Tamika Palmer shouldn’t be here. She should be 600 miles away at her home, in Louisville, Kentucky, with her family and first-born daughter.
Instead, Palmer and about 30 family members — aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings — have gathered at a basketball court in Annapolis to witness the mural now stretching out before their feet.
The mural is of Palmer’s first-born daughter, 26-year-old Breonna Taylor, a Black woman killed by Louisville Metro Police executing a “no-knock” warrant on her apartment in March. Taylor, who was unarmed, was shot at least eight times, according to local news reports. Police have said they were defending themselves from Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, who fired at officers after a brief exchange, hitting one in the leg. Walker, who is licensed to carry a gun, has said he feared for his life after loud noises roused him and Taylor from bed, according to The New York Times.
The face splashed across the painted blacktop has brown eyes tinged with blue, hooded by long eyelashes. The lips have a touch of red. Her black curls also tinged with azure accents. Her expression is neutral, staring straight into the heavens from 7,000 square feet of asphalt.
Taylor was an emergency room technician who had hopes of becoming a nurse. Her death has since caught national attention, igniting mass protests around the country against police brutality. Her name is now shouted in the same breath as other victims of police killings like George Floyd, a Black Minneapolis man, killed by a police officer in May. This week, it has been chanted along with Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man shot in the back by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin on Aug. 23, his children a short distance away. Blake is now paralyzed from the waist down.
Palmer can recall the first time she saw the mural, painted over the July 4th weekend at Chambers Park on West Street by artists from Future History Now, a non-profit founded by Jeff Huntington and his wife, Julia Gibb.
“I saw it on Facebook and I was like, ’Is this real?’ I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “To be here and actually see it is amazing.”
The mural has been featured in numerous national media stories and was highlighted in a Joe Biden campaign video during the Democratic National Convention earlier this month. Below Taylor’s face on the pavement are big block letters that read “BLACK LIVES MATTER” next to her name, her birth date June 5, 1993, and the date she was killed inside her home.
“When we first saw it, we said we must see that,” said Bianca Austin, Taylor’s aunt.
Several Annapolis officials turned out Saturday to pay their respects and offer words of solidarity to the family. Rhonda Pindell-Charles, D-Ward 3, who represents the Parole area where the park resides, read a poem in Taylor’s honor. Del. Shaneka Henson, D-Annapolis, spoke about staying resilient during trying times and taking responsibility to care for each other. Mayor Gavin Buckley officially proclaimed Saturday, “Breonna Taylor Day” in the city.
“We didn’t get the privilege of knowing Breonna personally, but I am Breonna Taylor, every Black woman who walks the streets in this country is Breonna Taylor,” Henson said. “We may not have known each other, but our experiences in life are common.”
She added: “We admire your strength. We admire your courage. When you lost Breonna, you had every right to decide to shut your doors, shut the windows and grieve in silence. But what you have done is shared her with the world.”
Palmer wept as she spoke.
“I’m overwhelmed. It’s things like this that make it worthwhile for me,” she said. “To get support from people that don’t even know her and are just willing to do their part in taking a stance.”
On Friday, Taylor’s family attend the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington in Washington, D.C. Friday. Austin, who described Taylor as the family glue — always the first to organize a game night or a cookout — would have wanted to attend the historic event.
“Normally, this is stuff we would do as a family. This is probably stuff that she would have planned for us to do,” she said. “It’s definitely surreal to realize we still haven’t come to terms that she isn’t here with us anymore. For them to do tributes like that, it just brings us comfort and hope.”
The rally was difficult for Palmer, she said.
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“This whole thing has been a hard process for me. It was a lot to be a part of.”
Comacell Brown Jr., an Annapolis and Future History Now teaching artist, facilitated the family’s visit to Annapolis. Brown helped organize the mural painting last month. He had spent time in Kentucky this week participating in protests in Louisville.
“It’s been a happy situation seeing the art go nationwide, but it’s also been a painful experience as well,” he said. “There was a few times during the protest that I shed a tear because it just hit me how real the moment was.”
Austin said her family is normally very private. But the loss of her niece has taught them to open up and call for justice.
“When you see us make public statements, it’s because we want justice for our baby girl. She didn’t deserve this. Shot eight times in her own home,” Austin said.
Some change has already come as a result of the tragedy. In June, Louisville City Council voted to ban no-knock search warrants in the city. The ordinance is called “Breonna’s Law.”
“Our main goal is to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else. It’s a nightmare, not only for Breonna’s mother but the family, the kids,” her aunt said. “Every day we wake up with a purpose.”