Breonna Taylor's mom seeking answers in her death: 'I haven't had time to … grieve'

ABC NewsBy EMILY TAGUCHI, DEBORAH KIM, KRISTOFER RIOS and ANTHONY RIVAS, ABC News

(NEW YORK) — Dancing with friends. Singalongs on vacation. Finally buying that dream car.

These are the memories Breonna Taylor’s family remembers when they think back on her life in Louisville, Kentucky. At 26 years old, Taylor was an EMT with dreams of becoming a nurse.

“Her thing was to uplift everybody around her,” Tamika Palmer, Taylor’s mother, told ABC News’ Nightline co-anchor Juju Chang. “You couldn’t be sad or down around her.”

Today, Breonna Taylor’s name is called out along with George Floyd’s in protests that have swept the United States in a push for racial justice and police reform.

Taylor was killed on March 13 in her own apartment when three Louisville police officers executed a no-knock search warrant on her home.

Yet her death was largely overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic, which had begun spreading across the country around the same time. Nearly three months later, her mother is still searching for answers about the night her daughter died.

“I haven’t had time to sit and grieve,” Palmer said. “I’m still trying to figure out why my daughter was killed. I’m still trying to figure out, why did it have to come to her being murdered.”

“Why did Breonna have to die?” she said.

Taylor’s last night had been like any other; she had dinner with her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, after a long day caring for patients. She also spoke to her cousin, Preonia Flakes, about which swimsuits they’d be wearing when they went on vacation in a few weeks.

Shortly after midnight, three Louisville plain clothes police officers used a battering ram to force their way into her apartment.

Under the impression that intruders were carrying out a home invasion, Walker grabbed his licensed gun and fired one round. In return the officers fired 20 rounds, eight of which hit Breonna.

Flakes said she found out her cousin had been killed early the next morning while getting ready for work. When Taylor’s best friend told her, “Bree’s gone,” she asked, “Going where?”

“I just got off the phone with her literally, like, last night. Going where?” Flakes said. “And she was like, ‘She’s gone, Pre.’ I’m like, ‘What do you mean, gone?'”

Flakes said she and Taylor were like “sisters,” doing everything together from house parties to birthdays, and even seeing each other for sleepovers every weekend. She said Taylor was also helping her to mature into adulthood, advising her on responsibilities like managing her credit score.

Since her death, Flakes says it’s hard to believe Taylor is gone and that she sometimes imagines Taylor on vacation with no phone, unable to reach out to anyone.

“But then every day I wake up with something that reminds me that she’s really gone,” Flakes said. “She’s not coming back.”

Palmer said she found out about her daughter’s shooting through Walker, who called her in the midst of the raid.

“It was after midnight. So he called and said that someone was trying to break into the house, and he thinks they shot Breonna,” Palmer said. “And so I asked, ‘Well, where is she?’ He said he couldn’t see and he was yelling for her.”

Palmer said that when she arrived at the apartment, “the street was lined with police.” She spoke to an officer there who told her she needed to get to the hospital, she said. However, after waiting in the hospital for two hours, she was told her daughter wasn’t there and returned to the apartment.

“When I got there … they told me to hold on, they’d get a detective over to talk to me, which they did,” Palmer said. “It took a couple of hours. He comes over. He asked if I knew if Breonna or Kenny had any enemies or anybody that would want to hurt them. And of course, no, absolutely not.”

“And I’m asking, ‘Where’s Breonna? Where’s Kenny?’ And so, he tells me to hang tight. He’ll be back,” Palmer continued. “It was sometime later [that] he comes back. He asked if anything had been going on with Breonna and Kenny — if they had problems. And I asked, ‘Are you insinuating that Kenny did this?’ Because he would never.”

Kimberlé Crenshaw, a law professor at the University of California Los Angeles and Columbia School of Law, says it’s typical among black women to be involved in incidents like Taylor’s.

“When we think about where black women aren’t safe, they’re not safe in the only place they’re supposed to be,” Crenshaw said. “Black women typically get killed when police do raids.”

“No-knock warrants allow police officers, based on one of the lowest standards possible — reasonableness — to be able to knock down your door in the dead of night, plainclothes,” she continued. “So, from your perspective, you think you’re experiencing a home invasion.”

Police say they were looking for drugs, but none were found in the apartment. Also, the drug dealer they had been investigating had already been arrested earlier that evening.

Walker was initially charged with attempted murder. His case was dropped.

Meanwhile, none of the police involved in Taylor’s death have been charged or arrested, and they remain on the job.

Lee Merritt, the attorney for Taylor’s family, said Taylor’s case is an example of the kind of systemic problems that exist in the U.S. criminal justice system.

“Breonna Taylor’s case is more representative of where we are as a country than the George Floyd’s. We’ve seen adjustments being made, exceptions being made, to the criminal justice system,” Merritt said. “But more often than not, it happens like it happened with Breonna Taylor, where she’s brutalized and then criminalized, her boyfriend goes to jail, and the men who are responsible for her death are not fired or arrested.”

Following Taylor’s death, the Louisville Metro Council began considering legislation that limits the use of no-knock warrants. But the practice remains in place.

“I think it’s insane. No one should be awakened that way,” Palmer said of the warrants. “Why would you want to enter into a home in the middle of the night without announcing yourselves? What is it in the middle of the night that couldn’t wait until 8 [a.m.] for that matter?”

“Why did it take a battering ram?” Palmer continued. “Why not knock on the door and explain who you are? Because, had they done that, Breonna would have definitely let them in.”

Contrary to police officers’ claims that they knocked on the door and identified themselves, Palmer says Walker, as well as his and Taylor’s neighbors, said they never heard the police announce themselves. They told her they only heard the battering ram hitting the door, she said.

“They said … in the beginning, on the news, that they knocked and announced themselves, but then they said they had a no-knock warrant,” Palmer said. “So which one is it?”

Initially, after Taylor’s death, her mother says the people in her family were the only ones saying her name. “It felt like no one was listening and that no one was answering,” she said. But then audio of Walker’s 911 call was released amid protests over George Floyd’s death.

“I don’t know what’s happening. Somebody kicked in the door and shot my girlfriend,” Walker says on the call.

“Can you check and see where [she’s] been shot at?” the operator responds.

“I can’t, she’s on her stomach,” Walker says.

The operator asks if Taylor is alert and able to talk to Walker. He says her name and then begins crying as he screams, “Oh my God! Oh my God!”

Palmer said it’s “amazing” to see so many people joining her fight for justice.

“[I] just love that people who don’t even know her are willing to say her name when these officers wouldn’t even do that,” Palmer said.

Taylor’s cousin, Flakes, doesn’t see the new push for change stopping anytime soon.

“Breonna’s name has brought everybody together as a whole, and everybody is working together to make a change,” she said. “There’s something that has to be done with police brutality.”

Flakes said she hopes to see changes in the laws as well as in the justice system as a whole. Taylor would have turned 27 on Friday, June 5, and Flakes said she hopes there will be more equality for black people by the time Taylor would have been 28. She hopes for these things, she said, because she wants the world to be a safer place for her son.

“He’s 6. He really don’t understand. But over the weekend … I think he’s starting to understand. He’s starting to realize. He’s running around the house, [saying], ‘No justice, no peace,'” Flakes said, referring to a popular rallying cry among protesters.

“I hear him and I see him saying things that we are saying to get the justice that we need to let the world know that we, as black people, are tired,” she said. “We are tired.”

Since losing her daughter, Palmer has been fighting for what’s known as Breonna’s Law, which would ban no-knock warrants.

“I’m hoping that it changes the way that they are entering into people’s homes and that, again, no family should ever have to go through this,” she said.

About the protests currently in their third week, she said, “It’s bigger than Breonna now because this is happening everywhere and nobody’s safe anymore. So, to just have all these different people, these different walks of lives come together and want the same thing, it’s amazing.”

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