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L.A. woman is drawing attention to another black death at police hands: Breonna Taylor

A piece of art features Breonna Taylor with the text 'Say Her Name'
A piece of art created for a campaign to demand justice for Breonna Taylor. She would have turned 27 on Friday.
(Ariel Sinha)

Widespread protests provoked by the death of George Floyd have swept the nation this week, but some activists, like the L.A. writer Cate Young, want to use this opportunity to spotlight other cases, too.

On Tuesday, Young launched a campaign to demand justice for Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician who was shot in her Louisville, Ky., apartment by a police officer in March.

Frustrated by the lack of media and political attention on black women such as Taylor who have died at the hands of police, Young seeks to bring her story back into the news cycle.

“If I were to be a victim of this kind of crime, I would be quickly forgotten,” said Young, a black woman and self-described feminist. “Someone needed to champion her cause as well.”

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This story was reported with a grant from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting.

Just after midnight on March 13, Louisville police, executing a search warrant, forced their way into Taylor’s home. Her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired a shot at an officer’s leg. The police fired back with at least 20 bullets, striking Taylor eight times.

Walker, who said he thought they were being attacked by criminals, was arrested and charged with attempted murder of a police officer. The charges have since been dismissed. The police have not been charged, but the FBI is now investigating the shooting.

The campaign — #BirthdayForBreonna — asks participants to send birthday cards to Kentucky Atty. Gen. Daniel Cameron, the Louisville police, Mayor Greg Fischer and Gov. Andy Beshear in honor of Taylor’s birthday and demand the prosecution of the officers involved in her killing. Taylor would have been 27 on Friday.

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“Birthdays are symbolic,” Young said. “It’s a good opportunity to galvanize people and get her case back into the news cycle.”

Amid national unrest over the death of George Floyd, hundreds march in Louisville urging justice for Taylor, a black woman killed in her home.

The campaign is part of a wider #SayHerName movement, which encourages those fighting for civil and social justice to include the stories of black women, too.

Though the story around police brutality has been hyper-focused on crimes against black men, Young, who is also a journalist, understands news cycles:

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“When it comes to stories about police brutality, we have a very specific frame: ‘Police kill black men,’” Young said. “That is a true story, but it’s an incomplete story. Black women’s stories get erased.”

In accomplishing this — reviving Taylor’s story — the campaign has been a success, attracting celebrities with enormous platforms

Busy Phillips, the actress and Instagram personality, saw Young’s post on Instagram and wanted to use her large platform to leverage the efforts.

“I saw Cate’s tweet in my timeline and it just struck me thinking about Taylor never turning 27,” Phillips wrote in a text message. “Cate’s plan of action just felt like the right way to both honor Taylor’s life and demand justice for her murder.”

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Beyond sending birthday cards, the campaign lists seven action steps to bring justice for Taylor, one of which is to donate to the Taylor family’s official GoFundMe campaign.

When Young added the GoFundMe link to the campaign landing page on Tuesday, the total was around $100,000. Now, donations have surpassed $2 million.

“My original goal was to get her back in the news cycle, which has worked,” Young said.

The campaign has had a sort of domino effect. Along with countless inquiries about replicating the idea for future initiatives Young has received, some activists have gotten creative.

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Valerie Confections, a bakery in Echo Park, baked birthday cakes for Taylor and plans to sell slices Friday, donating all proceeds to the Taylor family’s GoFundMe.

Beyond bringing black women’s stories back into the media, the campaign seeks policy change.

“Now that so many people have gotten involved, my lofty goal is for the officers involved to be arrested and charged,” Young said. “I’m not naive enough to think that will happen, but if it does that will be the ultimate success for me.”

Young, a feminist who seeks to amplify all women’s stories, shares one more personal link to Taylor: June 5 is also her mother’s birthday.

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“It was just another connection I had with her,” she said. “However far removed.”

Amid an uprising — and a pandemic that relies on social distancing —#BirthdayForBreonna also provides a way to get involved for those who don’t wish to participate in mass protests for public health reasons.

“We’re still in a pandemic,” Young said. “And not being able to — or simply not wanting to — go out in public is completely understandable.”

But Young, who has never organized a campaign before, credits the uprising for motivating her.

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“If those protests hadn’t happened, I don’t know if I would have felt the need to get involved,” she said. “But I had to do something.”


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