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Chants nation

As The Nation Chants Her Name, Breonna Taylor’s Family Grieves A Life ‘Robbed’

Breonna Taylor poses with her car on Dec. 25, 2019. Her friends and family remember Taylor as a caring person who loved her job in health care and playing cards with her aunts.

Taylor Family


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Taylor Family

Breonna Taylor poses with her car on Dec. 25, 2019. Her friends and family remember Taylor as a caring person who loved her job in health care and playing cards with her aunts.

Taylor Family

Before she was a hashtag or a headline, before protesters around the country chanted her name, Breonna Taylor was a 26-year-old woman who played cards with her aunts and fell asleep watching movies with friends.

That changed on March 13, when police officers executing a no-knock warrant in the middle of the night killed her in her own apartment in Louisville, Ky.

Now, as protesters around the country have taken up her name in their call for racial justice and an end to police violence, Taylor’s friends and family remember the woman they knew and loved: someone who cared for others and loved singing, playing games, cooking, checking up on friends.

Before the early morning raid in March, Breonna Taylor was a first responder who loved to sneak in a nap before her next shift. She would have turned 27 on June 5.

Known as “Bre” to her friends and family, Taylor moved from Michigan to Louisville when she was a teenager. Much of her large, tight-knit extended family moved around the same time.

One aunt, Bianca Austin, called Taylor her “mini me.” An uncle, Tyrone Bell, called her “Breezy.”

“She was cool, a cool cat,” says another aunt, Tahasha Holloway.

The family regularly spent time together, and Taylor often proposed a round of her favorite card games, Phase 10 and Skip-Bo.

Bianca Austin and Tahasha Holloway, both aunts to Breonna Taylor, stand outside Austin’s home in Louisville, Ky. They’re grateful that Taylor’s name and story have become known nationwide. “But we don’t want this at all,” Austin said. “We want her back.”

Becky Sullivan/NPR


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Becky Sullivan/NPR

Bianca Austin and Tahasha Holloway, both aunts to Breonna Taylor, stand outside Austin’s home in Louisville, Ky. They’re grateful that Taylor’s name and story have become known nationwide. “But we don’t want this at all,” Austin said. “We want her back.”

Becky Sullivan/NPR

The work schedule of an EMT could be grueling; it was especially so in early March, as worries about coronavirus spread.

But those who knew her say Taylor welcomed the opportunity to give back and to make a difference in someone’s life.

Friends and family agree that Taylor was attracted to a career in health care because she cared about people. In a Facebook post Taylor made as her uncle recovered from a stroke last year, she wrote:

Working in health care is so rewarding. It makes me feel so happy when I know I’ve made a difference in someone else’s life. I’m so appreciative of all the staff that has helped my uncle throughout this difficult time and those that will continue to make a difference in his life.

She attended Western High School in Louisville, where she met and befriended Erinicka Hunter and Shatanis Vaughn — they were, in their words, “the three amigos.”

Like many 20-somethings, Hunter and Taylor drifted apart at times in the years after high school. But Hunter remembers rekindling their friendship last year after Hunter underwent brain surgery. She was recovering in the hospital when Taylor came to visit.

“I’m like, ‘Why did we fall out? I don’t understand.’ And she was like, “It doesn’t matter, Nick. We together again. Don’t worry about that. I love you. Just know that,'” remembers Hunter. “It’s not right. We was robbed.”

Breonna Taylor’s name has become the foremost emblem of the protests against police violence in Louisville. Her face is painted and chalked throughout the city, including here at Jefferson Square Park in downtown Louisville.

Becky Sullivan/NPR


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Becky Sullivan/NPR

Breonna Taylor’s name has become the foremost emblem of the protests against police violence in Louisville. Her face is painted and chalked throughout the city, including here at Jefferson Square Park in downtown Louisville.

Becky Sullivan/NPR

Breonna Taylor’s death in March came as a shock to those who knew her.

She and her boyfriend, Kenneth Taylor, were at home in her apartment, when a team of plainclothes Louisville police officers arrived to execute a no-knock warrant early in the morning of March 13. According to her family’s lawyers, the subject of the investigation was not Taylor, but a man she had dated previously who had once sent a package to her apartment.

When police broke into the apartment, Walker thought they were being robbed, Taylor’s lawyers say. A licensed gun owner, he grabbed his weapon and shot an officer in the leg. The officers returned fire, shooting dozens of times, killing Taylor, according to the family’s wrongful death lawsuit. Police arrested Walker, and he was charged with attempted murder of a police officer. Those charges have since been dropped.

“Even in being a prosecutor, I’d never quite seen that many bullets in one apartment,” says Lonita Baker, a personal injury attorney representing Taylor’s family. In addition to the lawsuit, the family is also seeking departmental policy changes on body cameras and no-knock warrants.

While sorting through Taylor’s belongings, Erinicka Hunter came across this scrapbook page made by Taylor when the two friends were seniors in high school.

Becky Sullivan/NPR


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Becky Sullivan/NPR

While sorting through Taylor’s belongings, Erinicka Hunter came across this scrapbook page made by Taylor when the two friends were seniors in high school.

Becky Sullivan/NPR

The earliest news stories covering her death didn’t mention her name at all, instead focusing on an injury to a police officer and referring to Taylor and Walker as “suspects.”

Breonna Taylor’s family said they felt anger when reading those early stories.

“I probably said more cuss words in that little time than I said throughout my whole life,” says Bell, her uncle. “Angry is an understatement.”

Her aunt Bianca Austin believes that, along with the burgeoning outbreak of coronavirus, that this early narrative of Taylor as a “suspect” is why the family had difficulty finding funeral service providers.

Marissa Pantoja, 23, made this protest sign as a tribute to Taylor. “I think the biggest thing that hit home was that she was an essential worker,” Pantoja says. “I want to make sure her name is never forgotten.”

Becky Sullivan/NPR


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Becky Sullivan/NPR

Marissa Pantoja, 23, made this protest sign as a tribute to Taylor. “I think the biggest thing that hit home was that she was an essential worker,” Pantoja says. “I want to make sure her name is never forgotten.”

Becky Sullivan/NPR

Now, two months later, the whole nation knows Breonna Taylor’s story. Thousands of protesters across the country demonstrating against police violence chant her name along with George Floyd’s. In Louisville, it’s Taylor who takes center stage – literally, with a mural of her smiling face drawn in chalk in downton’s Jefferson Square Park.

The family says it lifts them up to know her story is being heard — but also makes it harder to grieve.

“Every time I see her, or someone says her name, I cry. I break down,” says Shatanis Vaughn, Taylor’s high school friend. “They really supporting you [Taylor] now. Everybody knows your story. You’re going to be heard, finally.”

Louisville Community Leader On Protests: 'People Want To See Something Different'

Austin, her aunt, says the family is “grateful that her name is where she should be.”

“But we don’t want this at all,” she continues. “We want her back. I would rather just go back in time.”

For what would have been Taylor’s 27th birthday, friends and family have planned a public celebration of her life on Saturday in downtown Louisville. They plan to release balloons and butterflies, and are expecting a large crowd.

“I’m praying to God,” says Austin. “We need real change in America. I’ve got to still raise a little black boy here in the world we live in. … Nobody’s safe. If this can happen to Breonna, it can happen to anybody.”

“She always said that she would be a legend,” friend Erinicka Hunter says. “I just never imagined it would be like this.”

Sarah Handel edited the audio story. Maureen Pao edited the web story.

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Categories
Chants Justice

Chants of ‘no justice, no peace’ at heated Louisville protests

Louisville, Ky.

At least seven people were shot in Louisville, Kentucky, as hundreds of protesters converged on City Hall demanding justice for Breonna Taylor, a black woman who was fatally shot in March by police who broke down her door.

Louisville Metro Police said early Friday that at least one person was in critical condition. “No officers discharged their service weapons,” and all seven shot were civilians, police spokesman Sgt. Lamont Washington wrote in an email to The Associated Press.

“I feel the community’s frustration, the anger, the fear, but tonight’s violence and destruction is not the way to solve it,” Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said in a video posted to Twitter. He said two of the wounded underwent surgery and five were in good condition.

Thursday night’s demonstration came as protesters across the country, in cities including Los Angeles, Denver, New York, and Memphis, turned out in alliance with demonstrators in Minneapolis, where George Floyd became the latest black man to die in police custody.

It also came hours after the release of a 911 call Ms. Taylor’s boyfriend made on March 13, moments after the emergency medical technician was shot eight times by narcotics detectives who knocked down her front door. No drugs were found in the home.

Around 500 to 600 demonstrators marched through the Kentucky city’s downtown streets, the Courier Journal reported. The protests continued for more than six hours, ending in the early hours of Friday as rain poured down.

At one point, protesters took turns hoisting the stone hand of King Louis XVI after it was broken off his statue outside City Hall. Shots were later heard, prompting some of the protesters to scramble for safety.

“Understandably, emotions are high,” Mr. Fischer tweeted  just before midnight, sharing a Facebook post that appealed for people to remain non-violent as they demand justice and accountability. “As Breonna’s mother says let’s be peaceful as we work toward truth and justice,” the mayor wrote.

Attention on Ms. Taylor’s death has intensified after her family sued the police department this month. The case has attracted national headlines alongside the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery in a Georgia neighborhood in February.

Around 12: 20 a.m., Mr. Fischer tweeted a video that he said was a message from Ms. Taylor’s family.

“Louisville, thank you so much for saying Breonna’s name tonight. We are not going to stop until we get justice,” a woman says in the video. “But we should stop tonight before people get hurt. Please go home, be safe and be ready to keep fighting.”

Meanwhile, live video from downtown Louisville around 12: 30 a.m. showed some protesters behind makeshift wooden barricades, which appeared to be made out of picnic tables spray-painted with the words “You can’t kill us all.” A small fire inside a trash can was visible in the middle of the street.

Police in body armor and face shields held batons and lined up downtown. They appeared to fire rubber bullets and deploy tear gas canisters, fogging the air and inducing coughs among the remaining members of the crowd. Protesters recorded officers with their cellphones.

Kentuckians are still under social distancing mandates driven by the coronavirus pandemic. Many protesters wore masks.

Chants early Friday included “No justice, no peace” and “Whose streets? Our streets.”

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This story was reported by The Associated Press.

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