More than 100 days ago, Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman, was shot to death in her Louisville apartment by police officers serving a no-knock warrant in the middle of the night. Despite weeks of national attention and ongoing protests in the city, none of the officers have been charged, though one was fired Tuesday, and progress in her case has been painfully slow for her family and the larger black community grieving her death.
Frustration and heartbreak over the Taylor case loomed over Tuesday’s primary election in Kentucky, particularly in Louisville, home to most of the state’s black population. Female black organizers in Louisville say many voters told them that Taylor was on their minds as they cast their ballots.
“People are energized,” said Keturah Herron, the American Civil Liberties Union Kentucky policy director who drafted Breonna’s Law, legislation that would ban no-knock warrants. “It’s very unfortunate that it had to be on the back of a black woman’s death, but it’s also exciting to see folks galvanized in a way that I’ve never seen in my lifetime. I think it does send a message.”
The national reckoning on race is also the backdrop for the overall primary cycle in the pandemic. The killings of unarmed black people, the disproportionate deaths of African Americans related to the coronavirus and voting challenges in black communities in state primaries have turned the protest rallying cry into a question: Do black lives matter?
Black Voters Matter co-founder LaTosha Brown was on the ground in Louisville and said local organizers have been working to transform protest into power, particularly among young voters.
“When we talk to folks, they seem like they’re real determined and committed to voting,” Brown said. “The Breonna Taylor incident has activated them. They want some justice. That’s motivating a lot of them to cast a ballot.”
The Black Lives Matter movement broadly and Taylor’s case in particular have buoyed the primary campaign of Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Charles Booker, a state representative who has seen fundraising and support surge in recent weeks. Booker, who is black, has been in contact with Taylor’s family since she was killed, attended protests and spoken out about the need for police reform.
He is challenging Amy McGrath, who had the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s backing in the race to challenge Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in November, had gained national attention and raised millions of dollars. Booker entered the race later and picked up key endorsements from Democrats in the state, as well as prominent voices on the left nationally, including Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). McGrath, a white woman, has not been in touch with Taylor’s family, and she has been less vocal and visible at protests.
McConnell has also not reached out to the family, according to attorney Lonita Baker.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who is not on the ballot Tuesday, was in contact with Taylor’s family, prompting him to introduce federal legislation similar to Breonna’s Law that would end no-knock warrants.
Erika Glenn, a pre-K instructor and Louisville native, spent Tuesday volunteering with Black Voters Matter and has attended protests in recent weeks. She said she and her friends in the city “think about Taylor 24/7.”
“It’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about it,” Glenn said. “It pulls at our heartstrings.”
Glenn said she voted for Booker, who she said has been more visible during the protests compared with McGrath, whom she said she had seen only in ads on television.
Full election results are not expected in Kentucky on Tuesday. A number of counties do not plan to release their counts yet, citing the increase in mail-in ballots. Kentucky officials have indicated that they expect a record turnout in this year’s primary.
Shauntrice Martin voted absentee for Booker and was helping voters get to the polls Tuesday. She said Booker’s call for police reform even before he ran for Senate helped sway her decision to support him.
“This election is really different,” Martin said. “The person running and talking about Breonna Taylor, talking about police brutality, that candidate looks like us and is from the same place we’re from.
“It says to Democratic politicians that you can’t just skate by and get the black vote. You actually have to work for it, you have to follow through, because we’re going to hold you accountable.”
This report is part of a collaboration between The Washington Post and The 19th, a nonprofit newsroom covering gender, politics and policy.