Still Fighting for Breonna Taylor

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S1: When I asked Ataka Scott how many protests she’d been to over the death of Brianna Taylor, she told me she’d been to so many she couldn’t even begin to count.

S2: We’re past 150 days. And I was out on the second day of protests and it’s, you know, been out two or three times a week since I couldn’t calculate.

S1: So have you been out, like, in the last week?

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S2: Oh, yes.

S1: As recently as Saturday, Erika often takes her teenage daughter along with her when she marches. She says almost every protest in Louisville starts from the same corner, a park across from the city jail and the courthouse. It’s become known as Injustice Square.

S2: It is formerly known as Jefferson Square Park. And its history is that it was the site of slave auctions. And so it’s really powerful that a place that was the site of slave auctions has now been occupied by black people seeking justice.

S1: When Attica marches, she uses her cell phone as a kind of tool. She’ll often stream herself on Instagram live. She wants to show that the protests in Louisville are peaceful, but she’s also trying to keep herself safe.

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S3: All right. We have to park and now we’re walking.

S1: Last month after the state attorney general announced he would not be bringing homicide charges against the officers involved in Brianna Tila’s death. Arakawa’s is out on the streets again. Cell phone rolling.

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S3: So we’re about to cross Broadway. Just want to know if it’s important that we have witnesses while she walks.

S1: She’s constantly broadcasting her location. It’s like a homing beacon for her followers just in case that can pass the public library.

S4: These people are these police are ridiculous.

S1: Yeah, there was a curfew in effect that night. Atika was recording as she tried to get to a church she knew would let her inside. But when she arrived, she realized the church was surrounded by police. Sit down.

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S4: Yeah, they want they want to kill us, they want it, they want to kill us, they want to kill us, they want to kill us. They want to kill us. I want you to know they want to kill us. We’re fourth in York. They want to kill us. We’re fourth in York.

S1: She kept recording as protesters were arrested one by one.

S4: We were trying to go inside. So they’re standing in line.

S1: And then an officer approached Attica.

S4: OK, I’ll put in your pocket. OK, I.

S5: Right before the video cuts off, there’s this moment that it feels menacing from your perspective. The officer is approaching you and is saying, are you recording on your phone? Says, I want you to put your phone in your pocket because I want to do this like the nice way. Did it did it come across as menacing to you?

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S6: Well, and he also said, I don’t want your phone to get broken, so why would it get broken? But what’s the what’s the message there? So that was very interesting to me. I think if the four minutes it took me a little bit longer than I may have normally taken me to put my phone away because I was just a pause for a minute, like I would probably think to myself, well, my phone get broken. Is that a threat?

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S5: This is when the officer arrests her.

S1: Watching that Instagram video of the night you were arrested, there’s one thing I don’t hear you do, which is you don’t. You don’t identify yourself in a big way, police officers approach you, but you don’t ever say to them, listen, I’m a state representative.

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S2: I never or hardly ever that I can recall identify myself because I think it’s highly inappropriate for me to try to set myself apart from the very people that I’m marching elbow to elbow with, that I come from this community and you should all be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of our positions and titles. So I really ever identify myself. And that night was no different.

S1: Do you think things would have gone differently if you had said to the police officers there? Listen, I’m a political figure. I represent these folks.

S2: I think they already knew who I was.

S7: They have been following the live streamers, they’ve been following many of the people that I was arrested with.

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S6: They, in fact, have said on multiple occasions to them, we’ve watched your live streams. So I feel like it was political retaliation when they arrested us. I don’t know that it would have made a bit of a difference if I had identified myself, maybe if I were one of my white colleagues who’s a state representative.

S5: It might have been different today on the show, Erica Scott is the only black woman in the Kentucky state legislature.

S8: It turns out that doesn’t make fighting for justice for Brianna Taylor much easier. I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to what next? Stick with us.

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S1: Is it true that you’re named after the prison riot, Attica?

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S2: I’m named after the prison in upstate New York. Yes, I was born a few months after the uprising in the uprising was September 1971. I was born January 1972.

S1: Why was that important to your parents, do you think?

S2: I mean, really, for my parents, it was their Brianna Taylor. It was their Michael Brown. It was their Trayvon Martin. It was their uprising for human rights and social justice, particularly for them as young people. My mom was a teen mom and my dad was in his early 20s.

S1: It sounds to me like from the very beginning, your life was kind of political, and then when I look at your rise as a politician, it seems to me like you really studied to do this role. And I’m wondering what you learned along the way to get where you are now as a state representative.

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S2: One of the the first and always in the forefront for me, guiding principles that I learned is to always her blackness since always since racial justice, because that’s not going to happen with my colleagues. And I’m going to most likely be in an environment where as a black woman, I’m the minority of the minority. And so to always into blackness, always said to racial justice, to not be ashamed to do so, do not hesitate to do so and to bring my community and folks that I care about and love along with me because we are often left out of political decision making.

S1: I read that you were originally assigned a seat in the state house right behind a representative who is a known white supremacist. It sounds like from your first day you are getting these lessons.

S2: I mean, I’ve been there for four years now, and every year there’s something I directed at me that makes it clear that I’m being targeted as the only black woman in the state legislature. And that very first day in office, there are one hundred members of the House. I’m the only black woman. And I was seated behind someone who ran using images of the Obamas as apes. And I immediately went to the leadership of my political party and said, I will not stand for this. This is ridiculous. It’s unacceptable. The one black woman on this House floor out of one hundred seats, this is where the leadership decided to seat me. And it was clear to me that that decision was made out of racial animus.

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S1: Representative Scott gave it a few weeks, but when nothing happened, she forced the issue.

S2: I went to my leadership and I said, I’m not sitting down in that seat until it’s changed. And the next day it was changed because one of my colleagues volunteered to give up her seat.

S1: But one of your colleagues had to volunteer.

S2: Exactly. Exactly. Another woman volunteered to give up her seat and sit behind him because she completely understood that that should never have been the case for me.

S1: I hear that story and I just think about how fragile the progress is. Like, it wasn’t obvious that you would be moved.

S2: I guess that there have been many times where since I’ve been there, we’ve been told that something related to race, the predominantly white legislature didn’t notice, which says something right there. But but, yes, the fact that it didn’t happen immediately, that leadership didn’t say, you know what, she should not be in that seat or he should not be in his seat tomorrow. That needs to change immediately. The fact that that didn’t happen just says a lot. The fact that people across Kentucky had to see that. It just says a lot about how far we have not come and how much work we have to continue to do to address race in our Commonwealth.

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S1: Do you remember when you first heard Brianna Taylor’s story and what you thought?

S2: Actually, first? I didn’t know her name, but I was in Frankfurt, our state capitol, during the legislative session. And I remember hearing that she was murdered the morning of Friday, March 13th. And I remember hearing something just briefly on the news. And then I didn’t hear anything else again. And I remember thinking to myself, oh, my folks back home there on it when it comes to gun violence, period, and in particular police violence. So I didn’t hear her name again until May. And I remember that first night of protest Thursday, May 20th. And the immediate narrative was one of violent protests rather than violent police who haven’t been held accountable. And I remember my daughter and I went out that next day, that Friday, May twenty ninth, because I know as an activist and organizer, that narrative was not true. And from that point on Friday, May twenty ninth on have been deeply engaged in fighting for justice.

S1: For Brianna Taylor, did you feel like your colleagues back in the state House had an accurate idea of what was happening in Louisville?

S2: I don’t think anyone did it initially because the narrative was, as it often is, being pushed from the police perspective, from the perspective of the mayor who was colluding with police to cover up her murder. So I don’t think in the first few days that anyone really knew what was happening. Even people in Louisville weren’t coming downtown to see for themselves. So I saw my part of my job not only as as a mom of black children who ate for Tamika Palmer, Brianna’s mom, but also as a responsible legislator. I knew that I had to help educate my colleagues about what was actually happening.

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S1: And you’re saying the mayor colluded with the police to cover things up? That’s a pretty big allegation. And the mayor of Louisville, he’s a Democrat, right?

S2: He sure is. But as a black woman, I’ve been clear for most of my life, not all of my adult life, that Democrats have failed black people to. And in this case, the mayor of Louisville has completely and utterly failed us in seeking justice for Brianna Taylor has failed in the very beginning when he had a chance to really do do the right thing early on to fire the officers who murdered her, to have them arrested and charged with her murder. He failed to do so. And every step along the way, he has pushed the police narrative. Even when I was arrested that next morning, he had the nerve to call me and say that he had heard some things concerning my arrest. He wanted to hear my story. I shared my story. And within an hour, he was with the police, the acting interim police chief, doubling down on the police’s narrative that we were trying to firebomb the library in my district.

S1: That would piss me off who I am.

S2: And I’m disgusted. And my my daughter, who’s a teenager, went on her Twitter and attacked him and called him out and said, I’m beyond hurt because I’ve been to your home. I have eaten at your table. I’ve had conversations with your wife. And you are actually saying that I and my mom tried to burn down a library. She was so hurt.

S1: Was there even evidence for that?

S2: Well, there was video footage of someone who appeared to be a man dressed in all black. So you really couldn’t see the person’s face breaking a window at the library, which wasn’t broken when we walked past it. And people can see that clearly on the Instagram. And there was a flare that had been thrown through the window that immediately fizzled out. So even the library union put out a statement saying Representative Scott would never and we would we could never imagine her doing this and we don’t even believe it. How dare you charge her with these crimes? And they said for people to to calm down because besides the broken window, which can be replaced, there was no damage to not one book in the. Library, because that player just completely fizzled out as soon as it hit the ground.

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S1: I mean, I’m just trying to think of the position you’re in. You’re part of the Democratic Party. You have someone within your party, a leader in your community, seeming to take sides against you. It just put you on the defensive, on the defensive all the time.

S2: And this this whole movement has been dramatic on so many different levels. Just almost every week there. Something new about this case that makes it even more painful on how Brianna was treated and adds to the emotional and mental strife. And then on top of that, the violence we’ve experienced from police who are militarized and using their militarized weapons against us. I am disgusted. I’m angry. I’m pissed off.

S9: We’ll be right back.

S1: We should remind people exactly where the investigation into Brianna Taylor’s death stands. Daniel Kamron, the attorney general of Kentucky, was put in charge of investigating what happened. And he made this statement that a grand jury decided to disregard homicide charges and instead charge one officer with wanton endangerment. Then a grand jury member came forward and said, that’s not so. Can you just tell me a little bit about your sort of journey over the last month with Cameron and with hearing where this case stood?

S2: Yes.

S10: So when the attorney general decided to announce that there would be no justice for Rihanna Taylor, I certainly understand the pain that has been brought about by the tragic loss of Miss Taylor. I understand that as a attorney general who is responsible for all 120 counties in terms of being the chief legal officer, the chief law enforcement officer, I understand that. I understand that as a black man, how painful.

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S2: This is that statement from the attorney general added to yet another reminder of us of how all of these systems have colluded to not have justice for four Begoña and they constantly lie, lie and lie over and over again. And yet we as protesters are the ones who have far too often been demonized. I’m very clear to this day that it is because of this sustained movement that what we are seeing come out now is happening, that grand jurors speaking out is happening because of this movement, that body cam footage. Months later when we were lied to and told there was no footage has come out. So as far as protesters, we remain firm in our resolve to get justice for Brianna Taylor. We clear that our protest also includes policy advocacy. And that’s what we’re working on, Briana’s law for Kentucky. And we’re also clear that include it includes political activism. We’ve got folks are ready to run for office in twenty, twenty two who before this movement had thought about serving in local, state or federal office.

S1: Hmm. 15 hours of recordings were released from the grand jury. What stood out from what you have heard?

S2: What I will say stood out for me is that when the jurors were. Told that there was no time to actually hear all of the evidence that was available should have been made available to them, that a woman who potentially was a black woman, we’re not yet sure, but potentially was a black woman, that we have time. And that just touched my heart because in that moment, I thought she used her agency as a grand juror to say, we have time. We came here to take the time to get justice. So that’s what stood out for me.

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S1: That stood out to me, too. That was like the one moment where I was like, huh? And also, just because I didn’t know the grand jury could kind of speak back to the prosecutors the way they occasionally did, I didn’t know it either because of this, this entire movement has taught me so much.

S2: And I also appreciate the fact that there were grand jurors who, even if they didn’t know whether or not they could question, they, they did it anyway, you know. So I appreciate them for that. I believe we all have a responsibility at every level to question, to challenge in and to not be afraid to do so.

S1: Have you ever interacted with the state ag, Daniel Cameron, because I imagine it is a small political world in Kentucky.

S2: I have not I have actually not interacted with him at all.

S1: I wonder how quickly his involvement in the investigation into Brianna Taylor’s death began to concern you.

S2: Oh, immediately. As soon as he appointed himself as the the special prosecutor, I. I knew we were in trouble, someone who is in Mitch McConnell’s back pocket is not going to serve justice in a situation like this.

S1: Why do you say that? Why do you say he’s in Mitch McConnell’s back pocket?

S2: Because he was Mitch McConnell’s candidate. He was appointed by Mitch McConnell to run for the seat, fully supported by McConnell throughout his campaign. McConnell was one of his special guests to his wedding this summer. So he has nothing but allegiance to McConnell.

S1: Hmm. He definitely Daniel Cameron, that is seems to be embracing the sort of law and order idea that the Republican Party has started talking a lot about this summer when he was announcing what was happening with the charges and the Brianna Taylor case. He said this thing that a lot of people commented on afterwards. It stuck with people, stuck with me, too. He said justice is not often easy, does not fit the mold of public opinion. It does not conform to shifting standards. It answers only to the facts and to the law.

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S10: If we simply act on emotion or outrage, there is no justice. Mob justice is not justice. Just assault by violence is not justice. It just becomes revenge.

S1: I wonder when you heard him saying that, what went through your mind?

S2: My immediate thought was that he is obviously paying his communications person quite well to come up with language that uplifts his decision not to serve justice to Brianna Taylor or her family or her community, and at the same time continue this demonization of people who are protesting to relegate us only to emotion and to compare us to mob mentality and to talk about facts when in fact, he and his team did not give the truth and all of the options to the grand jury as it should have. You know, I heard that statement and realized that we who are on the streets do not have at our fingertips the ability to pay people well, to spend words in a way that that sounds great, but actually mean little to nothing. We have ourselves, we have our movement, and we are hoping and praying that that is enough for people to understand why we remain in the streets.

S1: Hmm. Does the law in Kentucky allow the officers here to be charged with homicide? Because I remember reading an article early on in the Brianna Taylor story where a number of defense attorneys in Louisville were sort of shrugging their shoulders and saying, well, I think the only charge that could be brought here really is wanton endangerment. And that’s, of course, exactly what happened. But I wonder if you see this differently.

S2: And that’s a good question. I would have to ask people like Sam MKR, the family’s attorney, because I’m not sure that that he would agree with that statement.

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S1: Got it. Got it. So in the state legislature, you’ve proposed something you’re calling Briana’s law that would prevent no knock warrants like the one that led to her death statewide, among other things, it was notable to me that that only 11 other legislators have signed on to Brianna’s law. Why do you think that is?

S2: Oh, my goodness. That is that’s not to me as well. And to so many people, we are perplexed because you have one hundred members of the House, 38 because you can really only speak to my political party. I don’t know how the party that is not mine operates. That’s because I’m not a part of it. But thirty eight members of the House are Democrats, and yet we only have 11 legislative co-sponsors. And across the country there have been Republicans who have said no knock warrants should not exist. They are unsafe for law enforcement. They are unsafe for the people whose doors are being kicked in and so rammed in. And so the fact that we also don’t have Republicans who signed on says something about one think is important to note that in the four years I’ve been in Frankfort, I’ve never had one of my bills heard, even in committee for discussion only. But to for the past two years, not one member of the Legislative Black Caucus has had their bill heard in committee. So there’s also this racial aspect of the issue. Why? I think some of my Republican. Leagues have not signed on. This is about race, this is about people who don’t feel comfortable having these conversations. Whenever we bring up issues of race related to a bill on the House floor would be immediately met with anger from white men for the most part. But then they could stand on the House floor and talk about hateful resolutions related to immigrants and calling them drug dealers and rapists. And that was OK. They always had the chance to speak that hatred.

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S1: There are elections going on in Kentucky right now. And I wonder if you see seeds of something shifting in the political landscape.

S2: I see it shifting from the people’s perspective that folks who’ve been organizing for justice have been holding so many of these candidates feet to the fire, regardless of their political party, they have not allowed anyone to run and feel like, well, just because I’m a Democrat and you don’t have any other choice that you have to support me. No, they’ve been saying to them, look them in the eye and asking, what is your racial justice agenda? How are you censoring black lives? How are you supporting the movement for justice? For Brianna Taylor? Part of it is that you have so many young people who are in leadership who aren’t caught up into this narrative that all blue everything. They don’t believe that what they’re clear about is that black lives matter. And if Democrats aren’t going to censure black lives, then they don’t deserve to be in office either. And what I know for sure is that very few people are going to be able to win between now and November 3rd who have not shown that they are committed to the movement for black lives.

S1: Hmm. I wonder what you think are the things that are stifling change because you’re talking about the people sort of going to folks running for office and asking what their positions are, but you’re not talking about the party itself responding in any kind of way.

S2: Well, and that’s part of the the weakness and failure of the party and folks are calling that out and are not supporting the party as an institution. And I think that’s something that’s missing in so many of these political conversations. And that’s why they’re saying in twenty, twenty two, we’re coming for all of your seats, school board, Metro Council, mayor, state seats. We’re coming for all of your seats because you failed us.

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S1: Sounds like you’re going to be the one mentoring some new candidate soon.

S2: Well, you know, I’m already working with folks. Some are calling me their their mentor, which is five and others. I’m simply walking alongside elbow to elbow and sharing my experience. And I’m glad to do so because some of these folks do have to go.

S1: Do you think justice for Brianna Taylor is still possible?

S2: I know that justice for Brianna Taylor is possible and it’s going to happen because of this movement. It’s not going to happen because suddenly some politician wakes up and says it’s time to do the right thing. It’s not going to happen because law enforcement holds themselves accountable. It’s going to happen because the people push for it and they push forward and they continue to resist and to continue to show up. I just don’t know what that justice is going to look like.

S5: Yeah, I was going to ask you that. Like, what could it look like at this point? What shape could it take?

S6: Well, I was on the phone this morning with the attorney for Brianna Taylor’s family, and he was on his way to the paperwork to request a new special prosecutor. That’s a first step. That’s concrete. That’s key.

S5: Representative Scott, I’m really grateful for your time.

S6: Thank you so much. Very I appreciate you.

S5: Erica Scott is a Kentucky state representative. She lives in Louisville, and that’s the show, What Next is produced by Mary Wilson, Jason de Leon, Elena Schwartz and Daniel Hewett. We get an extra boost every day from Allison Benedikt and Alicia Montgomery. And I’m Mary Harris. We will all catch you back here tomorrow.