Breonna Taylor’s mother calls for end to violence after seven are shot in protest

Josh Wood in Louisville, Kentucky
Photograph: Michael Clevenger/AP

There were calls for calm in Louisville, Kentucky, on Friday morning after late-night protests over the police shooting of Breonna Taylor in March saw seven people suffer gunshot wounds and police in riot gear disperse large crowds with teargas.

Anger over Taylor’s death has only increased following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Monday, and the killing of jogger Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia by two white men.

Related: Night of flames and fury as Minneapolis swells with outrage over George Floyd killing

“Breonna devoted her own life to saving other lives, to helping others, to making people smile and bringing people together,” Taylor’s mother said in a statement shared by Kentucky’s governor, Andy Beshear, on Friday morning.

“The last thing she’d want to see right now is any more violence.”

Police say the shots fired at the protest overnight came from within the crowd and that no officers discharged their firearms. In a press conference Friday, Louisville metro police department’s assistant chief of police, LaVita Chavous, said that shots were also fired into downtown Louisville buildings during the protest, including the courthouse and LMPD headquarters. Of the seven shot, police say one was in critical condition. 

In videos of the protest, a series of gunshots can be heard moments after a group of protesters attempt to tip over a LMPD prisoner transport vehicle that was parked downtown. After the gunshots, police began using teargas canisters.

Breonna Taylor poses during a graduation ceremony in Louisville, Kentucky, in an undated photo. Photograph: Courtesy of family of Breonna Ta/AFP via Getty Images

Taylor, a 26-year-old black medical technician who worked at two Louisville hospitals, was shot and killed by police in her own home in an early morning 13 March raid by officers serving a no-knock warrant on a narcotics investigation.

Attorneys say her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, believed he was witnessing a home invasion when police breached the door, and so fired a single shot from his gun. An officer was struck in the leg by Walker’s shot, and police responded by firing more than 20 times. No drugs were found, and Walker was charged with attempted murder of a police officer.

The officers involved in the raid were not wearing body cameras, and police have said that the officers involved knocked and announced themselves.

Thursday night’s protests started after audio of a 911 call placed by Taylor’s boyfriend immediately following her shooting was given to the Courier-Journal by the attorney representing her family.

“I don’t know what’s happening – somebody kicked in the door and shot my girlfriend,” a distraught and sobbing Walker tells the dispatcher.

Over the course of the more than two-minute call, Walker describes how Taylor is unresponsive and is heard shouting for help. No orders or communications from police can be heard in the background.

To many, the call was taken as proof that Walker did not, as lawyers have said, know that it was law enforcement officers who barged through the apartment door when he fired the shot that led to the barrage of police gunfire.

Local agencies had previously refused to release the 911 tape to news organisations, including the Guardian, saying it was part of an active investigation. 

The weeks since Taylor’s case drew national and international attention have seen changes.

LMPD’s chief, Steve Conrad, announced that he would be retiring effective 30 June. A new policy was established requiring no-knock warrants to be signed off by the chief of police, and for body cameras to be worn by officers conducting those raids.

The FBI launched an investigation into Taylor’s killing and the LMPD’s internal investigation was turned over to Kentucky’s attorney general. Charges against Walker were dropped, but prosecutors left the door open to potential future prosecution after additional investigation.

But those actions have not been enough to quell anger.

On Friday morning, Louisville’s mayor, Greg Fischer, announced that LMPD would be suspending the use of no-knock warrants until further notice, responding to another activist demand.

“These changes and more to come – we’re not done – should signal that I hear the community and we will continue to make improvements anywhere that we can,” he said. “Breonna Taylor’s name and her story will now be part of our history. But as Breonna’s family shared last night, answering violence with violence only makes things worse.”

Additional protests are planned for Friday night. Chavous, the assistant chief of police, called on demonstrators to protest peacefully. 

“Our goal will be to allow for the peaceful expression of protest. We value the right to free speech and understand this community has a lot to say right now. We hear you,” she said.

“We will not tolerate violence that leads to people being hurt. We will not tolerate the destruction of our beautiful city. We are prepared to take whatever action we must to try to ensure no one else is injured during this time of unrest.”