October 30, 2020

Breonna Taylor: Hunger strike begins amid US racism protests

Rideshare drivers in LA are among those protesting Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Rideshare drivers in LA are among those protesting

Protesters in Kentucky are on hunger strike demanding justice for Breonna Taylor, a black woman killed by police in her home in March.

The strike comes as thousands of US workers walk off the job on Monday to protest racism, inequality and police brutality.

The Strike for Black Lives builds the country-wide protests over the death of a black man, George Floyd, in May.

Many of the striking workers are considered “essential” in the pandemic.

Organisers said tens of thousands of workers in at least 25 cities were predicted to protest for at least part of the work day on Monday.

Those unable to leave the job for the entire day are instead holding lunchtime rallies and kneeling for eight minutes and 46 seconds – the time that Minneapolis prosecutors initially said that ex-Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck, allegedly killing him.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Protesters in New York City held a rally outside Trump Tower

Who is on hunger strike?

Four hunger strikers in Louisville, Kentucky, are demanding that two city officers involved in Taylor’s death – Sgt John Mattingly and Detective Myles Cosgrove – be fired and stripped of their pensions.

Ex-Detective Brett Hankison, who was also involved in a raid on Taylor’s apartment in March, was fired but is appealing the decision.

The four strikers are also live-streaming their strike on their Facebook page, Hunger Strikers for Breonna.

“In this form, we can control it,” one participant, Ari Maybe, told the Courier Journal, adding that the strike will take place on private property.

Image copyright Facebook
Image caption The hunger strikers in Louisville are calling for the police involved in Ms Taylor’s death to be fired

“It’s not like a sit-in, where we can be arrested. It’s not like a protest, where there’s a beginning and an end. We control the beginning, the end and the entire narrative.”

She added that in addition to the four people involved, they have support from around 35 others, including medical personnel and a crew responsible for the Facebook stream.

Who else is striking?

Fast-food servers, healthcare workers, ride-share drivers, airport workers, cleaning staff and workers from many other industries are taking part in a larger, separate national day of protest, which brings together a coalition of labour unions and social justice organisations.

The strikers are calling for lawmakers to create equal opportunities for racial minorities and for corporations to take stronger action to support civil rights. The diverse group is calling for higher wages for all workers as well as better healthcare access, sick leave, and child support among other demands.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Protesters outside the capitol building in Washington call for a second stimulus bill
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The airport in Minneapolis, where George Floyd died in police custody, was also the scene of protests

In Manhattan, workers are protesting outside Trump Tower, calling for Republicans to approve the Heroes Act, a second economic stimulus bill that has already been approved by the Democratic-led House of Representatives.

In Missouri, protesters gathered at a McDonald’s restaurant, then marched to a memorial for Michael Brown, a black teenager who was killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014.

In Los Angeles, workers led a “car caravan” to the University of Southern California to “demand the nation’s second-largest school district and the university drop their use of the [Los Angeles Police Department] on campuses”, according to a press release.

What happened to Breonna Taylor?

Police had suspected Taylor’s flat was being used to receive drugs by a gang based at a different address 10 miles (16km) away. One of the suspects was an ex-boyfriend of Taylor.

Shortly after midnight on 13 March, officers Hankison, Mattingly and Cosgrove stormed Taylor’s apartment by executing a no-knock search warrant – a court document that authorises police to enter a home without permission.

Taylor and her partner, Kenneth Walker, were reportedly asleep as the commotion began.

Police said they knocked before using a battering ram to enter the home, though this account has been disputed by Taylor’s family and a neighbour.

Image copyright Facebook
Image caption Breonna Taylor, 26, was a decorated emergency medical technician

The officers exchanged fire with Mr Walker, a licensed gun owner who called 911 in the belief that the drug raid was a burglary. The officers – who fired more than 25 bullets – said they returned fire after one officer was shot and wounded.

During the exchange, Taylor, an emergency medical technician, was shot eight times. She died on her hallway floor. She was 26 years old.

Mr Walker surrendered and was arrested on charges of attempted murder of a police officer, but officials have since motioned to drop the charge.

Taylor was one of three people named on the warrant, according to Louisville NBC affiliate Wave 3. But she was not the main subject of the investigation, the city’s Courier-Journal newspaper reports.

No drugs were found in the property.

Police officer Brett Hankison was accused of “blindly” firing 10 rounds into the apartment, displaying “an extreme indifference to the value of human life”.

Image copyright Police handout
Image caption Brett Hankison showed ‘extreme indifference to the value of human life’

A lawsuit filed by Taylor’s family accuses the officers of battery, wrongful death, excessive force and gross negligence.

According to the family, Taylor took “five to six minutes” to die from her injuries and did not receive urgent medical care from officers at the scene.

Timeline of US police killings