Celebrities have been stepping forward, calling for justice for Breonna Taylor. Here is a list of a few other women who lost their lives at the hands of those who claimed their job was to protect and serve.
Idealists would like to think that amid Black Lives Matter civil unrest, police nationally would take precautions so as not to find themselves entangled in officer-involved shooting scandals. However, we only have to look at footage from protests to see that officers have incited violence, abused protesters, and most recently in Atlanta, kill unarmed suspects like Rayshard Brooks whose only real crime was being drunk and asleep.
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The call for justice in George Floyd's case has been met with the four officers involved being arrested and charged. However, there's still a long road ahead of us. The task at hand isn't finished, and in addition to there being a long list of names of victims whose lives were snuffed out by the authorities, there is a particular set of stories that have gone underrepresented in the media: Black women.
Usually, when we speak of police-involved shootings or killings, we're primarily having a discussion about Black men who are often criminalized for driving while Black, walking while Black, shopping while Black, or just breathing while Black. Yet, Black women should not be neglected or negated from these conversations because we, too, find ourselves facing off against police brutality and misconduct. Don't get us wrong, this isn't meant to be a competition between Black men and women; we want to further highlight stories to show that the system is in dire need of restructuring because there are too many flaws that cause Black people—and beyond—to be viewed as disposable.
We've created a short list of disturbing stories about Black women who lost their lives at the hands of those who promised to protect and serve. Some of the officers involved faced charges and a few were even sentenced to spend time in prison. Many didn't face any disciplinary actions other than suspensions and paid leaves, and soon returned to their posts as if nothing happened. If you're wondering why celebrities like Beyoncé are using their platforms to make sure Breonna Taylor's case isn't buried and forgotten, it's because of many of these cases listed below.
Breonna Taylor, 26
After Ahmaud Arbery was slain in his own neighborhood as he was taking a jog, and before George Floyd was killed by Derek Chauvin on a Minneapolis street, Breonna Taylor was shot dead in her own home. According to reports, Breonna and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, were sleeping at their home when they heard noises a little after midnight back in March. Breonna shouted out, asking for the person or persons to identify themselves. When there was no response, Kenneth grabbed his firearm, a weapon that he had a license to carry, to defend himself. He was confronted with at least three armed men in plainclothes, so he fired off a shot. The men returned fire with at least 20 rounds, killing Breonna with eight shots. An officer was injured and police claimed it was by Kenneth's hand. Yet, there are some who claim that in the dozens of rounds fired that evening, the officer was hit by a bullet from one of his comrades.
Police issued a no-knock warrant on Kenneth and Breonna's home because they were informed that an alleged drug dealer they were investigating—a man they already had in custody—had a package mailed to the house. No drugs or drug paraphernalia was found at the home. Kenneth Walker was arrested and charged with the attempted murder of a police officer, but after public outcry, he was released and all charges against him were dropped. Breonna Taylor still doesn't have justice and the police report about what happened at her home that fateful is mostly black and lacking information. Due to this case, "Breonna's Law" was passed banning no-knock warrants in Lousiville, Kentucky.
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Atatiana Jefferson, 28
It was in the early morning hours around 3:00 a.m. on October 12, 2019, when a neighbor of Atatiana Jefferson called the police to do a welfare check. Atatiana's front door was open, and the neighbor wanted to make sure that she was safe. The 28-year-old was inside of her home with her eight-year-old nephew and despite the time of day, they were playing video games together. Fort Worth police responded to Atatiana's home, and it's suspected that she heard someone outside.
According to bodycam footage, she went to peer through her blinds to see who was approaching and it was then that officer Aaron Dean open fire, shooting her through her window. He had only been on the scene for approximately one minute. The pre-med graduate was living at the home to help care for her mother and her nephew. When officers entered the home, they found Atatiana Jefferson deceased with a firearm next to her. She had a license to carry and advocates state that she had the gun to protect herself because she didn't know who was lurking on her property. Initially, police tried to argue that they were responding to a robbery in progress, but dispatch claims officers were told this was a welfare check. Dean was fired from the Fort Worth Police Department and has been indicted on charges including murder. He posted bond and was released.
Bettie Jones, 55
In 2015, officers were answering a domestic disturbance call at an apartment complex in Chicago, Illinois. It was the day after Christmas and there was some incident occurring between 19-year-old Quintonio LeGrier, a young man who reportedly was plagued with documented mental health issues, and another person reportedly his father. When officers arrived on the scene, 55-year-old Bettie Jones opened her door and told them that the person they were looking for was upstairs. It was then that LeGrier came down the steps with a baseball bat. Officer Robert Rialmo didn't hesitate and fired a series of shots at LeGrier, striking the teen six times, killing him. Bettie Jones just happened to be standing behind LeGrier when the officer began firing and was shot in the chest. Her 23-year-old daughter who was inside of her home ran out to find her mother bleeding to death and held Bettie in her arms until her last breath. Bettie's family later reached a $16 million settlement with the city.
Sandra Bland, 28
The circumstances surrounding the death of Sandra Bland continues to be a hot topic of conversation. On July 10, State Trooper Brian Encinia pulled over Sandra Bland in Texas for failing to signal during a lane change. Encinia had a reputation of pulling "pretextual" traffic stops—he would pull over drivers for minor violations and use that as an excuse to search their person or vehicles. In 12 months, he reportedly issued over 1,500 tickets for pretextual stops. During their exchange, Encinia wrote Sandra a warning and when he approached her driver's side window for a second time, he told her to put out her cigarette. She asked him why she needed to do that when she was sitting and smoking inside her own car.
It was then that Encinia told her to get out of her vehicle, but Sandra refused. Encinia opened her door, became violent, and told her she was under arrest. The officer wrestled her to the ground, tased her, and threatened to "light her up." On the dashcam footage, Sandra is heard out of view crying and screaming, asking why she's being arrested. An eyewitness stated that Sandra's head was slammed on the ground by Encina and a female officer at the scene was pinning her down. The witness also claimed that Sandra complained that she couldn't hear and told them that she was epileptic.
Sandra was booked and arrested for kicking Encinia. In jail, they put her away from other inmates because they claimed she was a threat to others. Three days after her arrest, Sandra was found hanging in her cell. Police deemed her death a suicide. Encinia was fired and charged with perjury for lying about why he pulled Sandra from her vehicle. The charge was later dropped as long as he agreed to never work or seek employment in law enforcement again.
Aiyana Stanley-Jones, 7
In 2010, a high schooler was shot and killed in Detroit, Michigan. Police identified a man named Chauncey Owens as their suspect, so they went to arrest him at a home that they believed he was hiding in. Police arrived at the home and shot a flash grenade through the front window to stun its occupants. When they entered, Officer Joseph Weekley would later state the flash grenade blinded him, so he was unable to see who was in the living room area. According to reports, Weekley had only been in the house for a few seconds before he opened fire. He said Mertilla Jones hit his submachine gun, causing it to go off and hit Jones's seven-year-old granddaughter, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, killing her. However, Mertilla Jones stated that the flash grenade caused Aiyana to catch on fire, so she was reaching for her granddaughter to save her life, not Weekley's gun. Owens, the suspect, was found upstairs, arrested, and later found guilty of murder. Weekley endured two trials, both of which ended in mistrials. Before he could be tried a third time, charges against Weekley were dropped and no one has answered for Aiyana's death. In 2019, the City of Detroit reach a near-$9 million settlement with Aiyana's family.
Kathryn Johnston, 92
There has been much conversation about no-knock warrants because of the recent Breonna Taylor case, but Atlanta had a similar scandal back in 2006. Police obtained a no-knock warrant for 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston's home after an informant claimed that they bought drugs at the location. Plainclothes officers descended on the house and the elderly woman, startled, got her old pistol and fired a warning shot. Officers returned the fire by shooting into the home 39 times, hitting Kathryn six times. Some of the officers suffered injuries, but it was later determined that they were hit by friendly-fire from each other's weapons.
Things took a turn when there were all sorts of police misconduct involved in this case. Upon finding that there weren't any drugs in the house, an officer planted marijuana after killing Kathryn Johnston. It was also determined that she was handcuffed as she lay there dying, officers lied about evidence that they'd purchased cocaine at Kathryn's home, and paperwork that had been created to move forward with the raid had been falsified. Three officers involved were tried for a variety of charges and sentenced to five, six, and 10 years behind bars.
Alberta Spruill, 57
The family of church-going city worker Alberta Spruill received an apology from the police commissioner after she died of a heart attack following a botched raid on her Harlem home. Tell us if this story sounds familiar: A police informant told authorities they'd been inside Alberta's home and saw guns and drugs. Officers executed a no-knock warrant by breaking down the 57-year-old's front door and throwing a stun grenade inside of her home in order to disorient any occupants. There, police found a terrified Alberta Spruill in the early morning hours, minding her business and getting ready for work. She was placed in handcuffs as officers searched her home, but while looking around, they realized that the layout was different than the informant described. Almost immediately they recognized that the information from the informant wasn't correct.
Meanwhile, Alberta was experiencing some health concerns. She told officers she didn't need medical attention, but after alerting police that she had a heart condition, they called for an ambulance. While on the way to a hospital for a check-up, Alberta died of cardiac arrest.
Yvette Smith, 47
It was two days after Valentine's day in 2014 when caretaker Yvette Smith called the police because two men she was with were having some sort of domestic dispute. She wasn't involved in the argument and was described as a "peacemaker" in reports about the incident. When officers arrived, the fight seemed to have been over and one man was even in the front yard. Bastrop County Officer Daniel Willis could see Yvette inside and ordered her to come outside of the house. As she was complying with his orders and opening the door of her friend's home, Willis yelled "police!" and opened fire within seconds. The gun he used to murder 47-year-old Yvette Smith was his personal AR-15. Willis was fired and charged with murder, but Judge Albert McCaig cleared him of all charges. McCaig was also the judge who helped choose jurors to "analyze evidence related to [Sandra] Bland’s death" when there were calls to investigate how Bland died.
This is, of course, not even close to the exhaustive list of Black women who have lost their lives throughout the years at the hands of the police, but we wanted to take a moment to highlight names—some you may recognize, others you may not—of lives were valuable. Protect our brothers and our sisters. Black Lives Matter.