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The Memeification of Breonna Taylor's Murder

BY: CIARA WELLS

Allow me to first clarify the situation: On March 13, 26-year-old EMT, Breonna Taylor was in bed with her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, when they heard a loud banging on the door downstairs. With a "no-knock warrant," three Louisville police officers ripped the door off of its hinges, startling Walker into releasing his firearm in self-defense and wounding Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly in his thigh. The other officers, Brett Hankison and Myles Cosgrove, shot about 20 rounds blindly into the apartment, fatefully killing Breonna in her hallway.  

This one fateful night that led to the unjust death of an unarmed Black woman ignited fury in the hearts of protestors in the new wave of the civil rights movement we have seen in the wake of the murder of 46-year-old George Floyd in Minnesota this year. 

Almost immediately, social media and petitions called for justice for Taylor, touting illustrations and other texts that people could easily share on their own pages. Louisville Police Department's interim chief, Robert Schroeder, fired officer Brett Hankison, calling his conduct in the case "a shock to the conscience,"  and as of Sept. 9, a grand jury has been empaneled to investigate the fatal shooting of Taylor, according to CNN. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer also indefinitely suspended the use of "no-knock warrants."  

So, some justice has come out of this tragedy, but what also grew was something more dangerous.

In an effort to use their platforms to call for justice for Breonna Taylor, social media influencers began captioning photos with something along the lines of, "Anyways, arrest the cops that murdered Breonna Taylor." Alongside a photo that may have nothing to do with this situation, their intention gets lost. This popular refrain became common on social media, adding this woman's name to other things that had absolutely nothing to do with her case. What began as a rallying cry for justice has now become an oversimplified whimper of a meme.

I've seen that a few songs on TikTok have used either the slogan or the actual 911 call with music behind it. I feel that is has become super common to take tragic events and immediately turn them into jokes on social media. For example, back in January (before the "unprecedented times"), due to rumors of a possible World War III after the assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, people began making jokes about draft-dodging or anti-Iranian sentiments without taking in the severity of the issue. I think people fail to understand that without heartfelt intent, the impact their words have is bigger than themselves. A woman was killed by the police, and you want to make a catchy rap about it?

Some (mostly other Black people) have called for a stop to the "memeification" of this woman's death. This case seems to fall in the same category of how Black women are supposed to be strong and brave all the time. Even in death, Taylor's name has been belittled to jokes and empty words on social media instead of as a victim with a family or hopes and dreams. One of my favorite shows, Desus and Mero on Showtime, has even started ending their shows by saying, "Arrest the cops that killed Breonna Taylor." After a while, the words begin to lose their meaning and impact. No matter the intent of the person behind the words, they need to understand the impact it has on a large and public audience.

Even our elected officials and other politicians have used Breonna's name in vain and touted the Black Lives Matter movement as a token point in their campaigns. This also calls into question if the politicians we vote into power have our best interest in mind or if they are just using it to look good.

On June 3, actor John Boyega delivered an impassioned speech at a Black Lives Matter march in London, in which he called for Black men to honor, respect, and protect Black women, "This message is specifically for Black men. Black men: We need to take care of our Black women. They are our hearts. They are our future. We cannot demonize our own." 

I think we need to look back on the continuation of the civil rights movement this year with pride and joy with how far we've come and how much of an impact we've made. I also think that we need to let Breonna rest in peace and give her family the time to mourn without their loss being mocked online. We need to continue fighting for equality and civil rights, and we need to hold every person equally accountable for their actions. 

Breonna Taylor did not die in vain. She still deserves justice and we will not rest until that happens. As always, Black Lives Matter. 



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