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BLM Co-Founder Reflects On Breonna Taylor's Death


In the years since Breonna Taylor was killed in a police raid, her death has become much more than a singular tragedy. It's become a powerful inflection point in the Black Lives Matter movement to affirm the dignity of Black life and oppose police violence.

Now, we just heard from those in Louisville today, so now we thought we'd step back a bit and hear from someone who was there at the beginning of this now nearly decade-long movement. We're going to speak with Alicia Garza, one of the co-founders of Black Lives Matter and author and a principal at the Black Futures Lab. I want to mention that we've asked her to speak on her own behalf today and not as a representative of any organization.

And with that being said, Alicia Garza, thank you so much for joining us once again.

ALICIA GARZA: Thank you so much for having me, Michel. It's good to be with you.

MARTIN: As we mentioned, we're speaking exactly a year since Breonna Taylor's death. And I'm just wondering, what's on your mind today?

GARZA: You know, my heart is heavy. And there are so many, like Breonna, who have been stolen from us. And justice and accountability is fleeting for the people who stole her life from us. And we see this time and time again. I can't help but know that in this country, our laws are designed to protect police officers who murder, whether those murders are justified or warranted or not.

So my heart is heavy, and in that heavy-heartedness, I'm working even harder to make sure that we change the rules that have been rigged against our communities for so long, that create these kinds of dynamics over and over again.

MARTIN: What do you think it is about Breonna Taylor's death that has pierced so many people so profoundly? You know, sadly, she's - she isn't the first person to die in a police-involved shooting. She's not the first person to be the target of mistaken identity or a botched raid or where errors were made. What do you think it is about her death that is such an important inflection point? I think you agree with me that it is. Do you think it's because she's such a young woman, because she was an essential worker? What do you think it is?

GARZA: Well, I think it's probably a few things. I mean, one, we don't often hear about the women who are being killed by police or by vigilantes, and particularly when it relates to Black women. Kimberle Crenshaw and her campaign from the African American Policy Forum called Say Her Name reminds us - right? - that Black women's deaths, Black women's murders, are often not covered. They're often not seen. So much of the stories that we hear about police violence tend to be about what people call unarmed Black men.

I think the other piece of it, honestly, is that she was sleeping in her own home. And despite the spin that the police tried to do after they murdered her, despite the fact that they just dropped charges against her boyfriend, who defended both her and himself, I think there's, you know, something there also about the fact that she was not an aggressor, and, in fact, she was asleep.

The third piece of it, to be quite honest, is that everybody's eyes were on these kinds of cases because we had had Ahmaud Arbery, the brother from Georgia who was jogging in his own neighborhood and killed in broad daylight by two white vigilantes, a father-son duo. The murder of George Floyd, of course, I think, kicks this into perspective because I just remember a year ago, it felt like it was happening every single day.

MARTIN: The fact that her family, Breonna Taylor's family, received what at the time to this point is still the largest settlement ever paid out by Louisville for a matter like this, the fact that George Floyd's family has just received a large settlement, the fact that we're speaking on the week in which the police officer, the first trial in connection with George Floyd's death is, in fact, taking place - does that offer any - I don't know. I don't want to use the word comfort. I don't want to use that word. But does it mean anything to you?

GARZA: Well, when you look around our communities, we think about the schools that are closing, all the people who are living in tents under and next to freeways. And I just wonder, what are we spending our money on? These kinds of settlements never are enough. They will never soothe the hearts of the people who are now without their family member and their loved one. But it also points to the fact that our criminal system does not account for what happens when police are the criminals. And so we end up paying out all of this money because we can't control police.

I just keep thinking, is it worth it to keep paying out millions and millions of dollars? Or do we need to do something finally about the way that policing operates in our communities? And given all of the needs that we have - hospitals closing, schools closing, teachers not getting paid - it actually makes me irate that we are (laughter) levying this amount of money instead of dealing with the problem at the root.

The way that policing is happening in our communities is not working. We are spending millions and millions of dollars protecting officers who murder people in our communities and murder people in our families. Those officers go on to continue to police in our communities. And that's something I think we need to pay attention to.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, the coming months are going to mark more of the kinds of anniversaries we are noting today. And I just wanted to ask how you think that people should think about these moments.

I mean, is this an opportunity to reflect? I mean, is this an opportunity to keep up the momentum? I mean, after a certain point, you know, people can't continue to stay at a fever pitch. On the other hand, you don't want these moments to go unremarked. And I'm just wondering, how do you think - how would you like to see people think about these moments?

GARZA: Yeah. I mean, these are moments to demand change. And while you may not have much impact over what is happening in those courtrooms, you do have impact over what laws are being passed in Congress and what laws are being passed in your state houses. I've said many times that protest is not the only way to change things. It is one tool that we use in our toolboxes to be responsible citizens, to speak up when bad things are happening and intervene when bad things are happening in our communities.

But our other responsibility as citizens is to make sure that we are shaping the rules that govern our lives. And when we do not step up for that responsibility, what we get is what we've had for the last four years in this country - terrible rule-making, being asleep at the wheel, you know, 100% not engaging in the protections and the changes that people needed to be resilient in the face of crisis.

It means making sure that your representatives hear from you about the agenda that you want to see being moved through Congress right now. And if you're curious about who your legislators are and how to get in touch with them, you know, we've made it very easy at the Black Futures Lab. You can just go to our website, look for Electoral Action Center, type in your zip code, and you can get all the contact information for all the people who represent you in cities and states and in the federal government.

MARTIN: That was Alicia Garza, one of the co-founders of Black Lives Matter, a principal at Black Futures Lab. Her latest book is "The Purpose of Power: How We Come Together When We Fall Apart."

Alicia Garza, thanks so much for sharing this time with us today.

GARZA: Thank you so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAGGIE ROGERS' "BETTER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.