Friday was the ninth consecutive day of demonstrations aimed at denouncing police violence and remembering Breonna Taylor. But the evening was a little different. Few police were around, and there was cake.
Thousands of people gathered downtown to celebrate what would have been Taylor’s 27th birthday. People sang, read poems and led chants.
For some Black women in the crowd Taylor’s death has brought to the forefront a hard truth they live with every day.
“Here in America it just seems that Black women get swept under the rug time after time,” said Shaakira Molisho. “It’s almost like we’re ghosts, like we’re absolutely forgotten.”
Molisho is Black and 27-years old. And like some other people — she saw the police killings of Black men like George Floyd in Minnesota and Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia explode the national consciousness — which she says is important and powerful.
“But at the same time, talking to my other friends that were women of color it was difficult because we knew that Breonna’s name wasn’t being mentioned as much and it’s not a good feeling,” she said. “Because if that was to happen to me, would the world care enough to bring the people that killed me to justice?”
The disparities in the attention that women, notably black women, receive when they are the victims of police violence has not gone unnoticed. Author Andrea Ritchie studies police violence against women and LGBT people at the Barnard Center for Research on Women and she maintains a database to bring attention to this issue. The database has highlighted more than 600 cases of law enforcement violence against women — and nearly 60 percent of the victims are women of color. Additionally, The New York Times published a report this week that asked why the nation wasn’t paying more attention to Tayor’s death.
Molisho said she doesn’t have the answer.
“I don’t know why they fear us, we are some of the most beautiful people in the world and people can learn so much from us, so much,” she said.
But Hannah Drake — a local poet, author and activist who was also downtown Friday night — traces the issue to its root in a quote from Malcolm X.
“Malcolm X said the most disrespected person in America is the Black woman,” she said. “Black women will always be at the bottom because they have two things that they are fighting against: their gender and their race.”
Drake — who is also Black — says she’s grateful that people are paying attention to Taylor’s case. And she doesn’t discredit the attention given to George Floyd — Drake said this isn’t a competition. She just doesn’t want Black women like Taylor to be forgotten.
“Even when you think about if a woman is not killed by police, if her son or husband gets taken out of the family that leaves a whole another hole that a woman will need to fill, so it impacts Black women on so many different levels,” Drake said.
As a line of speakers stood on the steps of Metro Hall talking about the pervasiveness of systemic racism and the future they envision — where justice is served and there is equality for all — Erica Evans stood in the shade nearby filming with her cell phone.
Evans is Black and 44 years old; she sees a bit of herself in Breonna Taylor.
“It easily could have been me, just given a different situation, it could have been me and I could have been dead,” she said. “So my heart cries out to her and to every woman, every mother, every daughter, every sister, every aunt. When I look at Breonna Taylor, I look at myself.”
And like Drake said, Evans also feels that indirect impact of police violence. She is a mother — her son is 23 years old.
“It’s very hard in this day and age to raise a Black man,” she said.
Knowing her son could die at the hands of police — like George Floyd — terrifies Evans. She said she hasn’t seen the video that shows Floyd’s death, but just thinking of it upsets her.
“Because I think it could have been my son, it breaks my heart as a mother,” she said. “Every day I pray for my son, I pray for God to protect him and comfort him because not everybody loves my son like me.”
As the night wore on and the sun set, a portrait of Taylor’s face was projected onto the front of Metro Hall. The crowd cheered, they set off fireworks, they chanted Taylor’s name and then they sang “Happy Birthday.”