankinson was charged with three counts of wanton endangerment — or reckless endangerment of human life — for blindly firing bullets into Breonna Taylor's apartment. The bullets pierced the wall and recklessly endangered the lives of inhabitants of the apartment and of neighboring apartments.

On September 28th, 2020, a grand jury found Brett Hankinson not guilty of wanton endangerment. No other officer-involved was criminally charged with the death of Breonna Taylor, as lethal force was deemed justified by Kenneth Walker’s initial gunfire. The verdict and lack of accountability left many heartbroken, confused, and searching for more answers.

The Injustice of Breonna Taylor’s Case

On the same day the verdict was announced, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron released a statement that wanton endangerment was the only charge recommended to the grand jury. Hankison, nor any of his colleagues, were charged for shooting the bullets that took Breonna Taylor’s life. In other words, the only charges brought for the murder of Breonna Taylor had nothing to with Breonna Taylor.

The grand jury trial recordings and juror’s account reveal that the jury wanted to consider a murder charge, but were discouraged by prosecutors who felt the charges “wouldn’t stick.”

The city of Louisville reached a settlement totaling $12 million for Taylor’s family. The city banned the use of “no-knock warrants” that allow police to enter and search a residence without warning.

Tragically, Breonna Taylor’s story is not unique. The plight of Black Americans to live in a world where simple actions like running, going to the convenience store, playing in the park, and sleeping in your home, can be life-threatening. What’s more, we live under a justice system, in dire need of reform, that often fails to hold law enforcement responsible for the killings of Black and Brown people.

What can you do to help?

Our hearts still mourn the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Nina Pop, and countless others. In the wake of their lives being unjustly ended, millions of young people took to the streets to protest in global solidarity and pledged allyship to the Black community.

One of the best ways we can effect change is to stay updated with our local and state elections, and when the time comes, vote. We have the power to choose our Sheriffs, our Judges, our District Attorneys, our Mayors who often appoint our Police Chiefs, and our County Commissioners and City Council members who decide local law.

The right to vote is one that so many Black leaders pledged their lives to secure. Voting is a powerful tool that allows us to speak truth to power and dismantle the systemic racism that rears its ugly head in instances like these.

  • Register to vote and check your registration status at rockthevote.org
  • Find out when your next local election will be here.

Contact your Elected Officials and tell them to prioritize Black Lives. Find your officials here.