March 13th, 2023, is the third anniversary of Breonna Taylor’s murder. Police shot Taylor five times as they fired wildly into her apartment. She received no medical attention for 20 minutes as she struggled to breathe after the botched raid (NYTimes). Her death sparked weeks of protests around the country (NPR). The officer who murdered her was not charged. Other officers were indicted, not for murdering Taylor but for falsifying the warrant for the raid (The Independent).
The U.S. injustice system letting killer cops off the hook is nothing new. There’s another, less discussed angle to the tragic murder of Breonna Taylor: gentrification. Gentrification can seem like an abstract or gradual process. The police murder of Breonna Taylor is a reminder that gentrification, white supremacy, and police violence are all tightly connected.
When a neighborhood gentrifies, rent prices and property taxes increase until existing residents are evicted. If someone faces eviction and doesn’t move out, they’re confronted by an armed sheriff. People move out of their homes only because the alternative is incarceration or death.
But cities also over-police neighborhoods to kickstart the gentrification process in the first place. Increased policing can make new white residents feel safer. It can also open up new properties for sale by forcing out existing residents indirectly, through intimidation, or directly, through incarceration. No matter how much money it invests in infrastructure or capital improvements, a municipal government can’t make an area attractive to investors if it’s perceived, rightly or wrongly, as dangerous (The Appeal). White supremacists often view Black and brown people as inherently dangerous.
The city of Louisville invested $1 billion to gentrify Breonna Taylor’s neighborhood. The raid on Taylor’s home was targeted at an alleged drug dealer viewed as a “primary roadblock” to the area’s “revitalization.” “When the layers are peeled back, the origin of Breonna’s home being raided by police starts with a political need to clear out a street for a large real estate development project,” attorneys representing Taylor’s family allege in a court filing (Courier-Journal). After the murder of Breonna Taylor, the gentrification of her neighborhood through “mixed-income” developments has continued (Vision Russell).
This happens across the U.S. Walter Wallace was killed by the police a mile from a Philadelphia neighborhood targeted for gentrification (Washington Post). “Law enforced racism has made the divide between the gentrifier and the displaced not only possible, but protected,” writes Louis Lin (EOI).
In Atlanta, dozens of protesters are facing politically motivated charges of domestic terrorism for “crimes” like attending a peaceful music festival. They’re among hundreds of activists participating in a week of action called by local communities against the construction of a Cop City police training facility in the Weelaunee Forest, not coincidentally next to a gentrifying majority-Black neighborhood (IGD). One Cop City opponent, Manuel Paez Terán, was murdered by the police.
“I don’t want Cop City. My neighbors don’t. My granny don’t. She’s been in her house almost 50 years and you suckers will never get it through gentrification,” Reverend Keyanna Jones of the Faith Coalition to Stop Cop City told Atlanta City Council last Monday (Twitter/Atlanta Justice Alliance).
If Cop City is built, Black residents in surrounding neighborhoods will be pushed out. Cop City would train police officers from around the country in military tactics (Pittsburgh City Paper). These police would be deployed in gentrifying neighborhoods to make them more appealing to wealthier, white residents (Urban Institute). It’s no coincidence that the people most likely to face both police violence and eviction are immigrants and people of color, particularly Black people.
Municipal governments plan gentrification (ThoughtCo). Displacement destroys the social identities of people torn away from their communities. It leads to early deaths when people are exposed to the elements on city streets or forced to stay in unsafe living conditions because it’s too expensive to move. In the cases of Walter Wallace, Manuel Paez Terán, and Breonna Taylor, gentrification involved active police murders.
The legal system has decided that no crimes were committed when police officers murdered Breonna Taylor. But as As Black as Resistance author Zoé Samudzi reminds us, “If we define justice for police brutality victims as a trial, conviction, and the imprisonment of killer cops, we are relying on the very structures we are fighting against to both define justice for us and to provide us with recourse” (Teen Vogue). Though justice for Breonna Taylor may never be provided through the courts, we can all join the fight to make sure that policing and gentrification end.
• Nobody was charged with the police murder of Breonna Taylor.
• Her family’s attorneys allege her home was targeted because the city government was gentrifying her neighborhood.
• Fights to end police brutality and gentrification are often intertwined, as in the case of protesters continuing to take direct action against Atlanta’s Cop City in the face of severe political repression.