Voices: Breonna Taylor, invisible Black women and God who sees us

Breonna Taylor (Photo courtesy of the Sam Aguiar Law Firm)

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On March 13, as Breonna Taylor slept in her home with her boyfriend, she was shot eight times by the police.

According to a lawsuit filed by her family, the Louisville, Ky., police officers did not knock or announce themselves in their search for someone who did not live at her apartment complex and already had been arrested. The police officers fired more than 20 shots into her home and a nearby apartment.

Ms. Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, a licensed gun owner, discharged his weapon to protect his loved one and his home from perceived intruders. As a result, Walker was charged with assault and attempted murder for discharging his weapon, despite doing so to protect his loved one and their home from perceived intruders.

Breona was an EMT and had dreams of becoming a nurse. She was one of the essential workers so many have praised with meals, editorials and speeches as our communities grapple with COVID-19. She was created in the image of God, but now she is dead.

Her mother and her community are left with many questions and very few answers. They are working hard to get justice on behalf of their beloved sister, daughter and friend.

The invisibility of black women

Breona was killed by a police officer in the same way as Botham Jean, but her killing has not generated the same attention and cries for justice.

Weeks after her killing, the hashtag #IRunwithAhmaud went viral, and thousands of people posted selfies on their social media pages to demonstrate their outrage over the murder of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery.

Breonna has joined a sorority no Black woman wants to join. A black woman is killed by local law enforcement, and her death is met with a more muted acknowledgment than similar killings of young Black men.

Even though police killings of women are relatively rare, when a police officer killed Justine Ruszczyk, an unarmed white woman, in 2017, her murder drew international headlines, a $20 million settlement, a change in police policy and the firing of the local police chief.

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This is not to diminish the tragedy of police killing any unarmed citizen. Tough questions and consequences should follow in every case. But there is a notable difference in how the deaths of Black women are met by our culture. It is as though we have decided the lives of Black women matter less and are less worthy of our attention and activism.

The cloak of invisibility envelopes the suffering of Black women. The twin myths of our anger and strength render our hurt ignored or minimized. We are conditioned to put ourselves last.

We are left heartbroken when we realize if we do not tend to ourselves, very often no one else will. Even in the church, the face of biblical womanhood is some version of June Cleaver—a white, middle-class housewife.

We are our sisters’ keepers

Breonna’s death did not generate a broader public outcry until another black woman, Brittany Packnett, with a large following on Twitter began to post videos and speak about the case.

There is a truism of being a Black woman in America: You always can count on other Black women to raise your head, to wipe your tears, to fight for you.

It is part of the reason Black mothers are celebrated so much in our culture, because a Black mother always will tell you—even if she is not your biological mother—you are created in the image of God, and you are worthy when the world says you are not. We are our sisters’ keepers.

The irony of the lack of the attention to state violence against Black women is that for centuries black women—like Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Mamie Till, Rosa Parks, Jo Ann Robinson, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi—have done and are doing the unseen work of organizing, documenting and protesting white supremacy and misogyny in this country.

Black women, out of a deep sense of love and desire for freedom for themselves and for others, are committed to this often backbreaking and soul-crushing work, perhaps reasoning if we can free ourselves, then we can free our Black brothers and non-Black sisters from chains of racism and misogyny that for so long have gripped this nation and our church.

The God who sees

Despite the ways in which society treats Black women as invisible, God always has been attuned to the plight of African women.

In Exodus, Moses’ sister Miriam, a leader in her own right, was stricken with leprosy after speaking harshly of Moses’ African wife.

Hagar, an Egyptian slave girl, was called by name and met in the desert by God as she fled Sarai’s wrath. She would be the first and only person in Scripture to give God a name—“El Roi,” the God who sees.

Generations of Black women—like Phillis Wheatly, Jarena Lee, Maria Stewart, Nannie Helen Burroughs, Fannie Lou Hamer, Coretta Scott King, Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, my mother and her mother before her—have taken comfort in the God who sees.

To the God who sees, we cry out for justice for our sisters—Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd, Atatiana Jefferson, Yvette Smith, Korryn Gaines, Kathryn Johnston, Tyisha Miller, Tanisha Anderson, Darnisha Harris, Shelly Frey, Malissa Williams, Shereese Franklin, Aiyana Stanley-Jones and Tarika Wilson.

Breonna Taylor should be alive. Tamika Palmer, her mother, should get to help her plan her wedding and straighten her cap at her nursing school graduation. Instead, her mother is left to grieve, to fight for answers and to demand justice for her daughter and Kenneth Walker.

Even as the church and the broader culture is silent, God saw Breonna Taylor. God sees Tamika Palmer. And God sees me, this I know, because my mother and the Bible tell me so.

To find ways to join the fight for Breonna, visit https://justiceforbreonna.org/.

Kathryn Freeman is a Master of Divinity student at Baylor’s Truett Seminary. She formerly served as the director of public policy for the Texas Baptists Christian Life Commission. She is passionate about Jesus, justice and discipleship. The views expressed are those solely of the author.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Just as I stand with Trent Richardson, I stand with Kathryn Freeman. May we have eyes to see and ears to hear.

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