Breonna Taylor's Mother: 'I Won't Go Away. I'll Still Fight'

Sep 18, 2020
Originally published on September 21, 2020 4:27 am

The mother of Breonna Taylor says that if the police reforms announced this week by officials in Louisville were in place six months ago, her daughter might still be alive.

Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman who worked as an emergency room technician, was fatally shot by Louisville police during a botched narcotics raid at her home during the early morning hours of March 13.

A decision on whether to bring charges against the three officers who carried out the raid is expected in the coming days.

Tamika Palmer, her mother, says she has not been given any indication if the officers will be indicted. But she made clear that, for her, that's what justice would look like.

"I'm hoping to hear that there will be charges," Palmer said Friday in an interview on NPR's Morning Edition. "That these people will be fired and arrested."

"2020 was her year"

Earlier this week, the city of Louisville said it would pay $12 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit brought by Taylor's family. As part of the settlement, city officials unveiled several changes to the way the police department operates, including requiring that only high-ranking commanding officers approve requests for search warrants.

"Had we had those practices in play already, a lot of things could have been avoided that happened with Breonna," Palmer told NPR's Rachel Martin.

"Breonna was a beautiful person inside and out," Palmer said, adding that her daughter was someone who wanted to help people and lift them up.

"Even in the very beginning of this year, she kept saying 2020 was her year," Palmer said. "And she was absolutely right."

"I hate that it came in that form, but it definitely is her year."

In the six months since her death, Taylor's name has been chanted countless times at demonstrations in Louisville and across the nation as activists call for greater police accountability and an end to police brutality against communities of color.

Taylor is among a steadily growing list of Black Americans who were killed or seriously injured by law enforcement this year and have now have become household names, including George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks and Jacob Blake.

Demonstrators hold their cases up as examples of police using excessive force during encounters with communities of color. In many cases, including Taylor's, critics say justice for the victims' family has so far been elusive.

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron's office is weighing whether to charge the three Louisville police officers involved in Taylor's shooting death.

Lonita Baker, a Taylor family attorney, said the multi-million-dollar settlement with the city should not take the pressure off of Cameron's office.

"It is important for people to understand that the settlement of the civil case involving the officers is completely different from that of the criminal case," Baker said.

"So settling the civil suit has absolutely nothing to do with the criminal case."

Tamika Palmer spoke at the March on Washington last month at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. At left is Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, and at right is the Rev. Al Sharpton.
Jacquelyn Martin / AP

A decision on charges expected in coming days

Two of the officers — Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove — have been reassigned to administrative duties. The third officer, Brett Hankison, was fired because he "wantonly and blindly fired ten (10) rounds" into Taylor's apartment, according to a pre-termination letter made public in June.

Cameron, who is a Republican and the state's first Black attorney general, is reportedly close to presenting his findings to a grand jury. But in a statement last week, he tried to knock down such speculation, adding that the investigation is ongoing and any announcements regarding the charges will come from his office.

Palmer expressed gratitude for the people of all races who have kept her daughter's case in the national spotlight.

"If the investigation ends and there are no charges, what's the next step for you?" Martin asked Palmer.

She responded: "I won't go away. I'll still fight."

Cameron, who was asked to serve as special prosecutor in the case in May, had said part of the delay in his decision on whether to bring charges was because he didn't have the FBI ballistics report.

In an interview with CBS News on Aug. 30, he revealed he obtained it.

"That is a critical piece of this investigation," he said. "It's not the end-all-be-all. There are still some witness testimony and interviews that have to be conducted. But we do have that ballistics report."

Mayor announces police reforms

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, a Democrat, has unveiled what he called a series of "significant" police reforms as part of the settlement with Taylor's family.

The reforms aimed at providing more oversight for the city's embattled police department and incentives for police to build stronger relationships within the community.

The Louisville Metro Police Department now plans to hire social workers for officer support. The settlement also includes creating a housing credit program that will incentivize officers to live in neighborhoods they police.

Earlier this month, Fischer named Yvette Gentry as the department's new interim police chief. When she assumes the role on Oct. 1, she'll be the first Black woman to lead the department. She will also be the troubled department's third chief since the March killing of Taylor.

Gentry had retired from the police department in 2014 but agreed to come back until a permanent police chief is hired. Officials hope to name a permanent chief by year's end.

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The national protests after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd in May sounded like this.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS #1: (Chanting) George Floyd. Say his name. George Floyd. Say his name. George Floyd. Say his name.

MARTIN: There was another name in those chants, too, one that had, until that moment, not been part of the public movement against police violence.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS #2: (Chanting) Breonna Taylor. Say her name. Breonna Taylor. Say her name. Breonna Taylor. Say her name.

MARTIN: Breonna Taylor was 26 years old. She was an emergency room technician in Louisville, Ky. On March 13, police entered her home with a no-knock warrant. They shot and killed her. Six months after her death, just one of the officers involved in the shooting has been fired, and there have been no charges. This month, the city did agree to settle a wrongful death suit, with $12 million settlement paid to Taylor's family. But the family says that is not what real justice looks like.

Kentucky's attorney general and the FBI have been investigating the circumstances of Taylor's killing, and the results of that investigation are expected soon. Breonna Taylor's mother, Tamika Palmer, joins us now along with her lawyer, Lonita Baker. Thank you for being with us.

TAMIKA PALMER: No problem.

LONITA BAKER: Thank you for having us.

MARTIN: First, Tamika, I am just very sorry for your loss. And I know every time you have to have a conversation about it, it brings up new pain. So we appreciate that you joined us this morning.

PALMER: Thank you.

MARTIN: The settlement that you received from the city of Louisville also included the promise of police reforms. And the Louisville mayor has said that no-knock search warrants would now require approval from the police chief. And there were also other reforms, including encouraging police to live where they serve. Are you satisfied with that?

PALMER: I believe that - well, first off, if the police live in these communities that they're policing, they are - they - you know, they will get to know the people in those communities. They will get to understand these people better or, you know, get out and communicate with these people. And I think a lot of the reform stuff that was included, had we had those practices in play already, a lot of things could have been avoided that happened with Breonna.

MARTIN: Lonita, if I could put a question to you, does this settlement take the pressure off Attorney General Daniel Cameron's office to bring criminal charges against the police?

BAKER: No, it does not. And it's important that people understand that the settlement of the civil case involving the officers is completely different from that of the criminal case. The proof that will be needed in court is completely different. The burden of proof - so the amount of evidence that you have to have to prove the civil case or the wrongful death claims included in the lawsuit are completely different from the criminal case. So settling the civil suit has absolutely nothing to do with the criminal case. And as Tamika said, you know, we're continuing to apply pressure to Daniel Cameron to indict the officers that were involved in Breonna's death.

MARTIN: We could hear the results of the attorney general's investigation as early as today. Have you been given, Tamika, any indication as to what the results are? Or what are you expecting to hear?

PALMER: No, I haven't been given anything. But I'm hoping that - to hear that there will be charges, that these people will be fired and arrested.

MARTIN: Do you think enough attention was paid to this case from the beginning?

PALMER: Well, when it very first started out, absolutely not. And for months, people didn't - they didn't know. And people started really hearing about this story in May. And so many people by May - they were upset. You know, they're thinking that this thing just happened. But it happened in March, and they - it was swept under the rug where, in my opinion, they would have hoped that it would have stayed.

MARTIN: Mm hmm.

Can you talk a little bit about your daughter? She is now someone whose name is synonymous with this movement against police brutality, police violence against Black Americans. Tell us about her, if you could.

PALMER: She just - you know, Breonna was a beautiful person inside and out. And she was just a big person, a - you know, that wanted to lift other people up and would do anything to help anybody around her. And just even in the very beginning of this year, she kept saying 2020 was her year. And she was absolutely right. I hate that it came in that form, but it definitely is her year.

MARTIN: When you see people out on the streets in protests carrying Breonna's picture, yelling her name like a rallying cry, what goes through your mind?

PALMER: It's amazing - the love, the support. So many of these people don't even know her personally. I mean, they've learned her through me. They've learned her through all of us. Just that she was able to bring these people together - and all different people - you know, it's white people, Black people, Hispanic - it's just so many different people of so many other races willing to stand up for her and what happened to her.

And that's - even before this, that's the type of person she was. She would - she could bring people together without a - I mean, just in a heartbeat. And people loved to be around her and loved her laugh and her smile, her spirit.

MARTIN: If the investigation ends and there are no charges, what's the next step for you?

PALMER: I won't go away. I'll still fight.

MARTIN: Tamika Palmer is the mother of Breonna Taylor. She was also joined by Lonita Baker, her legal representative.

Thank you so much for taking the time.

PALMER: Thank you.

BAKER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.