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What Breonna Taylor’s killing says about police treatment of black women

Before the killings of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta and George Floyd in Minneapolis, another major city was angered by the death of a black American at the hands of police. Breonna Taylor was fatally shot in her own apartment in March by officers serving a drug warrant. They are currently on administrative leave. John Yang talks to Andrea Ritchie of the Barnard Center for Research on Women.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Before the killings of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta and of George Floyd in Minneapolis, citizens in another major city were angered by the death of an African-American woman at the hands of police this spring.

    John Yang reports on the case of Breonna Taylor.

  • Protester:

    Hands up!

  • Protesters:

    Don't shoot!

  • John Yang:

    Months after Louisville, Kentucky, police killed the 26-year-old emergency room technician in her own apartment, her name rings out in the streets.

  • Protester:

    Say her name!

  • Protesters:

    Breonna Taylor!

  • John Yang:

    It was after midnight on March 13 when three police officers broke down Breonna Taylor's door while serving a drug warrant. Even though it was a no-knock warrant, police say they did knock and identify themselves.

    Taylor's family says they didn't. The officers exchanged gunfire with Kenneth Walker, Taylor's boyfriend, who said he thought someone was breaking in. Taylor was hit at least eight times, and died. Walker called 911.

  • 911 Operator:

    Nine-one-one. What is your emergency?

  • Kenneth Walker:

    I don't even know what's happening. Somebody kicked in the door and shot my girlfriend.

  • Protester:

    Say her name!

  • John Yang:

    The killing touched off waves of demonstrations, starting near Louisville City Hall, and sweeping across the nation.

    Taylor's mother, Tamika Palmer, has led the calls for justice.

  • Tamika Palmer:

    To know Breonna, she was full of life. She loved life. She respected life. This is so much bigger than her.

  • John Yang:

    During protests on June 1, police shot and killed David McAtee, a black man who owned a local restaurant. The Louisville police chief was fired after it was revealed the body cameras worn by officers involved were turned off.

    Since then, the city mandated wider use of body cameras. And last week:

  • Woman:

    We're here today for one reason only, and that is because of the life and legacy of Ms. Breonna Taylor.

  • John Yang:

    With Taylor's family looking on, the Louisville City Council passed Breonna's Law, barring the use of no-knock warrants.

    Attorney Ben Crump represents Taylor's family.

  • Benjamin Crump:

    At first, only her mama and her sister were saying her name. But now the whole world is saying Breonna Taylor's name.

  • John Yang:

    Still, much of what happened that night in Taylor's apartment remains a mystery. Most of the police report on the incident was left blank.

    Hannah Drake is a Louisville activist and author.

  • Hannah Drake:

    I believe that her case was hidden, hidden from Louisville, hidden from Kentucky, hidden from America, primarily because she's black, and, secondarily, because she's a woman.

  • John Yang:

    All the while, the streets chant Breonna Taylor's name.

  • Protester:

    Say her name!

  • Protesters:

    Breonna Taylor!

  • Protester:

    Say her name!

  • Protesters:

    Breonna Taylor!

  • John Yang:

    The FBI is also investigating Taylor's killing. And those three officers involved are on what the Louisville police calls administrative reassignment, amid calls for their firing, arrest, and charging.

    Andrea Ritchie is a researcher at Barnard College. She is the author of "Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color."

    Andrea Ritchie, thanks so much for joining us.

    Earlier in the show, just before this segment, we heard a discussion about Rayshard Brooks' case in Atlanta. This happened on Friday. Already, that officer has been fired. There's talk of criminal charges against him.

    Breonna Taylor was killed three months ago. The officers are still on the force. They're on this administrative reassignment. And as far as we know publicly, the investigation has had very little movement, very little public movement.

    What do you make of that difference?

  • Andrea Ritchie:

    I definitely think that it has to do with how we see and understand state violence and who it impacts and how it's impacted.

    I think it also has to do with the jurisdiction. It's long past time for those officers to be fired. And it's long past time for her family to receive the reparations and healing that they're owed and deserved.

    I think part of it is about how we understand state violence. I think our understanding of state violence is shaped by the experiences of black men like Rayshard, who are perceived to be the sort of quintessential targets from the time of lynching to the time of the present, and that the experiences of women, of gender-based violence, are kind of shaped by our understanding of white women experiencing domestic violence in the home.

    And, as a result, black women who experience both state and violence in the home are left out of both narratives, and we literally don't see them, even when the violence is happening to them in front of us.

    And I think that police report that you showed that indicated that there was no injury to a black woman who was gunned down if hail of bullets in her own bed and killed is just the most extreme example of how we don't have the same reaction when we see state violence against black women as we do against other people.

    And let me just say, state violence generally, whether it's against black men and women, is — does not receive the response it deserves. And I'm glad those officers are fired, but what we need to do is stop these killings.

  • John Yang:

    Louisville has banned — in reaction to this, banned no-knock warrants. They called it Breonna's Law.

    How effective do you think that will be?

  • Andrea Ritchie:

    I think it's good that we're stepping back to look at how those police officers came to be at her door and looking to interrupt one of the mechanisms that has resulted in her death and also in the death of — I can name five other black women killed by no-knock warrants, Tarika Wilson, Kathryn Johnston, Alberta Spruill, Aiyana Stanley-Jones.

    So, there's many — this is not the first time. And so I think that stopping no-knock warrants is important, and that we need to recognize that increasing the time that folks have to respond to 15 or 30 seconds or a minute, imagine someone backing on your door in the middle of the night. That's not enough time to understand what's going on either.

    So, we need to maybe step further back and ask ourselves, why are people showing up at — police officers, armed police officers, showing up on people's doors to serve no-knock or short-knock warrants?

    And I think then we need to look at the war on drugs, which is where those warrants came from and what brought those officers to where Breonna's door that night. And we need to rethink our approach to that in a way that we are taking an approach to saving lives not, taking them, in this way, as Breonna Taylor's was taken.

  • John Yang:

    You spoke earlier about how society's view of police violence against black people is shaped by violence against black men.

    In your studies, you talk a lot about how — the differences in the way black women interact with police. Talk about some of those differences.

  • Andrea Ritchie:

    I do also talk about fact that we experience many of the same forms of violence that I said that are unseen.

    But I do think that much of the police violence that black women experience also happens in private, as it did for Breonna Taylor. It often happens in the context of the war on drugs, and sort of by association, in the way that the officers somehow thought that she was associated with something that she was not at all associated with.

    And, also, it happens in the context of calls for help, calls for help in a mental health crisis, calls for help for domestic violence, calls for help around sexual assault, calls for help, as Atatiana Jefferson's case. A wellness check can wind up being a deadly intervention with police.

    And so I think what that tells us is that it moves us more quickly to the demand that people are making on the streets in Louisville and across the country to defund police and invest in different responses to those things, to mental health needs, to domestic violence, to sexual assault, to wellness checks that wouldn't have armed police officers coming into a home and potentially harming the person that they're ostensibly there to protect.

    And instead that we focus on prevention measures, intervention measures, and harm and accountability and transformation measures that don't result in the kinds of harms that black women, particularly, and trans and gender-nonconforming people experience when police are the primary or only response to those problems.

  • John Yang:

    Andrea Ritchie, a researcher at Barnard College and a police — an attorney representing people involved in police violence, thank you very much.

  • Andrea Ritchie:

    Thank you for having me.

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