‘Breonna Taylor wasn’t me, but she could have been’

A colorful mural of Breonna Taylor.
A mural honoring the memory of Breonna Taylor at the corner of 15th and Broadway. June 9, 2020. Photo: Pete Rosos

Two Oakland Voices correspondents share their thoughts on the news of the Kentucky grand jury not filing criminal charges against police officers in the shooting of Breonna Taylor.

The essays below are crosspublished with The Oaklandside.

Jury decision sends “the same tedious and terrifying message”

— Saa’un P. Bell

I couldn’t imagine a different outcome. After all, how could a justice system that took Breonna’s life in the way it did, give her any justice? 

Yet, every… single… time… the justice system fails Black people as it did Breonna Taylor, it’s a shock to my chest, a never-ending rush of anxiety roiling into hurt and rage. 

There was no justice, only disgrace. Only further evidence that Breonna Taylor’s family could have all the proof, and the outcome would still be the same: No police officer is responsible for her actual death. Instead, one police officer is charged with “wanton endangerment” for aimlessly shooting into neighboring apartments. 

The jury’s decision sends the same tedious and terrifying message that we’ve long known: In America’s justice system, private property is worth more than the life of a Black woman. 

Breonna’s story resonates. I was 13 years old when several police officers busted into my home in the late hours of the night while my family lay sleeping. Between the dizzying flashlights in my eyes and the muffled voices of the officers who shuffled their way into my bedroom at that moment, I had no idea why the police were in my home. 

The following day, my father sat our family down at the dinner table. He told us that the police entered our homes on the claim that a suspected criminal “was hiding in our home.” 

I always wonder what would have happened if my father defended himself, got scared, acted out of fear.

That time, no one died. Those police officers moved on with their lives, while my family was left to grapple with the memory of the chaos, the officer’s loud voices filling our home, and their hands on their guns. 

But now, because of the same system, in a different state, in a different town, a Black woman is shot dead. In her own home, while she slept in the comfort of her bed. Breonna Taylor is dead. Her mother won’t ever see her again. The people that loved and knew her won’t ever get a chance to laugh and cry with Breonna. 

She should be alive today. 

“I should be surprised, but I’m not”

— Brandy Collins

Trigger warning: You may not like what I’m going to say, but I’m going to say it anyway. 

When I first heard about the shooting of Breonna Taylor, I didn’t cry. I did what millions of other Black women across the United States of America did. I got up, took a deep life-affirming breath, and I went to work.

Now more than six months later, as I read that the grand jury decided to only indict Louisville officer Brett Hankison on three counts of first-degree “wanton endangerment,” and not charge all three officers for the shooting and killing of Breonna, I should be surprised, but I’m not. 

Her killing and the subsequent verdict are a reminder of how unprotected we are, and how little value the world has put on our lives. It is also a reminder to myself that no matter how much work I put in, the world will never see me as a person. 

Breonna’s death happened in the midst of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, whose killings were both caught on video. It would have been missed and overlooked had other Black women not spoken up to remind the world that Black men are not the only people getting killed by police. (Reminder: There was no indictment in the case of Sandra Bland, either.) 

Breonna’s image has been immortalized and memorialized on t-shirts and murals. Her name has been hashtagged, made into memes, and placed on a Jeopardy board. She’s even been the subject of a song. Even in death, we are still put to work.  

The person that Breonna was is forever gone, and her memory lives on with those that truly knew who she was. We may see the pretty smiling and regal pictures of Breonna Taylor. What we don’t get to see is that someone loved her deeply. Someone knew her favorite foods. Someone knew her favorite perfume. Someone heard her swear when she stubbed her pinky toe on the edge of the dresser. Breonna Taylor wasn’t me, but she could have been. 

Black women are held up as symbols of the tropes that represent America: We are the most educated, and the most entrepreneurial. Our bodies have been the basis for medical scienceas it exists today. We are superheroes in your favorite comics and in real life. And all we ever ask in return is to enjoy a wine train once in a while, watch our favorite shows, and get some sleep so that we can get up the next day and continue saving the world. 

A Black woman who was sleeping in her home after working long hours caring for other people (let’s not forget that Breonna Taylor was an Emergency Medical Technician) was shot. So why wasn’t I surprised? Because I have lived my entire life being told that I am too aggressive, too angry, don’t smile enough, am too bitter, too big, and too loud. As a Black woman, I am too alive. I’m not allowed to be a person, just a symbol. 

If it had not been for that faithful Friday night on March 13, 2020, Breonna Taylor would have done like millions of Black women in the U.S. do every morning. She would have got up, took a life-affirming breath, and went to work. 

So this time, I am pursing my lips tightly, closing my eyes, laying back down in my bed, and taking another deep breath because I am reminded this world does not deserve Black women or our work. Black women need our own day to mourn and the rest of the world needs to start fighting for us the way we have for so long. Y’all hit the streets and go to work, because I’m tired.

About Brandy Collins:

Brandy Collins is a writer and public services advocate born and raised in the Bay Area. She is a 2019-2020 cohort graduate from the Maynard Institute for Journalism, a correspondent for Oakland Voices, a blogger and the funny one in numerous group chats. She is concerned with civic engagement and leadership development toward making public works more efficient for the people. Brandy is full of Scorpio magic and self-proclaimed Professional Aunty. Follow her on Twitter @gurl79 or Instagram @story_soul_collecter.

About Saa'un Bell

Saa'un is grounded in her southern roots of Greenville Alabama and Eastern Samar (Philippines) where the rain never sleeps. She is the oldest of six, in a serious, but comical, working class Black and Filipino immigrant family. She immigrated to the U.S when she was a small child where she spent most of her life growing up in East Long Beach. After graduating with a B.A in Philosophy and Sociology, she moved to Oakland in 2009. Saa'un is the Statewide Communications Manager for a Californians for Justice, an organization that advances Education and Racial Justice for immigrant, LGBTIQ, and youth of color. She is a writer that is committed to uplifting the stories & voices that too often are unheard and untold. Follow her on twitter @saaunb View all posts by Saa'un Bell →

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