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Breonna Taylor: a million memes but still no justice
America cares more about property damage than black lives. How else do you explain the infuriating Breonna Taylor ruling? On Wednesday a grand jury in Kentucky brought no charges against the Louisville police for killing the 26-year-old emergency medical worker in her home. The two officers who shot Taylor were not charged in her death; instead a former detective, Brett Hankison, was indicted for recklessly firing into the walls of a white neighbor’s apartment. As LeBron James noted, the neighbors’ walls got more justice than Taylor did.
Taylor hasn’t got justice yet, but her death has got our attention: over the past six months she has become a household name. This, in part, is down to the “meme-ification of her death”: “Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor” became an online catchphrase and made her death a mainstream talking point. Taylor was on the September cover of Oprah Winfrey’s magazine and Winfrey paid to put her face up on billboards – which were swiftly vandalized. Celebrities wore T-shirts emblazoned with her face to award shows. Tens of thousands of people marched in the streets shouting her name: her memory became a movement.
But awareness can very easily tip into exploitation. While the memes around Taylor’s death helped ensure nobody forgot her name, a large portion of them arguably trivialized her death. Her murder became a punchline. A way to sell expensive jewellery, face masks and baseball caps. When Taylor’s name started trending after the grand jury decision was announced, it was quickly seized upon by the streaming service Hulu to promote a new documentary, The Killing of Breonna Taylor. Taylor has been commodified, meme-ified, monetized: nobody is paying for her death but plenty of people are profiting from it.
That, of course, includes the far-right: over the past week the “Truth About Breonna Taylor” content pushed by right-wing commentators has been going viral on social media. These posts are full of lies about Taylor, but that hasn’t stopped them from getting millions of views. On Wednesday, for example, a video by Charlie Kirk, the weaselly leader of a pro-Trump student group, was one of the most shared Facebook posts about Taylor. In the video Kirk tries to portray Taylor as a criminal, saying the Louisville police had a “no-knock warrant to go arrest Breonna Taylor”; that is a lie, the police simply had a search warrant for her apartment.
Earlier this month I interviewed Yusef Salaam, one of the Exonerated Five, and the author Ibi Zoboi: the pair recently teamed up on a book called Punching The Air which is a must-read.
“Social media has allowed us to be more aware [of oppression] but it doesn’t seem that awareness alone makes anything change,” Zoboi noted in that interview. “It seems like the more awareness we have, the more pushback there is. It seems like white supremacists have doubled down because of our awareness.” I’ve been thinking about that quote a lot in light of the Taylor grand jury decision. What does “awareness” really mean when the truth is distorted by the far-right and allowed to go viral by technology companies that only care about profit? What good is “awareness” when Taylor’s name is known around the world but she still can’t get justice at home?
Taylor deserves so much better than this. Her name may have become a symbol, but she was a human being. We must continue to say her name but, above all, we must remember her humanity.
Woman attacked in France for wearing a skirt
The French police are investigating an attack on a 22-year-old woman in Strasbourg. The woman identified only as Elisabeth, says she was walking home when one of the men exclaimed “look at that whore in a skirt,” and punched her.
In rather better French news: Emmanuel Macron is expanding paternity leave
Macron wants new dads to get 28 days and also be required to take at least a week off work.
Want to watch me interview Ilhan Omar on Tuesday?
Ruth Bader Ginsburg becomes first woman to lie in state at US Capitol
It took 168 years for this to happen. Meanwhile, Trump is gearing up to disrespect RBG’s memory ASAP by announcing his nominee for her successor.
Women on the frontlines of Thailand anti-government protests
The New York Times writes that women seem make up the majority of participants at recent pro-democracy protests and women “are increasingly speaking out against a patriarchy that has long controlled the military, the monarchy and the Buddhist monkhood, Thailand’s most powerful institutions”.
‘Suits for women isn’t just a trend. It’s here to stay’
London’s Savile Row has long been the place to go if you’re a fancy man in need of a fancy suit. Now, for the first time, there’s a tailoring house offering made-to-measure suits exclusively for women with a shopfront on Savile Row. Its founders, Daisy Knatchbull, reckons the market for women’s suits is going to stay strong – not all of us wear sweatpants on our Zoom calls apparently.
Shock horror, Ivanka Trump lied about paying her own way through life
In her 2009 memoir, Ivanka bragged about paying full price for an apartment inside one of daddy’s buildings after she graduated from college. “No one gave it to me,” she explains, adding that she didn’t benefit from an “insider price.” According to a new book called White House, Inc she got a discount of over $1m for the apartment. Ivanka lying to make herself look good? Who would have thought it?
Judith Butler has thrown transphobes into a tizzy
Do read Butler’s interview in the New Statesman.
The week in rodentarchy
Magawa, a giant African pouched rat, has been given a tiny little gold medal for bravery after discovering 39 landmines and 28 items of unexploded ordnance in Cambodia. Now if only we could train the cannibal rats in London and New York to do something useful.