Hundreds gathered in Kentucky’s capital city on Thursday for the March on Frankfort, marking 100 days since 26 year old Breonna Taylor, a Black emergency room medic, was killed by Louisville Metro Police officers (LMPD). Protestors marched with raised fists across the Kentucky River and danced up the steps of the state capitol, demanding police reform and criminal charges against LMPD officers Brett Hankison, Jon Mattingly, and Myles Cosgrove.
Marchers linked arms in solidarity, while wearing masks to protect against COVID-19.
Just after midnight on March 13, Hankison, Mattingly, and Cosgrove arrived at Taylor’s home in Louisville to serve a no-knock search warrant, which allows police to enter a residence without warning or without identifying themselves as police. The person connected to the warrant was already in police custody. Taylor and her boyfriend Kenneth Walker were in bed when the officers busted their door open with a battering ram.
Walker fired one shot from his legally owned firearm, and the officers returned over 20 rounds. Taylor was shot eight times in her bed. Walker was charged with her murder. The police report of the shooting listed no injuries.
Daniel Cameron, Kentucky’s first Black attorney general and a protege of Sen. Mitch McConnell, has the power to charge the police involved in the killing of Taylor and arrest of Walker, who spent three weeks in jail following Taylor’s death. But so far, no arrests have been made.
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Vashti Proctor, a march organizer and 27-year-old Louisvillian, said their first protest demanding justice for Taylor was nearly a month ago, on May 28th, sparked by the release of a 911 phone call made by Walker, where he told police “somebody kicked in the door and shot my girlfriend.”
“At the time we had the information that Taylor was killed, but as soon as we heard the 911 call, we knew the story was a lot more sad and outrageous,” Proctor said over the phone before Thursday’s rally. The release of the 911 call coincided with the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, sparking a nationwide movement against police brutality and for Black lives.
Protestors rally in front of Kentucky’s capitol building.
Since then, protests around Louisville have occurred daily, most ending at Taylor’s memorial in Jefferson Square (renamed by activists as Injustice Square) across from the county courthouse. Along with professors, pro-bono lawyers, and activists across the city, University of Louisville students and city high schoolers have been leading protests, sometimes marching in their caps and gowns.
“We risked COVID-19 because the risk of being killed by the police and the psychic injury caused to Black people is equally as great.”
For over four hours on Thursday, a similar group of protestors sweated behind cotton masks, but this time they’d swelled their ranks. Kason Little, a 20-year-old from Elizabeth, New Jersey, drove 11 hours with two friends and arrived in Frankfort around midnight the night before. Through a mask that reads “Hella Black Hella Proud,” he said he made the trip because “It’s deeply important that we support one another throughout the country at this time to make sure that from inside our prospective areas we push for real structural transformational change. We really have to unite, collaborate, and join forces.”
Little is running for city council in Elizabeth—his primary is in two weeks—because he believes local government needs more strong Black voices, especially from the youth.
The March on Frankfort crossed the Kentucky River and up the steps of Kentucky’s capitol building.
“There’s a lot of young Black individuals running [for civic office] in Louisville including through the Louisville metro council,” Proctor said. Breonna’s Law, a policy created by organizers and the ACLU to ban no-knock warrants in Louisville, at first had the support of only 6 out of 26 members, but was passed unanimously in June. “That’s a big win, and it shows the power you have when faces and support look like you in local government to drive momentum. I hope we keep uplifting those voices, providing training and education, so we can bring up more Charles Bookers to go join him in Washington, D.C.”
Pastor Ben McBride agrees. He and five others from the Faith in Action National Network traveled from Oakland, California to stand in solidarity with the Black youth of Louisville.
“We risked COVID-19 because the risk of being killed by the police and the psychic injury caused to Black people is equally as great,” said McBrian. “It’s been 401 years of racist brutal policing and violence happening to Black people. This is the moment. If we don’t get it now we won’t get it ever.”
Thursday’s march replicated the 1964 March on Frankfort, led by Martin Luther King, Jr., against Jim Crow segregation.
The event builds upon anti-racism organizing from over half a century ago, when Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. came to Kentucky and led his own March on Frankfort in 1964 with famous Black activist Jackie Robinson and folk singers Peter, Paul, and Mary.
Thursday’s march had the same starpower, featuring guests like Jada Pinkett Smith and her children Jaden and Willow, Common, MC Lyte, the nephew of Louisville’s own Muhammad Ali, and 35-year-old Charles Booker, a Kentucky politician who shot to fame in his primary race to unseat Sen. McConnell after he joined the protests in Louisville. Families of other slain Black women and men, including Jemel Roberson of Chicago, Ahmaud Arbery of Georgia, and Tatiana Jefferson of Texas flew from across the country to stand in solidarity with Taylor’s family.
But unlike 1964, this time, the march focused on uplifting Black women. Tamika Mallory, a leader of the Black Lives Matter movement and one of the organizers for the 2017 Women’s March, told the crowd, “The issue of Black women being killed and our voices being too low is a problem.”
Mallory brought up Pam Turner from Texas, who was shot May 13, 2019 by a Houston police officer in her stomach, chest, and face “for no reason whatsoever” according to Mallory. Speakers emphasized that these deaths are all connected. “I’m sure we all understand that Breonna Taylor is everywhere. Pam Turner is another Breonna Taylor,” said Mallory.
“I’m sure we all understand that Breonna Taylor is everywhere…”
Louisville-based organizer Dr. Douglas Craddock, an education professor at the University of Louisville, said over the phone before the rally that it’s important to uplift voices like Proctor’s because Black women are not valued as highly in society, and it’s important Black women like Taylor are honored “so situations like this don’t occur again.”
It wasn’t just the shooting of Taylor that sparked grief and outrage, but the lack of accountability in her death. Mattingly and Cosgrove are still employed by LMPD. Hankinson was fired just two days before the march. Meanwhile, other small steps have been made by city officials: LMPD chief Steve Conrad was fired by Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and Louisville city council passed “Breonna’s Law.”
“Breonna was loved. She was full of life. If this was any one of y’all, she’d be out here.”
The city of Louisville has $100 million that could be defunded from LMPD and reallocated to the West End, a historically underfunded neighborhood of Black and brown Louisville residents. Craddock wants to see not only more representation of the Black community on the LMPD, but more openness and transparency from the department, as well as a commitment to community policing, including more funding towards mental and social services.
“I would love to see more police officers not only look like us, but understand that racial injustice has plagued Black and brown bodies for so long. Louisville is diverse. We’re a great community to start that and change the status quo,” Proctor said. “I hope they can see all the momentum and energy we’ve put out.”
But until the officers responsible for Taylor’s murder are arrested and convicted, her family, who stood in front of the crowd today, doesn’t have their loved one, or justice for her memory. Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, told the crowd, “If it weren’t for y’all, I don’t know where I’d be right now.”
“Breonna was loved. She was full of life. If this was any one of y’all, she’d be out here. Know that Breonna’s life mattered.”