One of the heart-wrenching tracks that stands out on Alicia Keys brand-new album, ALICIA, is the ballad “A Perfect Way to Die.” The song, written by Keys and Sebastian Cole, tells the story of a grieving mother whose child was killed by police violence.
“The song title is so powerful and heartbreaking because WE are heartbroken by so many who have died unjustly,” Keys wrote in an emotional Instagram post.
Like most of the new album, which was originally planned for a March 2020 release but was pushed back due to the pandemic, “A Perfect Way to Die” was written last year, originally influenced by the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Sandra Bland. Unfortunately, 2020 saw continued incidents of unarmed people of color being victimized by police brutality, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
In March plainclothes officers from the Louisville Metro Police Department, equipped with a “no-knock” warrant, broke down Breonna Taylor’s door with a battering ram as part of a narcotics investigation. Taylor’s boyfriend pulled out a gun to defend the couple, thinking the invading officers were intruders. A gunfight ensued, and the LMPD fired over 20 rounds into the apartment, eight of which struck and killed 26-year-old Taylor. No drugs were found, and the suspects the officers were searching for had never lived at that address.
When Keys first heard about the incident, she was dumbfounded: “Finding out about Breonna’s execution, literally in her own home, was shocking and terrifying.” Tamika Mallory, Keys’s friend since she was 14, reached out to the superstar about Taylor’s death, expressing her concern that female victims of police violence were being ignored. The two came up with a plan that would involve other prominent female voices in the entertainment industry.
“We really wanted to gather a group of women to be able to talk through and share the story of Breonna Taylor, who was ... an amazing young woman, who was an essential worker and had such an incredible trajectory in front of her,” says Keys.
Keys and Mallory approached fellow musician Rapsody, and through Mallory’s organization Until Freedom, the trio started to reach out to their friends about organizing a video campaign. Within two days they had put together a massive group of female voices including Gabrielle Union, Kerry Washington, Jada Pinkett Smith, Janelle Monáe and more.
Keys and some of the other participants had a lengthy Zoom chat with Breonna’s family, including her mother, Tamika Palmer, during which they discussed the tragedy and their plan of action.
“We spoke to them, I got a chance to hear what they're going through and what's happening,” says Keys, “and that's what made us put together that piece, where we could really ask people if they actually knew what happened. Because a lot of people maybe didn't, or the way that it's covered sometimes is misconstrued. And we really wanted them to see the real Breonna.”
The video campaign went viral across social media thanks to the massive star power behind it, and it helped keep the conversation going while the officers involved in the incident remained free from criminal charges.
On June 11, the Louisville Metro Council unanimously voted to ban “no-knock” search warrants and require the use of body cameras during all warrant executions. The new ordinance was named “Breonna’s Law.”
“That was a big deal,” says Keys. “Because obviously that was a big part of why it happened at all, but the ‘no-knock’ law has to still be abandoned in multiple cities and districts. And so that's something that has to keep continuing on.”
On Tuesday September 15th, the family of Breonna Taylor and their attorneys announced a $12 million settlement from the City of Louisville. The settlement also included incentives for officers to live in the communities they serve, more collaboration between police and social workers, and a stricter approval process for search warrants.
Although one of the officers involved in the incident lost his job, none of them has been charged with any crime related to Taylor’s shooting.
“There's so much more still to do,” states Keys, “but, yes, I think we're in a very active time, on a very transformational time. And we know that it's time to be loud and speak up and really be active and not sit by and listen and watch. We have to call, we have to write, we have to talk, we have to speak, we have to protest.”
Alicia Keys’s new album, ALICIA, is now available wherever you purchase music.
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