What Justice for Breonna Taylor Really Means: The Fight for Change That’s Keeping Her Memory Alive

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Before March 13, 2020, Breonna Taylor was an ordinary 26-year-old woman. She loved her family and friends, worked as an emergency room technician at a hospital and was otherwise going about her business navigating the joys and challenges of life in Louisville, Ky., where the Michigan native had lived for 12 years. She was the proud owner of a new car and was saving up to buy a house.

After March 13, 2020, she became a cause, a symbol, a cover girl, a rallying cry. And a memory.

At around 9 p.m. on March 12, Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, returned from a date-night dinner to the apartment she shared with her younger sister, who was out of town. Taylor had been working night shifts at the hospital and was expecting an 11 p.m. call to head to work, but the phone didn't ring. Instead, she baked some cookies, they played Uno and then put on Netflix in her bedroom. They started watching the movie Freedom Writers but soon fell asleep, first Taylor, then Walker started to doze off.

"The last thing she said was, 'Turn off the TV,'" he later told the New York Times.

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At 12:40 a.m., three officers from the Louisville Metro Police Department, toting a "no-knock" search warrant, showed up at her place, unit No. 4, on the ground floor. They say they did a "knock-and-announce," rapping on the door and identifying themselves as police.

The couple were startled out of bed by the banging. Walker would remember both of them calling out, asking who was there, but no one answered and the banging continued. The cops have said they didn't hear anything from inside and used a battering ram to break down the front door, expecting to find one unarmed woman home alone. Taylor and Walker, who had gotten dressed so fast he pulled on his girlfriend's pants, were in the hallway by then. Walker, a licensed gun owner, had grabbed his 9-mm Glock. 

Walker, who told police he thought at the time that Taylor's ex was breaking in, fired what he insisted was meant to be a warning shot to scare him off. Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly was hit in the thigh.

Mattingly and detectives Myles Cosgrove and Brett Hankison then proceeded to fire off 32 shots, some of the bullets entering two neighboring apartments. When they retreated to attend to Mattingly outside, where another handful of officers were stationed as part of the operation, Walker called 911 at 12:47 a.m., telling the operator, "Somebody kicked in the door and shot my girlfriend."

Taylor, who was struck six times, one shot proving fatal, died right there.

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A search of the apartment later that morning turned up no cash or drugs, only some mail addressed to Taylor's ex-boyfriend, Jamarcus Glover, whose alleged criminal activities were what put her on the authorities' radar in the first place. When she was killed, Glover had just been taken into custody. A wrongful death lawsuit filed by Taylor's family against the city alleged that more than 60 officers, including a militarized SWAT team, executed "no-knock" warrants at three addresses on another street, seizing drugs, a scale, cash and guns, and arresting Glover and four others without incident.

"She was already an accomplished and certified EMT for the City of Louisville and currently worked for [University of Louisville Health's Jewish Hospital East] as a medical tech," Taylor's aunt Bianca Austin told WHAS-11 News two days after her niece was killed, the battle already on to clear Breonna's name from posthumous tarnishing. "This is not a woman who would sacrifice her life and her family morals and values to sell drugs on the street."

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Taylor was innocent of any wrongdoing, Sam Aguiar, an attorney for her family, said at a news conference in May after they filed suit against the city. "The warrant in and of itself looks like another wild goose chase to try and get drug dealers and other folks in Louisville, and Breonna Taylor got lumped right into the middle of it," he said.

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, whose office was overseeing the investigation into the events of that night, assured that he would take "appropriate action." Gov. Andy Beshear called the reports coming out about the circumstances of Taylor's death "troubling."

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