This Mother-Daughter Duo Continues to Fight for Justice for Breonna Taylor
On March 13 in Louisville, Kentucky, three police officers forced entry into the apartment of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old EMT, and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, while attempting to serve a no-knock warrant due a narcotics investigation. Walker, legally armed, fired a shot in defense, striking an officer in the leg. Officers returned fire, killing Breonna Taylor with eight shots. No drugs were found in the home.
Breonna’s murder is another on a long list of senseless deaths of Black Americans, contributing to a historic wave of protests across the country and world. In Louisville, protests seeking justice for Breonna continue as two of the three officers have yet to be fired, and none have been indicted.
Hannah L. Drake and her daughter Brianna Wright are two of the activists who helped mobilize efforts to seek justice for Breonna Taylor in Louisville. Drake has long been at the heart of community activist work in Louisville as a writer, speaker, and organizer. “My sole purpose in writing and speaking is not that I entertain you,” she told Supermajority News. “I am trying to shake a nation.”
Wright is also an activist who recently managed a successful local political campaign to elect activist and educator Jecorey Arthur to Metro Council.
Supermajority News talked to Drake and Wright about their paths to activism and their fight for justice for Breonna Taylor.
Breonna Taylor’s murder was a national tragedy. How has her death in your city influenced you and the work you do?
Hannah: For myself, I’ve always talked about injustice and police shootings. [Taylor’s murder] really hasn’t changed my work at all other than [making it] louder and more vocal. I understand that because Breonna Taylor is Black and a woman we have to use every resource we can to tell her story and what happened to her because the experiences of Black women in particular are often neglected. And my daughter is also named Brianna and just a few years younger than Breonna Taylor, so it really hit home for me that they could easily be writing about my Brianna versus Breonna Taylor.
Brianna: For me, it’s nothing new, but the lack of response from elected officials has made me want to get into politics even more to get some people out of office and the right people into office. Specifically, Kentucky’s Attorney General, Daniel Cameron, is a Black man… and what he has done during this time makes me feel that he doesn’t care about Black people. It makes me want to fight harder to get the right people in office. I want to support the building of policy to help Black people.
What was your experience of engaging with the protests that followed Breonna Taylor’s death?
Hannah: The first day we protested here in Louisville, I was tear gassed. After that, I went home and my daughter stayed. I think there is a fearlessness for younger people. They have grown up with a lot of things older people have had to fight for, so it’s kind of their normal. They grew up with a Black president and marriage equality for LGBTQ people, so young people just get that these things are basic rights that just make sense. I think they wonder why we are still fighting these issues. I think young people are fearless and ready for immediate change. Young people are like, “We’ll be in the street until we get justice.” There is a sense of urgency because while many Black people have been waiting for years for basic human rights, they don’t want to wait any longer.
Brianna: I agree with her, but just to expand on that, as a generation, we’re not as worried about the consequences of activism. Like, I don’t worry about not being able to get a job if I get arrested for protesting, for example. I just don’t care. This fight is what matters. I also feel very specific about who I am fighting for and what I’m fighting. I am fighting for Black people of a whole of course, but I am fighting specifically for Black American descendants of slavery.
Talk to me about the moment you chose to stay while your mother left, Brianna.
Brianna: It had just gotten dark and it was a small moment of peace where we were just taking a breather, and the police showed up and threw tear gas unprovoked. That’s when my mom decided to go home because the police were boxing us in to continue threatening and provoking us. I decided to stay because people were hurt and it was such a gut reaction because I had been prepared to support the medical team. I had purchased medical supplies to help people. My intentions were to be there until everyone left. That night after my mom left, they were breaking windows and setting things on fire. After that there was a curfew and things kind of died down. Since then it has been primarily peaceful.
One of the first, main requests of the protestors seeking justice for Breonna was to ban no-knock warrants. Why is this such an important first step?
Hannah: Entering Breonna Taylor’s home on a no-knock warrant never made any sense to many of us when we read about the case. Kentucky is a state that has the Castle Doctrine which allows someone to defend their home. No-knock warrants and the Castle Doctrine are [contradictory]. Working with a group of friends, we all decided that was one of the things that we could impact.
What was important was that we each worked in the area that we could. My job as a writer and speaker was to keep drawing attention to the no knock warrant. What I always try to impress upon people is that we were just a regular group of people that decided this does not make sense. Breonna Taylor should be alive, and we used every avenue we had to work together to make sure no one else would have to experience a tragedy like this.
Brianna: I was so angry with what I had witnessed and when we started working on the No Knock Warrant campaign, the shift happened for me where I started thinking about long-term change and how we have to create an environment where this could never happen again. I helped support [the No Knock Warrant campaign] from a small research standpoint and really supported Jecorey Arthur, who was leading that work and whose campaign for Metro Council I managed.
The Louisville city council and state leaders agreed to banning no-knock warrants, even passing laws named in honor of Breonna Taylor. Do you believe this was a successful campaign?
Brianna: My real answer is that there is a lot that we don’t know about this case and they just want to throw us a bone so the local government didn’t look bad. They thought it would be the end. Since then, so much more has come out about this case. The on-the-ground protesters are still asking for the same things — arresting the police, etc. — but the people who are working inside the system are asking more questions about what really happened, which I think is critical to authentic change.
What do you see as the path forward towards justice for Breonna Taylor?
Hannah: I’m going to continue to write about Breonna Taylor and demand justice for Breonna and I will continue writing about racism and injustice in America. Breonna Taylor’s case shows that Louisville and this nation still have a long way to go when it comes to dealing with race in America. Her case has also shown me just how hard this nation will work to defend racism. When you reduce the racial uprisings in this nation down to its irreducible essence, you have a group of people saying, “Stop killing Black people. Stop treating Black people unfairly,” and a group of people that are willing to fight to the death for that not to happen. That makes me sad but then I remember this is a nation that went to war to defend the right to enslave people.
Brianna: For the people who are serious about authentic change, we want people to rally behind something that will be actual growth. In an ideal world, I would love to see people come together like they have for this case so we can get continued justice for all of the racial issues our community faces all the time. I want to focus on rectifying the injustices of 400 years of slavery in this country. That’s where my heart is every day.
What advice would you each give to any woman who wants to engage in social justice activism in 2020?
Hannah: I’m a firm believer in speaking the truth, even if you’re scared. It’s okay to be afraid, tell the truth afraid. What will harm you is to not tell the truth, to not speak the truth. In fact, if everybody likes what you have to say, you’re probably doing something wrong.
Brianna: I would tell them to be courageous and fearless and don’t hold back on anything they speak about.