(RNS) — On what would have been Breonna Taylor’s 27th birthday (June 5), some theologians and activists lament what they call an insufficient response to her March murder. They note that protests in her honor occurred only after widespread outrage over George Floyd’s death and that, to date, no charges have been filed against the three officers involved in Taylor’s shooting.
Some have tied the disproportionate response to the systemic devaluing of black women.
“Despite the number of unarmed Black women killed by police or who have died under police custody under suspicious circumstances, none of them, with the exception of maybe Sandra Bland, has brought a lot of widespread attention, whereas consistently we see that men get more attention,” said Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes, womanist theologian and associate professor of pastoral care and counseling in the McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University.
On March 13, Taylor was home when police from the Louisville Metro Police Department wearing civilian clothes forced their way into her apartment with a no-knock warrant, exchanged shots with Taylor’s boyfriend and shot her at least eight times. Taylor was an ER technician and EMT who dreamed of a lifelong career in healthcare, hoping to one day become a nurse.
The FBI’s Louisville office announced an investigation into Taylor’s death on May 21. There have been few updates in the case since.
Protests for Taylor have popped up in Houston and New York and have been ongoing in her hometown of Louisville. New Yorkers will gather at vigils for Taylor’s birthday this evening, and, at protests for George Floyd, some have been calling attention to Taylor’s death with “say her name” chants.
Still, many on social media have expressed concern that Taylor has been forgotten — and are outraged at the limited outcry over her death. Floyd’s death launched an international movement, while Taylor’s elicited neither immediate protests nor a viral campaign (as in the case of #IRunWithMaud following the killing of Ahmaud Arbery).
Walker-Barnes told RNS that the absence of video footage in Taylor’s case could be a factor. Similarly, Baptist minister and educator Candace Simpson pointed to the lack of a recorded “spectacle” as a potential reason for the limited attention given to Taylor. Yet Simpson also agreed with Walker-Barnes that there’s far more to the story: After all, Mike Brown and Trayvon Martin did not have video, yet their deaths inspired mass protests.
“Black women are often romantically imagined. We are ‘warriors.’ We are ‘mothers.’ We are ‘queens’ … People don’t consider us as human. And our institutions, including churches, schools, workplaces and even our movements are guilty of exploiting the labor of Black women. We are forever invisible and, yet, simultaneously, always to blame,” said Simpson.
Simpson also mentioned Iyanna Dior, a black trans woman recently attacked by vigilantes in Minneapolis. Though the attack was filmed, Dior’s story has not been as popular in mainstream media. “Is she not Black? Does her life not matter? Our society keeps proving so,” said Simpson.
Walker-Barnes said the church must prioritize educating people about the specific strengths and struggles of black women in order to encounter a fuller understanding of God and who God wants the church to be. She also suggested contributing to a Go Fund Me for Taylor’s family and pressuring Louisville officials to charge the officers involved in the shooting.
Simpson called for abolition and envisioned a future where social work and therapy is prioritized over policing.
“At every turn, at every action towards justice, the lives of Black women must be front and center, said racial justice and human rights advocate Asha Noor via Twitter. “Say her name, and say it over and over again. #BreonnaTaylor.”
As Walker-Barnes put it: “We believe when Black women are free and when Black women’s lives matter, everyone’s lives will matter.”