GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — “Breonna Taylor, say her name,” was the chant at the forefront of Friday afternoon’s march in Grand Rapids that was dedicated to the 26-year-old woman who was shot and killed by police in March. Breonna Taylor’s name and story have been a part of demonstrations around the world in recent weeks, but this one was packed with grief and a family’s cry for justice.
Taylor was shot eight times by Louisville police officers when they conducted a no-knock warrant. Taylor and her boyfriend were sleeping at the time, and Kenneth Walker told police he fired at the officers in self-defense. None of the officers involved have faced charges for their involvement in Taylor’s death.
While Louisville is hundreds of miles away from West Michigan, Taylor was born and raised in Grand Rapids and many of her family members still live here.
Tawanna Gordon, a cousin to Taylor’s mother, helped lead the protest which brought hundreds of people to Rosa Parks Circle. Taylor, she said, kept their family together.
“She made us focus on family. She loves to get together. She loves to party with us. She was this matriarch of our family—to even be young,” said Gordon. “We miss that. We miss that smile.”
This was the first local protest that many of Taylor’s family participated in, Gordon said, because of a pending lawsuit and because they wanted a demonstration in honor of Taylor to be peaceful.
“I’m so glad that Grand Rapids is backing her and letting her know that she’s not been forgotten because she moved away,” said Gordon.
Her family said being at the march was emotional because they’re still grieving. But they appreciated seeing the crowd, many of whom didn’t even know Taylor. With tears on her cheeks, Erica Eaves, a member of Taylor’s extended family, stood on the stage pointing out signs she wanted to document. One was a portrait of Breonna with a blue glitter background, and another said, “No one has been charged with her murder.”
“I feel like my niece is one of God’s favorites because everybody all over the world is saying her name. I hate that this happened, but she’s changing the world. Everybody is saying her name all over the world,” said Taylor’s aunt Kenna Burch.
Taylor worked as an EMT and she was studying to be a nurse. Gordon said as a little girl, Taylor always wanted to care for people.
On Thursday, the city of Louisville passed legislation called ‘Breonna’s Law’ which bans no-knock warrants. Her family in Grand Rapids said they were ecstatic about this news; “that was like the first good news of 2020,” said Burch.
But it’s not enough, her family says.
“We want those officers fired. We want them charged. And we want them arrested. And we want them to have their day in court. They need to explain why they took her from us. And that’s something we are not going to give up on,” said Gordon.
Taylor’s family urged the crowd to continue to put pressure on Kentucky officials to discipline and issue charges against the officers. Posted around Rosa Parks Circle were signs with phone numbers to the Kentucky governor, attorney general, the district attorney and lawmakers.
This was the third consecutive weekend where a protest was held in downtown Grand Rapids, with smaller demonstrations filling the weekdays in between. The death of George Floyd was the catalyst to the previous ones, which focused on police brutality, racial injustice and reforming law enforcement. But Friday’s march was focused on Taylor and Black women who have been victims of injustice.
Isabel Delgado, the organizer of the march, said the focus of this protest was Black women. She said it’s Black men who become the faces of revolutions and Black women are the backbones to them.
“The focus is to put Breonna’s name everywhere. We want to have the same energy as we have for George Floyd as for Breonna,” said Delgado. “We’re focusing on Black women and how they experience police brutality.”
At the start of the march, Delgado addressed the crowd saying “Black women matter.” She then read a list of Black women who have died from police brutality, including Tanisha Anderson, Sandra Bland, Tanisha Anderson, and Aiyana Jones.
The march went from Rosa Parks Circle, through the heart of downtown Grand Rapids, before briefly walking on the West Side. The group then headed back across the river by marching across the city’s iconic blue bridge, chanting Breonna’s name. They assembled again on Monroe Center before dispersing early the in evening.
At the end of the night, Taylor's family encouraged people to sign a petition and register to vote.
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