Breonna Taylor Covers 'Vanity Fair' as Her Mother Recounts the Night She Was Killed
By Paige Gawley
Amy Sherald/Vanity Fair
Breonna Taylor's mother is remembering her late daughter. Taylor, who was shot to death by Louisville Metro Police in March at the age of 26, covers the September issue of Vanity Fairwith a portrait designed by Amy Sherald. In an accompanying feature, guest editor Ta-Nehisi Coates tells the story of Taylor's life and death through the eyes of the late EMT's mother, Tamika Palmer, whom he interviewed multiple times.
The feature begins with the night of Taylor's death, when she and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, were in their home when police made a late-night raid on the wrong address. Taylor was shot eight times.
Palmer, through Coates, recalls Walker calling her in the middle of night, saying, "Somebody kicked in the door and shot Breonna."
"I am dead asleep. I don’t know what he’s talking about. I jump up. I get ready, and I rush over to her house," Palmer remembers.
When she arrived at her daughter's home, Palmer recalls the street being "just flooded with police," and one officer directing her to the hospital to find her daughter. After almost two hours at the hospital, Palmer was unable to find out any information about where her daughter was or what had happened.
Back at Taylor's department, Palmer continued to seek answers, before a detective finally approached her.
"He kind of just goes on to ask me if I knew anybody who would want to hurt Breonna, or Kenny, or if I thought they were involved in anything. And I go, 'Absolutely not. Both of them got jobs. They go to work. They hang out with each other. That’s about it,'" Palmer recounts. "I ask where Kenny is, and the detective tells me, 'Hold on. I’ll be back.'"
More questions from the detective followed when he came back an hour later.
"He asks me if Breonna and Kenny had been having any problems or anything. I say, 'Absolutely not. Kenny would never do anything to Breonna,'" Palmer says. "And then I say, 'Where’s Kenny? I need to talk to Kenny.' He says, 'Well, Kenny’s at one of our offices. He’s trying to help us piece together what happened here tonight.'"
Palmer spent "a number of hours" there, at her daughter's home, trying to get answers. Those don't come until nearly midday.
"It’s about 11 in the morning when the officer comes over and says that they are about done and they are wrapping up, and we will be able to get in there once they are finished," Palmer recalls. "I say, 'Where’s Breonna, why won’t anybody say where Breonna is?' He says, 'Well, ma’am, she’s still in the apartment.' And I know what that means."
After learning of her daughter's death -- though not the circumstances surrounding it -- Palmer remembers spending the day with her family and friends "crying and just trying to figure it out."
"I am having these thoughts -- Maybe it’s not Breonna, because I never see her, mind you. The police never let me see her," she notes. "But I know it’s her house... And then, I can’t talk to Kenny. But the last thing I know is Kenny called me and said, 'Somebody kicked that door in.' And I’m thinking, 'Who would want to do that? What is happening?'"
"My head is all over the place. And the police aren’t talking to me or telling me anything. My daughter’s dead and they’re not telling me anything," Palmer continues. "And I keep wondering, 'Why would somebody do this?' Until I actually learn on the news that the police did this."
The police's involvement in Taylor's death is not something Palmer learned about until a text from a friend asking if she saw the news.
"I google the news station and then I watch the story. And I am like, 'Why would they ask if somebody wanted to hurt her?' Now I’m confused. Because you asked me whether I knew someone who wanted to hurt my daughter. But you did it," Palmer remembers asking. "Why couldn’t you have just told me that the police did this? You asked me if somebody wanted to hurt 'them.'"
"You said you had Kenny over at the office trying to help you figure out what happened. But come to find out, you got Kenny down here trying to charge him with attempted murder," she continues. "And Breonna’s gone. What the hell?"
The reality of the situation set in further when Palmer, her family and friends went to see Taylor's body at the funeral home.
"When we see her body, it’s just tears and screams," Palmer remembers. "I walk out the home because everybody is just crying. And I am just so pissed off that she is lying there."
Amid Palmer and her family's grief, she remembers how her daughter and her boyfriend were portrayed on the news.
"Breonna and Kenny are drug dealers. That is how it’s being portrayed on the news. And I am pissed off because I know how hard Breonna worked. I know that Breonna ain’t about that life. Breonna couldn’t tell you where to buy a dime bag of weed," Palmer recalls thinking. "She isn’t that person on the news. Neither is Kenny. So somebody has to do something. Somebody has to help me."
Help didn't come until weeks later, when Palmer's sister shared a post on Facebook about Taylor's death. That post, Palmer recalls, was "like a light switch."
"Now people are like, 'I can’t believe they did this!' And now people are asking, 'When is the funeral?' I’m like, 'The funeral was two months ago.' And the next thing I know there’s a protest. I don’t even know anything about it. But somebody ends up calling me and saying, 'They got a protest going for your daughter,'" she remembers. "There’s all these people down here. The mayor finally calls -- two and a half to almost three months later. He calls because we have filed a lawsuit. So he offers his condolences. And I’m like, 'OK. And that’s it.'"
"People want to see me. They want to say they’re sorry. They want to apologize for the police. They want to offer their condolences. They want to apologize for not listening. I can’t believe it," Palmer continues. "People are begging for forgiveness like, 'I’m sorry we weren’t listening.' I just can’t believe it. I felt like with the whole pandemic, Breonna would be forgotten, and we would just get swept under the rug. And how do I feel then? Like, my God, somebody heard me. Like I finally caught my breath. That’s how I feel. Like I finally caught my breath."
While Taylor's death is what she's become known for, her mother, through Coates, makes sure to tell Vanity Fair about the person her eldest child was, starting from when she was just a baby.
"Breonna was a good baby. She wasn’t a crier. She was a happy baby," Palmer recalls. "She started walking early -- like at nine months, so she was just a little person early. I always say she had an old soul. She liked listening to the blues with my mother. She would sing me the blues. It was hilarious."
As she grew, Palmer notes that Taylor "was never really a troublesome kid." Instead, Taylor was "very computer literate," "loved to play double Dutch" and "loved cars." The love for cars was one that was shared by mother and daughter. In fact, Palmer taught Taylor how to ride a motorcycle.
"Breonna was a quick student. She was nervous though. She always worried about perfecting any and everything. But she had it," Palmer remembers. "... She used to say, We’re going to buy us some new matching bikes, Mom. That was her thing."
Though the matching bikes didn't happen, Taylor was able to get her dream car.
"Breonna’s absolute favorite was the Dodge Charger. She was on her second one -- a 2019 Dodge Charger R/T," Palmer recalls. "She was so proud of this car, it was her baby."
As for if Taylor wanted a real baby with her beau, Palmer reveals that her daughter and Walker had just started talking "about having a baby at some point."
"She had just recently started saying, 'Yeah, I think I’m almost ready. I just want to get a house first and then go from there,'" Palmer recalls. "Because that was the next thing. She got her Charger. And next was the house."
While Taylor's personal life was set in motion, so too was her career.
"Breonna wanted to be a nurse... She went into the ER and worked as a tech and she absolutely loved it there," Palmer shares. "And so her goal was just to finish school with being in the ER and be a nurse."
In all of Taylor's pursuits, Palmer affectionately remembers her daughter as "bossy" and "OCD."
"She was one of them people who didn’t talk about other people. If something was going on with you, she’d rather figure out a way to help you than talk about you," she notes. "She was a hard worker. If she missed work, something was really wrong. She loved being in the hospital, she loved her job, and she loved the people she worked with."
"It kills my whole family," Palmer adds of Taylor's death. "Breonna is like the family glue -- even at 26 years old, she is pretty much the glue."