LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Friday would have been Breonna Taylor‘s 27th birthday.

But the emergency room technician wasn’t here to see it.

Instead — nearly three months after Louisville police fatally shot Taylor in her South End apartment — a crowd of at least 1,000 gathered on her birthday to celebrate her and to protest the death of another African American by law enforcement.

“Maybe this is the generation that says, ‘We’ve had enough!'” Louisville poet Hannah Drake told an energized crowd, who punctuated her words with chants of “Say her name” and “No justice, no peace.”

Through Friday afternoon and evening, groups from across Louisville converged into a massive demonstration under a sweltering sun at Metro Hall, where people wrote cards for Taylor’s family and sang her “Happy Birthday.”

And around the country, protesters in cities such as Orlando, Florida, and Cincinnati joined in honoring Taylor by holding vigils and rallies.

In Louisville, some carried balloons. Others brought flowers. And many signed their names with messages on a large white banner.

“You should be here,” one message said. “You sparked such a powerful movement. Let’s create a new world for you.”

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For nine straight days, protests have erupted across Louisville, with thousands of people calling for justice in the deaths of Taylor and David McAtee, a black restaurant owner who was killed by law enforcement at his business on Monday when police and National Guard troops were trying to disperse a crowd.

Though the demonstrations occasionally have been marred by violence — with seven people shot, businesses damaged and protesters hit with tear gas — Friday’s rally remained one of celebration and remembrance, with students, teachers and health professionals arriving in waves as all sought to honor a life cut short.

“I know this happened months ago, but it’s so fresh on us,” said Bianca Randall, who brought her 4-year-old daughter, Ella Shumake, to Jefferson Square early in the day.

“I just had to be present. I had to show (Ella) what it meant. You can read a book and you can watch a show, but to feel it and to be in the moment and see it in real time — I wanted her to see this matters and she matters and her voice matters.”

Organizers of the downtown event dubbed it “Sisters Friday,” and they asked that women in the audience take turns sharing what they had to say. Rameka Jackson, 32, said the goal was to show how much women support the movement against police brutality.

For nine days, women have set up food and first aid stations for protesters, Jackson said. They’ve been pelted by pepper bullets shot by police officers. And they’ve received little recognition.

“We want to show … that we are Breonna,” Jackson said. “We are her. It could have been me, it could have been any of those women over there. So that’s the purpose of us coming out today. So the women can be heard.”

Jackson said Taylor’s death was not an isolated incident. And she’ll continue protesting until laws change to prevent more deaths at the hands of police.

“For it to be like, ‘Oh, that’s just another casualty’ — we’re stopping those,” Jackson said. “There will be no more casualties in the black community due to police brutality.”

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer has responded to the protests by announcing a “top-to-bottom” review of the Louisville Metro Police Department and a national search for a new police chief — though he has declined to fire the officers involved in her death.

Local, state and federal investigations into Taylor’s death continue, with state and federal officials to decide if the officers should be charged. 

On Friday, Fischer and Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear each recognized Taylor’s birthday in statements on social media.

“The loss of a loved one is devastating, and I offer my deepest condolences,” Fischer wrote. “Though Breonna’s life was too short, her impact will live long, in a fiery commitment for justice and addressing the impact of historic inequities and structural racism.”

“We grieve with (Taylor’s) mother, Tamika Palmer,” Beshear added, “and we are committed to building a more just and equitable commonwealth.”

People at the protests say building an equitable city and state means looking beyond law enforcement and making systemic changes that encompass education, job opportunities and health care.

On Friday, crowds cheered as lines of health workers, teachers and students separately arrived to Jefferson Square, holding signs that read “White coats for black lives,” “Dare to be brave” and “Stand up for black students.”

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“It’s important for us as health care providers to recognize how racism is a pervasive public health issue,” said Rachel Safeek.

The medical student at the University of Louisville helped organize a demonstration in the School of Medicine’s quad, where hundreds of physicians, professors and U of L President Neeli Bendepudi kneeled for 10 minutes.

“(Racism) affects our patients. It affects our community. … So it’s important to leverage our stance, our social platform as physicians to speak out about this issue today,” Safeek said.

What was even more heartening, though, to Drake was seeing so many young faces present.

On the steps of Metro Hall, across from Jefferson Park, Drake told an audience of predominantly Jefferson County Public Schools students that she was proud of them for coming.

“Look at this crowd. You can’t tell me what young people can’t do,” she said. “So maybe this is the generation that says, ‘Not on my watch.'”

Maybe it’s time, Drake said, for the older generation to step out of the way, to listen to people who aren’t much younger than Taylor was when she died.

“Breonna Taylor would have been 27 years old today,” she said. “Her mother said if it would have been anyone else, Breonna would have been out here marching for them, too.

“I’m proud of y’all for coming out here today. … Thank you for being here.”


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