Protesters took to the streets of Louisville and other US cities once again on Thursday, as public anger and sadness swelled in the wake of the announcement that no police officers would be charged directly with the shooting death of Breonna Taylor in March.
Tensions were running high in the Kentucky city after a day of peaceful protests turned violent on Wednesday night, when two police officers sustained injuries from gunshots fired at a protest. Local officials have urged calm as protests continue.
On Thursday night police made several arrests, including state representative Attica Scott, a Democrat who has called for justice for Taylor.
“At least 24 people were arrested throughout the evening for charges including unlawful assembly, failure to disperse and riot in the first degree,” the Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) said in a statement.
Activists, who were chanting Taylor’s name and marching as police in riot gear blocked roads, had vowed to press on after a grand jury on Wednesday failed to bring homicide charges against the officers who burst into her apartment during a drug investigation in March. Demonstrators turned out despite the city remaining under a 9pm curfew. The protest appeared to end after tense negotiations at about 11pm.
Hundreds of people also turned out again in New York, Philadelphia, St Louis, Baltimore, and other cities across the country to mark the second second night of largely peaceful action, with demonstrators chanting “Say her name! Breonna Taylor!” and holding signs demanding justice.
“The question obviously is: what do we do with this pain?” the Louisville mayor, Greg Fischer, said during a news conference. “There is no one answer, no easy answer to that question.”
The civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, speaking on behalf of Taylor’s relatives, said the family was “outraged, they were insulted and they were, mostly, offended” by the conclusion of a grand jury in Kentucky on Wednesday.
Taylor’s family will hold a news conference at 10.30am ET on Friday with Crump to speak about the grand jury’s decision not to indict any officer for her death, it was announced Thursday.
The grand jury decided to indict on relatively minor charges just one out of three white police officers who barged into the 26-year-old African American medical worker’s apartment in March, during an investigation not directly involving her, and killed her in a hail of bullets.
The one police officer to be indicted, Brett Hankison, was charged with wanton endangerment, not for the killing of Taylor but for firing recklessly when he was still outside the apartment and causing bullets to penetrate into neighbors’ apartments, putting them at risk.
Crump expressed further outrage that the charges related, also, to endangered white neighbors while ignoring a Black neighbor who was also put at risk from bullets fired by the officers.
“What did the Kentucky attorney general present to the grand jury? Did he present any evidence for Breonna Taylor and, if so, what was it to get an outcome like this?” he told NBC’s Today program on Thursday.
Protests occurred in several major cities across the US on Wednesday night, including New York, Washington, Chicago, Milwaukee and Cincinnati, and marchers demonstrated in Louisville, as they have done for 120 days.
In bursts of confrontation with police in Louisville later in the evening, 127 people were arrested and two police officers were shot and injured.
Larynzo Johnson, a 26-year-old Louisville man, was arrested near the scene minutes later and on Thursday was facing charges of first-degree assault of a police officer and wanton endangerment.
On Thursday afternoon, the Louisville mayor, Greg Fischer, announced an extension of the 9pm ET to 6.30am ET curfew through the weekend, and metro closures through to Monday morning. The mayor said the steps helped balance keeping people safe “while still allowing people the time and space to voice their calls for racial justice and equity during the day”.
Witnesses at the demonstrations have reported many members of the public, including protesters and counter-protesters, carrying firearms, which is legal in the state but has heightened tensions.
Outpourings of anger have continued nationwide at what many see as a lack of justice for Taylor.
The Democratic vice-presidential candidate, Kamala Harris, tweeted: “Tonight, I’m thinking of Breonna Taylor’s family who is still grieving the loss of a daughter and sister. We must never stop speaking Breonna’s name as we work to reform our justice system, including overhauling no-knock warrants.”
Tonight, I’m thinking of Breonna Taylor’s family who is still grieving the loss of a daughter and sister.— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) September 24, 2020
We must never stop speaking Breonna’s name as we work to reform our justice system, including overhauling no-knock warrants.
Kentucky’s attorney general, Daniel Cameron, has been taking a lot of heat and demands for transparency on what evidence was presented to the grand jury, which in the US is a group of citizens authorized by law to hold legal proceedings and investigate potential crimes. They hear evidence, presented to them by prosecutors, and take testimony from witnesses behind closed doors and determine whether criminal charges should be brought in a case.
He said there was a public witness and police statements that they did announce themselves before breaking into Taylor’s apartment, where Taylor was asleep in bed.
Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, who was there, said he had no warning and thought intruders were breaking in. He had a gun and fired one shot, which hit one of the officers, though not Hankison.
All three officers then opened fire. Walker was not hit but Taylor was hit by at least five bullets and died.
Hankison was arrested on Wednesday. The other two officers, Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove, were not charged.
Crump said on Thursday that there was a lack of fairness in the charges. “They had wanton endangerment for the white neighbor’s apartment, the bullets going there. But not for the bullets going into Breonna Taylor’s body. Nor … for the bullets that went into the Black neighbor’s apartment above Breonna,” he said.
He added: “Breonna’s family would love to see the grand jury transcript to see if there was any evidence presented for Breonna Taylor’s perspective. Nothing seems to say that Breonna mattered.”
Basketball superstar LeBron James tweeted that he was devastated and angry.
“I’ve been lost for words today! I’m devastated, hurt, sad, mad! We want justice for Breonna yet justice was met for her neighbors’ apartment walls and not her beautiful life. Was I surprised at the verdict. Absolutely not but damnit I was and still am hurt and heavy hearted,” he wrote.
He further tweeted that the “most disrespected person on earth is the Black woman”, adding: “I promise you I’ll do my best to change this as much as I can and even more!! Love to you queens all over this country and beyond!”
The most DISRESPECTED person on earth is THE BLACK WOMAN! I promise you I’ll do my best to change this as much as I can and even more!! LOVE to you QUEENS all over this country and beyond! 👸🏽👸🏾👸🏿❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️— LeBron James (@KingJames) September 24, 2020
The Democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden, tweeted: “Even amidst the profound grief & anger today’s decision generated, violence is never & can never be the answer. Those who engage in it must be held accountable. Jill & I are keeping the officers shot tonight in Louisville in our prayers. We wish them both a swift & full recovery.”
Biden and Harris also called for police reforms, saying the country should start by addressing excessive force, banning chokeholds and overhauling “no-knock” warrants. There is a federal civil rights investigation underway.
The Texas representative Sheila Jackson Lee, a longstanding member of the congressional committee on the judiciary, described the outcome of Taylor’s case as “shameful”.
While calling for protests to remain peaceful, she told CNN on Thursday: “It is very obvious to us that there was a grave injustice. This cries out for a civil rights investigation. The FBI needs to do its job because people are in pain, and they have a right to be in pain.”
The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said justice was denied that Taylor was “murdered by the police”.