Remembering Breonna Taylor

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S1: This is a

S2: word, a new podcast from Slate. I’m your host, Jason Johnson. One year ago, emergency room technician Briana Taylor was shot and killed by police in her home in Louisville, Kentucky. The 26 year old’s death helped fuel the reckoning over police violence against black Americans. We’ll talk about what’s changed and what hasn’t in her community a year later. That’s next on a word with me, Jason Johnson. Stay with us. Welcome to a word, a podcast about race and politics and everything else. I’m your host, Jason Johnson. There was nothing special about the night of March 13th, 20 20 in Louisville, Kentucky, Kenneth Walker and his girlfriend Brianna Taylor had settled in for the night. When you heard the sounds of someone trying to break in, he got his gun and fired a shot, not knowing that the men at the door were police. The police fired back. Here’s some tape of Walker’s 911 call that night. We have to warn listeners it’s hard to hear

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S3: no one operative areas where there are emergency. I’m going to have to get somebody in the door is not my girlfriend, so she’ll never possibly know she’s my brain. Oh, God. Can you get her turned over on her back and see where she was shot?

S2: Be Brianna Taylor’s death one year ago became a part of a national movement to stop police violence against black Americans. It brought millions of protesters into the streets, sparked broader conversations about racial justice and changing laws to make it possible. Attica. Scott has been on the front lines of all of those efforts. She is a Kentucky state lawmaker and wrote Brianna’s law, which would ban no, not warrants like the one used by the police who killed Taylor and Attica. Scott joins us now. Representative Scott, welcome.

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S4: Thank you so much.

S2: I want to go back to this time last year. I don’t think there’s anybody listening to this podcast who doesn’t remember Brianna Taylor making news, but it didn’t make the national news four months after the initial shooting. So tell me a little bit about where you were when you first heard about her death and how it affected you as a lawmaker, as a black woman, as a mother and as the only black woman in the legislature at the time?

S4: Well, we didn’t hear much about it either. Locally in Louisville, it was pretty much a blip on the screen and then people moved on. We were in the midst of our legislative session, but also covid-19. So there was quite a bit that was happening when I first heard about it. My immediate thought was my folks back home, they’ve got it. They’re going to address whatever the issue is, whatever has happened here and I can’t do my legislative work into the session ended, which included focusing on COGAT relief.

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S2: Once you got a handle on, OK, this is how Kentucky is going to deal with covid. When did you start investigating on your own?

S4: Well, what’s interesting is around the middle of May, towards the end of May, I started getting tagged on social media by young people trying to get me to pay attention to this issue that was bubbling up. And I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t have a whole lot of background, so I really didn’t pay attention to it because a lot of folks try to contact me via social media. And then Thursday, May twenty eighth happened, which was our first day of protests in Louisville, and the police were extremely violent. My 19 year old daughter and I were watching it play out live, and my daughter looked at me and said, So we’re going down there tomorrow, right? And we did so for us and for me. That’s when my activism and advocacy in the Movement for Justice for Brianna Taylor began,

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S2: as you started to say, study and learn about the history of the Louisville Police Department. What kind of stuff were you finding out? What kinds of things were you finding out about this department’s history of abuse, especially when it comes to black people? Because I’m sure that informed how aggressive you were in your activism, in your pursuit of justice for Brianna?

S4: Well, part of what I learned is and was reminded of is that LAPD, the Louisville Metro Police Department, really isn’t about preventing crime. Right. That’s not what they do. That’s not really what we pay them to do. They investigate. But I also found that they weren’t really investigating crimes against black people and in particular black women. And that, of course, nationally, there was this reckoning around policing and the history of policing. So I think we all started to collectively learn that policing grew out of the night watchman who were bringing us back to slavery when we had escaped slavery and where we’re trying to flee to freedom. Louisville is is no different than that. And so we started to have this reckoning around. Why do we feel like we have to maintain this system that was never designed for us in the first place?

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S2: Earlier in this conversation, we heard the tape of Brianna, tailless boyfriend Kenneth Walker calling 911. One, he had a license for his gun. He had every reason to fear some random people breaking into breaking into the apartment. Yet Kentucky is a Stand Your Ground state, which is the kind of place where he should have been well within his rights. And yet the law was weaponized against him for trying to defend himself and defend his girlfriend. Can you talk a little bit about how that played out amongst fellow legislators?

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S4: Well, he would have been well within his rights if he were white, but because he is a black man, then we see him get arrested. And my colleagues weren’t talking about this. In fact, my colleagues, for the most part, overlook Louisville and don’t address issues of racial justice.

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S2: We’re going to take a short break. When we come back, more about the anniversary of Brown, a Taylor’s death with Kentucky lawmaker Atticus Scott. This is a word with Jason Johnson. Stay tuned. You’re listening to a word with Jason Johnson. Today, we’re talking about the anniversary of Brown Taylor’s death with Kentucky lawmaker Ataka Scott. After George Lloyd was killed in May, Brianna Taylor’s death became a national story, brought massive protests into Louisville. How were you involved in the summer demonstrations? And and in particular, what did you do to either bring in or vet outsiders who wanted to participate in the activism that you all had generated on the ground?

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S4: Well, the second night of protests, Friday, May twenty nine of my 19 year old daughter and I were out there on the front lines and we were there for hours and for no reason whatsoever, the police mobilized against us in full riot gear and tear gassed us. That was our first experience, the second night of protest. And I think that’s when all of you around the country saw a reporter and a camera person get shot with the rubber bullets by police. These are white camera people. So you know how they were treating us as black folks. And and I represent a district that is literally forty nine percent white, 51 percent black. That Sunday, two days later, I went to a protest for Brianna Taylor in the white eastern part of Louisville. In my district, police presence was chill. They barely said two words to folks that they were protesting, but they were mostly white people. So for me, this summer has been one of reconciling with that and saying to my constituents in the East and pay attention to the white privilege, you have to protest that we don’t have and do something about it, show up for racial justice and at the same time looking at what can we do as it relates to public policy to address what happened to Brianna Taylor on the night of Friday, March 13th. Twenty twenty.

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S2: You say, you know, half your district. Forty nine percent of your district is is is white. When you went to the white part of town, what was the response? Were people saying, you know, Representative Scott, how can we help where people already active and just wanting you to participate? How did the conversations about Brianna Taylor differ in your majority black part of your district versus a majority white part of your district?

S4: So it was a young black woman who organized that protest, who lives in the east end of Louisville. And she invited me. She asked me, please, Representative Scott, will you show up to this protest? And of course, I said yes. And then the interesting thing that happened is, of course, I was going live. I was posting about it. I had constituents calling, texted me saying, are you still there? I’m on my way. I’m bringing my family. We’re coming. That was huge. That was powerful. That showing up encouraged my constituents to show up as well because they wanted to stand in solidarity with their state representative, with the person they elected to represent them in the people’s house, in our state capitol. And that’s what I saw the entire summer, were people who wanted to show up because they were following, they were watching, and they knew that enough is enough.

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S2: Representative Scott, many of us may have our questions and criticisms of Attorney General Daniel Kameron. My question for you is, did you have any experience with Daniel Cameron prior to this investigation? And if you didn’t, what did you learn about him professionally and personally as you went through this investigation into Brianna Taylor’s death?

S4: Well, what I was clear about with now Attorney General Daniel Cameron is that he was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s candidate. That is who Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell recruited to run for attorney general. So I had no reason whatsoever to think that he would care about justice for black lives because that is not who he is or what he is about. Of course, we held out hope always. We held out hope. We were disappointed, but we were not surprised by his decision to not grant justice for Brianna Taylor or her family.

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S2: After Daniel Cameron announced that, hey, we’re not going to really have any any serious charges, a member of the grand jury released a statement that they said, hey, we weren’t even given all the relevant information or the option of calling for more serious charges against the officers. Where does the investigation into his failure stand now? Has has he basically gotten off scot free? Is there an ethics investigation? Is there anything looking into his failures to really put together a good case?

S4: There’s nothing that’s really looking into his failure to put together a good case. In fact, I’m working on a resolution right now from the legislature to the United States attorney general asking for a full investigation into Attorney General Daniel Kahneman and the Taylor case. So hopefully that’ll be coming forth in the next few days before March 13th of this year. I will also say that just last week, Attorney General Daniel Kameron tried to push forward a piece of legislation that would allow him to prosecute people like me and my teenage daughter who were arrested and had charges dropped, allow him to pick up those charges and prosecute himself. So he’s still coming after this movement is going to take.

S2: Atika Scott, we’re going to pause for a moment. When we come back, we’ll talk more about Briana Taylor’s death, whether or not politics can stop political violence. And we’ll talk in particular about your arrest and what that may mean for activists who are also elected officials. That’s ahead on a word with Jason Johnson. Stay with us. You’re listening to a word with Jason Johnson today, we’re talking about the anniversary of Brown, the Taylor’s death with Kentucky lawmaker Ataka Scott. I want to ask you, Representative Scott, in particular, about your arrest. So can you tell us a little bit about the time that you and your daughter were arrested and what you went through and what have been some of the sort of legislative consequences of your arrest? Did it change how your colleagues looked at you? Did it drive you to push for different kinds of legislation? Has it led to blowback from Republicans in the state looking to make arrests of activists, elected officials easier?

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S4: So Tuesday, September. Twenty second, Daniel Cameron made his announcement that there would be no justice for Brianna Taylor. Every single day that week, we had folks who were out protesting. We had over one hundred people arrested the night before we were arrested on Thursday, September twenty four. Twenty four of us were arrested together. Most of us were black or Chicana or indigenous, and we were literally walking while black, trying to get to sanctuary to First Unitarian Church, which had opened its doors to protesters. It was before the curfew that the mayor had unnecessarily implemented. We were literally across the street from the church when police told us to go back to turn around, which we tried to do. And then they circled us. They surrounded us and had us get on the ground with our hands behind our backs. We were detained on the ground for two hours and then we were in jail for ten hours. Ten hours and we were charged with a class D felony riot and we were accused of attempting to firebomb the main public library in Louisville, which is in the district I represent district forty one. I’m the biggest nerd you will find. I’m not trying to firebomb anybody’s library. And on top of that. I have fought the hardest for funding for our libraries in our state budget.

S2: Do you think that I mean, eventually the charges were all dropped. Do you think if you weren’t a politician that those charges would have been dropped? Do you think that your your position allowed them to be dropped in for some of the other people? Or do you think that would have happened anyway as the the national reckoning made that kind of behavior less acceptable?

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S4: So, Mr. Johnson, I’ll say a couple of things happened. One is we were going live. Thank goodness I was going live on Instagram when it happened. We were just walking, headed to the church and I just happened to be on Instagram. But I’m definitely not one of the five to live streaming streamers that have grown out of the movement. But I did want to make sure I documented what was happening for people who were following. If we did not have that footage, if I had not uploaded that to my Instagram page, I’m not sure our charges would have been dropped because people would have, of course, believed law enforcement before. They would have believed protesters, regardless of my position. And so I will say that, yes, my position helped all of us that might get our charges dropped. There have been other people who have been arrested who have had charges dropped, but they’ve had to do community service. And I’m convinced that that’s one of the reasons why Attorney General Daniel Cameron has tried to get legislation passed that would allow him to bring those charges back up and prosecute us himself.

S2: When you came back in, what was the reaction of your legislative colleagues, both Republicans and Democrats, white and black, to your first time returning to the chamber after after being arrested?

S4: Well, I will back up and say that several of my colleagues, the morning that we were released from jail were out there waiting for us. And it definitely brought tears to our eyes to see them. And some of my colleagues have been on the front lines. One of my colleagues is the person who got her church to open up the doors to US sanctuary because of what she experienced on the front lines, because of what we experienced. She has filed a whole package of bills related to police accountability, defining rioting, demilitarizing police, all of that. And I have another colleague who’s been working on other pieces of legislation. So my colleagues are stepping up and working on legislation. When I came back, we were in the midst of it. So we weren’t necessarily as many people on the House floor. I didn’t go on the House floor myself. So there hasn’t been much conversation except for that bill, that anti protester bill. And the fact that the majority of my colleagues in that committee voted for that bill says a lot to me.

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S2: One other bill that has sort of come through is I want to talk a little bit about Brianna’s law and your role in trying to ban no knock warrants in Louisville and all over Kentucky. So tell us a little bit about Brianna’s law, the writing of it. It’s sort of legislative journey and what you were hoping.

S4: Certainly so. Louisville unanimously passed the first Briana’s law to ban no knock search warrants. And of course, as at the time, I was the only black woman in our state legislature. I’m a mom of black babies. And this was something that pool at my core. And so, of course, it made sense for me to be the primary sponsor of Rihanna’s law for Kentucky. We basically mirrored Louisville’s law. It’s practically the same thing. And so I knew that because I was on the front lines, I was working with her family on a tailers family attorney, the ACLU community, folks that we had a good bill. And so that’s why since August of twenty twenty, when we filed the bill, thousands of Kentuckians have been advocating for the bill to be heard in committee, unfortunately. But we have seen is political privilege, the white savior mentality where the president of the Senate decided to file his own bill to restrict no, not warrants, but it has a lot of exemptions and it doesn’t include any real police accountability measures. My bill had not yet even been assigned to committee. He in four days was able to get his bill heard in committee and passed on the Senate floor. And when he spoke in committee, he refused to refer to Brianna Taylor by name. He kept saying, a young lady, the young lady,

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S2: you know, it’s amazing how often they will colonise our movements to assuage their own guilt.

S4: We fall for the okey doke because we because far too many of us were like, oh, Briana’s law passed. No, he wouldn’t even say her name. And he didn’t even amend it to have the title of Brianna. It will be the first bill in the Commonwealth of Kentucky to carry the name of a black woman if and when our bill passed. He didn’t even want to give her that honor or her family that respect.

S2: You know, you’re on record as being in favor of defunding the police. What do you see as being the main difference between abolishing the police and defunding the police? And how would you see defunding the police being something that could prevent things like. The tragedy, Brianna Taylor, from ever happening again.

S4: So what I often say is we have to defund police, we have to reallocate the funds that we spend on policing to meet the economic and social needs of our community. Policing is a third of the city of Louisville’s budget. And then we have to dismantle the system of policing. I do say that very often we have to dismantle the system of policing and then we have to reimagine what community safety looks like for those of us who’ve been on the front lines of justice. Brianna Taylor, we have been protecting ourselves and keeping ourselves safe. We have shown our city what it looks like when people are able to take care of their basic human needs that they when they have those needs met, take care of one another. As I said at the top of the show, Mr. Johnson, my district is forty nine percent white, 51 percent black. When I go to the east end of Louisville, which is predominantly white, I barely see any police. I also see that they have every single one of their needs met, doctors, dentists, food, everything. I go to the West End where I live, which is predominantly black. It’s overpoliced and we have to leave our community every single day to get our basic human needs met. If we make sure that all of us had our needs met, what is the purpose that we serve? They’re not preventing and they’re barely investigating when it comes to black people.

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S2: Do you think in the last year that you’ve been able to make Louisville a safer place? Do you think it is a better place now than it was a year ago? Or do you think people are just more aware now of the problems and the betterment of Louisville is still something to come?

S4: People are much more aware of all of the issues that many of us have been living with, the fact that many of us have lived with the foot of government and police on our necks. And I will not say that Louisville is a better place because we still have the same person who’s mayor. He should have resigned a year ago, but he’s still there and we still have to to sit with him for another year to year and a half until there’s a new election next year. We have a new chief who was brought in in a secretive manner. So, of course, we can’t trust this. The police chief who came from Atlanta left after Rashad Brooks was murdered. So so, no, I cannot say that we’re in a better place at all, but I can’t say that many more people are aware and are taking action.

S2: Atticus Scott is a Kentucky state representative. She joined us from her office in the capital. Representative Scott, thank you so much for joining us on a work.

S4: Thank you so much. I appreciate you.

S2: Did you know you could be listening to this show ad free. All it takes is a slate plus membership. It’s just one dollar for the first month. And it also helps us keep making our podcast sign up now at Slate Dotcom, a word plus. And that’s a word for this week. If you’re enjoying a word, please subscribe, rate and review. Help us make a better slate by answering our survey. It’ll only take a few minutes and you can find it at Slate Dotcom Survey. The show’s email is a word at Slate Dotcom. This episode was produced by Ayana Angel and Jasmine Ellis. Aisha Solutia is the managing producer of podcast at Slate. Gabriel Roth is Slate’s editorial director for audio. Alicia Montgomery is the executive producer of podcasts late June. Thomas is senior managing producer of the Slate podcast network. Our theme music was produced by Don Will. I’m Jason Johnson. Tune in next week for work.