Breonna was an emergency medical technician and first responder, and had been working hard in a patient facing role at the beginning of the coronavirus epidemic, despite the fact that as a black person she was at far higher risk from the disease than a white person. She lived with her boyfriend in Louisville, Kentucky. On 13th March 2020, Breonna and her boyfriend were in bed when they were disturbed by the sound of intruders. Thinking they were being robbed, Breonna’s boyfriend grabbed his (licensed) gun and shot one of the intruders in the leg. But the intruders were armed too, and responded by firing indiscriminately, into every room of the apartment. An officer outside the property fired through windows with closed blinds. Eight of these hit the unarmed Breonna, and she died at the scene.
But these intruders weren’t burglars. They were police, in possession of a warrant which permitted them to enter Breonna’s apartment without knocking or introducing themselves. They were in plain clothes and an unmarked car and had no body cams. They had the warrant because they believed Breonna’s former partner had been using the apartment to store drugs. No drugs were found at the property and the man they were investigating was already in police custody. There was absolutely no reason for the police to force entry without asking and the fact that they did so without letting the occupants know that they were police officers absolutely beggars belief. There was absolutely no reason to believe Breonna or her partner were any danger to anyone. Would they have used this completely disproportionate level of force to search a white couple’s property? Would they have shot away knowing that someone could have been killed? We can’t answer that, and maybe you are thinking that these police officers are just thugs who would treat anyone the same. But just look at what happened next.
The police officers lied and said that they had introduced themselves before breaking in. This is at odds with Breonna’s partner’s 911 call, which clearly shows that he did not know the intruders were police. Breonna’s partner was charged with shooting the police officer. The police officers who killed Breonna were not charged with anything. They did not even lose their jobs. A police “report” on the incident is insultingly blank, listing Breonna’s injuries as “none” and omitting most of her personal details, as if the person who filled it couldn’t even be bothered to waste time on it.
If a white person had been murdered by the police like this, it would almost certainly have made front page news and the perpetrators would have faced justice straight away. But Breonna’s death was hardly mentioned, and if it were not for the publicity surrounding the death of George Floyd two months later, I would almost certainly never have heard of her.
On June 12th, a few days after what would have been Breonna’s 27th birthday, Louisville voted unanimously to ban “no knock” warrants and introduce mandatory bodycams for police officers. Breonna’s boyfriend has been released without charge.
“I’m just going to say, Breonna, that’s all she wanted to do was save lives, so with this law she will continue to get to do that” – Tamika Palmer, Breonna’s mother.