Say Her Name: Breonna Taylor discussion at the heart of national protests

First Five by the Freedom Forum Institute

Oct 1, 2020


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The announcement of a grand jury’s decision to indict one of the three police officers involved in the shooting death of 26-year-old emergency medical technician Breonna Taylor sparked another wave of protest for justice and racial equality around the nation.

Following last week’s announcement from Kentucky’s Attorney General Daniel Cameron, we have seen protests erupt in Chicago, Milwaukee, Seattle, Louisville and Washington, D.C., among other places.

Despite being a year that has been brutally unpredictable, 2020 has shown some promise through raw emotions over issues this country has been carrying for years. With a presidential campaign and historic demonstrations unfolding at the same time, the country’s youngest voters and activists are being pushed to weigh their role in politics and the nation’s attitudes and policies, trying to navigate the relative power of protest and electoral politics in real time.

In the long-awaited decision in Louisville, a grand jury indicted a former police officer on a charge of wanton endangerment for his actions the night Taylor was killed — none of the three officers involved in Breonna Taylor’s death was charged with her murder. The decision drew swift criticism from around the country, including demonstrators who sought murder charges and arrests for all three officers. Feeling outraged by the grand jury’s decision, many took to the streets to exercise their First Amendment freedoms.

For one generation, protest in America has taken on a whole new light. Generation Z — those born in the mid-1990s to early 2010s — grew up with endless school shootings, viral videos of police brutality, a political climate defined by the first Black president and Donald Trump.

This demographic is rapidly aging into the voting population. Gen Zs have also had an unprecedented ability to see politicians, athletes, celebrities and musicians use their platforms to freely express their First Amendment rights. Recently, the Emmys, normally known for celebrating television’s best and brightest stars, held its 2020 award ceremony. This year’s ceremony was marked by its focus on politics and social justice issues. Nominees used the event to highlight the upcoming election, ongoing protests and the injustice of police brutality.

And, if that is not enough evidence of the changing response in America, who can forget the historic strike that spread throughout the athletic world following the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisc.? The national protest motivated Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden to praise players for their “moral leadership."

While 2020 has been a year full of controversies and challenges, it has also demonstrated a greater response by our country to unfavorable decisions. Protest is the spirit of the people freely expressing; it is like their religion, their source of strength in time of trouble. However, protest is more than dealing with issues or producing results. It is often a joyful experience, a vibrant affirmation of life and its possibilities in an appropriate aesthetic form. Protests have proven artistic. Speak with those involved with the March on Washington and discover a community in motion, in rhythm, swinging and swaying to the movement of life. The meaning of protest is not contained in mere words or actions, but in the history that created it. For the uninitiated, the best approach in interpreting this protest movement is to feel one’s way into the cultural and historical situations of its people.

History is created out of protest, and for some it is a soulful experience. To understand it is to know the being of a people who had to feel their way along the course of America, enduring the stresses and strains of human servitude, but not without a voice. It is this certainty that informs the thought of the Black protest. It is this inevitability that has a people willing to risk their freedom.

I am encouraged more than ever — and know that now is the time that Americans must continue to organize around those issues they see as paramount. This energy can translate into a lasting movement for justice, one that extends beyond this election season. As they have before, as they were designed to do, the freedoms of the First Amendment have the power to change the American trajectory.