Runners in Portland champion social justice on Breonna Taylor's birthday

·3 min read

Jun. 5—A small group of runners gathered at Portland's Payson Park on Saturday for the birthday of Breonna Taylor, the Black woman whose death at the hands of police in Louisville, Kentucky, inspired social-justice activists around the country.

Wearing black gear and racing bibs that said "Justice for Breonna Taylor," the members of Unity Runners Portland, a local chapter of a national group, circled Back Cove to bring awareness to her death and continuing advocacy around the use of potentially dangerous "no-knock" raids by police.

The group has been running each week since August 2020 to remember Taylor, but Saturday marked a particularly important date — her 28th birthday.

"Breonna should have been turning 28 today," Helen Sturgis-Bright said to a semicircle of runners before they set off. "She should still be with us."

On March 13, 2020, Louisville plainclothes officers fatally shot Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency room technician, while executing a no-knock warrant at her apartment. Not knowing who the intruders were, Taylor's boyfriend fired a warning shot at police, which led to retaliating shots from officers. Despite protests from Taylor's family, no officers involved in the raid have been charged in her death.

Taylor's death has become a symbol for a coalition of reformers, libertarian and liberal alike, seeking to limit or end no-knock raids.

The officers in the Louisville raid claim they announced themselves as police before forcing entry to Taylor's apartment, but Kenneth Walker, her boyfriend, said he didn't hear any such announcement and believed they were unlawful intruders.

The Louisville Police Department fired one officer and assigned two others to administrative duties after the incident. The Louisville Metro Council has since banned no-knock warrants. In September 2020, the city of Louisville announced it would pay a $12 million settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit brought by Taylor's family.

Sturgis-Bright, a history teacher at Deering High School, said she was moved to action while watching the news, particularly when Taylor's mother, Tamika Palmer, responded to her daughter's death.

"I thought about Tamika Palmer and how I would never have had the same grace after losing my daughter," Sturgis-Bright said on Saturday.

Attendees on Saturday also paid $20 each to the Breonna Taylor Foundation, which supports causes that mattered to Taylor, such as encouraging youth to pursue careers in health care.

Before starting out, the group of seven gathered around to remember Taylor and observe a moment of silence.

Sturgis-Bright listed "action steps" that participants could take. Those included pushing for the firing and criminal charging of officers involved in Taylor's killing, the banning of no-knock warrants across Kentucky and the country, and the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate Taylor's case.

With that, the runners loped off at an easy pace, headed along the 3 1/2 -mile Back Cove path.

A handful of bills on no-knock warrants are under consideration in Maine, ranging from L.D. 1043, which asks the Maine Law Enforcement Academy to establish statewide policy on their use, to L.D. 1127, which would require all Maine police to announce themselves while executing warrants and ban them from assisting federal agencies executing no-knock warrants.

Sturgis-Bright said Unity Runners supported another bill, L.D. 1171, sponsored by Maine House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, which would allow no-knock warrants only in cases where announcing officers' presence could cause imminent threat of death or bodily harm. The bill also calls for a concrete standard to assess those threats when deciding whether or not to issue a no-knock warrant.