Breonna Taylor Is Not a Meme

It’s good to spread awareness — but let’s actually do something instead of relying on punch lines

A portrait of Breonna Taylor is pasted to a building on June 25, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
A portrait of Breonna Taylor is pasted to a building on June 25, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Breonna Taylor is not a meme.

I don’t like to traffic in the gory details of a Black person’s death — especially when it comes at the hand of the state — but the brutality of Breonna Taylor’s bears repeating.

Shortly after midnight on March 13, Louisville police officers, executing a search warrant, used a battering ram to enter the apartment of Breonna Taylor while she was in bed with her boyfriend Kenneth Walker. Upon hearing a loud banging at the door, and following a brief exchange, Walker fired his gun; the police also fired several shots, reportedly striking Taylor at least eight times.

According to the Louisville Courier Journal, those Louisville police officers had been investigating two men they believed to be selling drugs out of a home near Taylor’s. Their warrant, as noted by the New York Times, was what is referred to as a “no-knock warrant, allowing them to enter without warning or without identifying themselves as law enforcement.”

No drugs were found in Taylor’s apartment — because the officers were at the wrong home.

The Louisville Metro Council voted unanimously in mid-June to ban no-knock search warrants in light of the police killing. But as far as justice for Breonna Taylor, there has been little.

I get the intent behind the memes. But we need to talk about the way we chronicle death — namely someone else’s.

Of the three officers responsible for Taylor’s killing, only one has faced any real sort of repercussions — and that was only a week ago.

People are rightfully furious about the situation, and if you’re an active user of social media (whether by choice or by coercion), you’ve likely seen their posts calling for justice. Most are innocuous — but some people are turning their calls for justice into a meme. The tweets and posts always start innocuously, copying the format of a viral tweet, then end with a call to arrest the LMPD officers: things like “Drink water, eat pizza, and arrest the cops that killed Breonna Taylor” that are upsetting. There are plenty of other examples that are equally tasteless, but the point is, her death is a serious matter. Treat it as such.

I get the intent behind the memes. But we need to talk about the way we chronicle death — namely someone else’s.

I always try to look first at one’s intention, and here, the intent with each of them is simple. They are trying to get the world, but particularly those in power in Kentucky, to give a damn about a Black woman whose life was stolen.

After the LMPD fired Detective Brett Hankison last week, his attorney wrote an appeal letter to the Louisville Metro Police Department claiming that, among many things, “Brett Hankison should not be punished unless the facts show he committed wrongdoing, and the facts are not yet in.”

About those “facts”: If you take a gander at the police report filed about Taylor’s death, you’d be rightfully enraged by it being nearly blank — and you’d be fully aware that Hankison cannot be trusted.

Regardless, Hankison, along with his colleagues, are guilty of dehumanizing Black people to the point that they literally shot through an innocent Black woman. They don’t deserve their jobs. They don’t deserve anything but justice.

I support everyone doing their part big or small to contribute to that pursuit of justice. My concern, though, is that these police officers are guilty of dehumanizing a Black woman — and while a meme might bring a just cause to people’s attention, it also runs the risk of trivializing her murder. When you retweet someone’s trauma, awareness might come out of it, but it might just be dismissed as another clever social media moment.

And when I think about it, I can’t say that I have seen a Black man who died in similar fashion be depicted in meme form like this. That’s not saying that sending out a Breonna Taylor meme makes you a terrible person — I’m not lambasting anyone who truly wants to be of use — I’m merely questioning whether that methodology ultimately does a disservice.

Perhaps this is the new way, whether I like it or not. Perhaps this is how these kinds of injustices will be treated moving forward. Perhaps I’m being a bit of a throwback.

So with that in mind, I encourage us to not only post about Breonna Taylor, but to mirror Beyoncé and write the people who can actually do something about what’s happened to her. God, I really hope that I don’t sound uppity or some shit, but being honest, y’all know some of us love to repost something but not go the extra step. Please go the extra step. I have literally seen pre-written letters for you. Find them. Copy and paste them. Be proactive. There are sites that make it simple to take actionable steps.

Sadly, while Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron has declared, “You have my commitment that our office is undertaking a thorough and fair investigation,” it’s hard to trust a Republican in this economy. Certainly not when they make statements like “Radical rhetoric and calls to ‘defund the police’ threaten public safety and only serve to divide us further, rather than bringing us together.” Or, describing the demonstrators protesting the state’s inaction, “Violence and lawlessness perpetuate further tragedy.”

In sum, this man sounds like a sucker and I have little confidence in him. He’s right that an “investigation of this magnitude, when done correctly, requires time and patience,” but it’s been more than 100 days and I have a difficult time believing there is not enough there to move forward with prosecuting Breonna Taylor’s killers.

That’s why as weirded out as I am about someone’s death being made into a meme, I’m angriest at the local officials in Kentucky who are trivializing what happened to Breonna Taylor most of all. Her life was stolen. Her own mother has let us know exactly what that stolen life might have looked like.

Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, told the Courier Journal that her daughter, 26 at the time of her death, had a vision for her life. “She had a whole plan on becoming a nurse and buying a house and then starting a family,” Palmer explained. “Breonna had her head on straight, and she was a very decent person. She didn’t deserve this.”

Breonna’s Twitter account shows us someone who not only looks like us, but feels familiar too. I hope none of us lose sight of the fact that she was a person.

Breonna’s image is often illustrated, her name is hashtagged, her likeness is used in hopes of spreading her story, which is necessary. But her life and death is more than a meme. And no matter where you might land, I hope we can all agree that Breonna Taylor deserved better than this in life and in death. All people do.

Author of “I Can’t Date Jesus” and “I Don’t Want To Die Poor.” Houstonian.

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