Dear Breonna: One Year Later

Dear Breonna,

On the date of your death, March 13, 2020, I was living in Harlem, New York; although a month later I’d be living in your city. On that night, I, like you, was mostly likely in bed with my partner, who’s from Louisville too.

I read about your death two weeks later, before your story began circulating to news outlets and eventually receiving national coverage (CNN did not cover the story until a full two months later.)

2020 was ceaselessly taking other Black people, other Black women, due to the growing pandemic. I remember how visceral my fear felt. I googled Louisville, not quite sure what I was looking for, but it was there that I found the first reports of your death.

When reading these things, there never is quite disbelief, but always confusion, and I was terrified for my partner who had just traveled home to Louisville. I knew that if something happened to them, like you, news of their death by police would come late and sparingly. I’ve only ever read about Black mothers terrified of losing their sons at hands of the police as if you or Roxanne Moore or Tony McDade or Atatiana Jefferson or India Kager were not just as susceptible to fall by this violent illness called white supremacy.

I felt terror when I first learned that they’d murdered you and I don’t think that terror has subsided. This is not in spite of the coronavirus, but neither is the national impact your death made. It is because of the coronavirus that death was becoming so tangible for me and so many others. So much so that Black folk were once again, saying “Enough!” and saying it by screaming your name. 

Breonna, I grew up in a time when Black Lives Matter as a movement was just finding its footing. I was 16, too, when Trayvon Martin was murdered; when they did not mention his death at my mostly white high school I was angry and something like heartbroken, but I can’t remember any other instance of police death where this overwhelming fear took over.

It would become very clear in 2020 that even though we could binge-watch “Black stories” on any streaming service, Black women were still being abused and neglected. This HuffPost video excavates “Why COVID-19 has impacted Black women so badly.” According to Dr. Aderonke Peterson, 58 percent of Black women have been furloughed or laid off versus just 31 percent of white men and 32 percent of white women. Black women are also significantly less likely to have healthcare and more likely to be essential workers, with no potential for remote work, which is just one of the factors that make us more likely to be hospitalized and/or die of the disease. Not to mention the stress and trauma of it all, including a rising awareness of police killings. 

I realized I don’t really give a fuck what happens to the former officer charged in your death, Brett Hankison. My grief is for the life and love and potential that was strangled from so many of us. You are so much more than a race war to me.

I wish your body and life were valued enough to be regarded, let alone protected. I wish the same for my partner’s Black mother whose final cause of death at just 49 years old is unknown, but who was left to develop a staph infection in her greatest time of need. I wish the same for my Black grandmother, who is still alive, but whose mind and spirit have deteriorated after years of over-medication and lack of respect for her autonomy.

I wish the same for Sharice, my partner’s 16-year-old sister, who has been in our care since her mom’s death, and is not receiving the support she desperately needs from her school. And Song, our five-year-old niece whose brilliant dark skin will make her a target to “authority” figures. I know you often took care of your younger sister and goddaughter.

I wish the same for Dee, our auntie, whose brother did not have the basic respect to use her chosen name at their sister’s funeral. For Nina, my Black neighbor, who recently disclosed she’d been experiencing intimate partner violence. And for Cassia, our cousin, a mother of four, who was shot in the bladder while holding her infant in her own doorway.

These aggressive disrespects and violence towards Black women may seem unrelated to your death, but I don’t think so. And even though it might seem like any of those 32 shots could have taken Kenneth or your white neighbors, somehow they still took you. According to the New York Times, the police only expected to find an unarmed Black woman at home…but they expected you to be home.

If I have learned not to be a fool about anything, it is that Black women and femmes are rarely protected, regardless of the setting. This is abundantly clear, and the fear that accompanies this fact shakes my Black body. I literally have no more capacity for rage, ever so malleable an emotion, unlike fear, which instead debilitates and destabilizes me and us. And I wonder, Breonna, how to come back from here?

I’ll be moving in a few weeks from the West End to the South End of Louisville, your old stomping grounds. And that’s not all we have in common: my father was also incarcerated for the majority of my life. Like you, who went into the medical field, I also followed in my mother’s footsteps as a writer; and like you, I left college but tried my hardest to support my loved ones where I could. I know you had plans to become a nurse one day. Like you, I’m in my mid-twenties living in Louisville, just trying to figure out what my next steps will be.

Since your death: Breonna’s Law, which has banned “no-knock” warrants is now law in the State. Kenneth Walker is finally free and my case with the Louisville courts, for protesting the justification of your murder, will be dismissed by the summer. The COVID vaccine is making its rounds and deaths are subsiding. We are moving out of the apartment where we woke up to a stray bullet in our wall that lodged there. Beyonce and Kamala and Oprah have rightfully said your name! I am grateful for these triumphs.

But if I’m honest, no, I don’t feel safe. I find myself considering all the ways that Black girls are murdered. The slow deaths and the figurative deaths of spirit. The asthma, the whole food apartheid, the opioid addictions, the cancers coupled with neglect, the suicide. And as I wonder, Breonna, as I dream of my life, just like you did, I can’t help but question whether it is not more appropriate to prepare for my own death. Who says I won’t die? Who is protecting me?

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