We never met. We probably would never have met, even if your senseless murder had not occurred. But you have occupied my thoughts for weeks now. I never heard your name before the protests began, despite the fact that your murder happened more than two months prior. I didn’t hear about your murder, despite that fact that I have read more news in the past three months than I have in the past three years.
You were murdered in your home, in your bed. When I read your story, my first thought was: “in the place you should have been most safe.” I saw images in my head of a woman terrified in bed as a gunfight erupts. Those images were juxtaposed with others of softly tucking my children into bed. When they lie down at night and pull the blankets up, I brush my hand across their cheeks and heads and I watch them visibly release the stress of the day gone by. I watch them rest in a way that a person can only do if they feel completely safe. And I think, “You are so lucky.” Because I know that for too many children and too many women, when they lay their heads down at night, they are not safe. Not at all.
I remember a time when police came to my parents’ home late at night. I was about 20 years old and two of my friends were spending the night. After dyeing my hair, we blew a fuse with the hair dryer. Because I was young and stupid, I didn’t know the hair dryer had anything to do with the power going out. Perhaps I had seen too many horror movies because my next thought was that someone was in our house and had cut the power.
At the time, my parents were building an addition onto the house for my grandmother. The construction was at a phase where the entire back wall of the house had been ripped out, but the walls of the new construction had not yet been built. The only thing protecting our home from the elements was a set of enormous heavy tarps. It felt like we were especially vulnerable at the time.
So here we are, in the dark, with a wall missing from our house, and horror movies flying through my mind. I convinced my friends that someone was in the house, barricaded us in a bedroom, and called 9-1-1. Imagine the panic my poor mother felt when, watching television late at night in the living room (I didn’t know the power was still on in the back of the house!), flashlights suddenly appeared through the tarp!
“HELLO?!” Mom cried.
“Ma’am, this is the police. Are you alright in there?”
My mother has never let me live this memory down. She loves to bring it up and tease me for being so ridiculous. It’s a fun (and terribly embarrassing) tale in our family. But now I look back and see it in a whole new light. That story is funny because we all came out unscathed. Embarrassed, sure. But perfectly safe. No one drew a gun. Certainly no one shot a gun. What if, I think now, we had not been white? Would that story have ended the same way? In my heart, I know the answer is no. It would have ended very differently.
Breonna, you were safe in your bed. All your life you must have heard the same misogynistic lie as me and every other woman – that you would be safer with a man. That man was with you. He tried to protect you. Intruders were in your home and he shot at them. This is not a horror story. This is not in the head of a dumb teenager. In real life, men broke into your home and shot you eight times. And they did it under the guise of “protect and serve.”
Why didn’t I know your name in March? Why didn’t I know your name in April? Why did I learn your name in June? Because you were black and because you were a woman.
Brutality against women is a hushed up conversation in our society. Most people, men and women, have been quick to try to change the subject or ignore the conversation when I’ve brought it up. I’ve known too many women brutalized by others. And for those who have wanted to share their stories, I’ve shared their stories, too. But, “Shh,” is the general message I get. “We shouldn’t talk about that.”
We have to talk about this. Black women are being brutalized by the police, just as black men are. But their stories are silenced. To raise their stories up, the hashtag and call to action #SayHerName was coined because their names are not spoken. And even amongst those who seek to change this brutality, that hashtag has since shown up as #SayHisName.
Breonna, your name is one of the few that I know. I will keep saying your name.
We never met. And we never would have met. But you’re in my life now. I know so much about you now. My children now know who you were. We will keep saying your name.
In love and grief,