WASHINGTON - Protests erupted in several U.S. cities Wednesday night after a grand jury in Louisville, Kentucky, declined to bring homicide charges against of any of the three white police officers involved in a bungled drug raid that led to the shooting death last March of a Black woman, Breonna Taylor.
Two Louisville police officers were shot in the street protests. One of them underwent surgery, but both are expected to survive. A suspect in the shootings was arrested.
Louisville police said they arrested 127 protesters, some of whom allegedly damaged or looted businesses in the city center and jumped on city vehicles being used as barricades. Some protesters were charged with curfew and unlawful assembly violations after refusing police orders to disperse.
Across the country in Seattle, a police officer was struck in the head with a bat and police said a protester threw an explosive device though a gate at a police precinct station. Police said that when they attempted to arrest the protester who threw the explosive, they were “assaulted with bottles and rocks.”
Police said “multiple officers” were hurt in the protests. They said 13 protesters were arrested. Video circulated of an officer riding a bike over a person’s head during the demonstrations.
In the western city of Portland, Oregon, where there have been months of protests against police abuse of minorities, several hundred people rallied in the rain. A drum line played in rhythm with chants of "Whose life mattered? Breonna Taylor!"
In Atlanta, police said they used chemical agents to disperse protesters demonstrating against the grand jury's decision not to indict police officers in the death of the 26-year-old medical technician. A state police spokesman said "some unruly protesters" attempted to climb on top of a SWAT vehicle that was stationed in the city. Some demonstrators were arrested for refusing orders to disperse from roads and to walk on sidewalks.
One of the three officers involved in the Louisville raid, Brett Hankison, was charged with three counts of wanton endangerment, for shots he fired that went through a wall into an adjoining apartment of Taylor’s, threatening the lives of a couple and their child who live there.
Under Kentucky law, “A person is guilty of wanton endangerment in the first degree when, under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life, he wantonly engages in conduct which creates a substantial danger of death or serious physical injury to another person.” If convicted, Hankison faces up to five years in prison on each of the three charges he faces.
But neither Hankison, who has been fired by the Louisville police department, nor either of the two other officers involved in the raid, Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove, was charged in Taylor’s death.
Her death has become a public cause for celebrities and protesters alike, playing an important role in the American reckoning over racial relations and police treatment of minorities that was touched off over the late May death of a Black man, George Floyd, while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
After the grand jury’s decision, Democratic vice-presidential contender Kamala Harris said on Twitter she was “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.”
President Donald Trump praised Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s handling of the case in overseeing the grand jury investigation. Trump later tweeted that he was “praying for the two police officers that were shot tonight in Louisville, Kentucky. The Federal Government stands behind you and is ready to help.”
Harris echoed the same sentiment, saying that she and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden “are keeping the police officers who were shot in Louisville in our hearts, wishing them a swift and speedy recovery. Violence is not the answer and we must find a way to express our grief, anger, and demands in ways that reflect the world we wish to see.”
A “no-knock” warrant was authorized in the raid, which allows police to burst into a dwelling without warning to keep evidence from being destroyed. But Cameron said Wednesday that a neighbor of Taylor’s heard police announce their presence before entering Taylor’s apartment and that their entry was not deemed a no-knock raid. No drugs were found in Taylor’s apartment.
Cameron said Mattingly and Cosgrove “were justified in their use of force” after Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, opened fire at them first when they entered the apartment, thinking they were intruders.
Mattingly was hit in the leg with a shot, with Mattingly and Cosgrove firing multiple rounds in return and one of Cosgrove’s shots killing Taylor, Cameron said. Walker told police he did not hear police announce their presence.
At a news conference, Cameron said, “The decision before my office is not to decide if the loss of Breonna Taylor’s life was a tragedy — the answer to that question is unequivocally yes.”
Cameron said he understood as a Black man, “how painful this is ... which is why it was so incredibly important to make sure that we did everything we possibly could to uncover every fact.”
He later added, “I know that not everyone will be satisfied. Our job is to present the facts to the grand jury, and the grand jury then applies the facts. If we simply act on outrage, there is no justice. Mob justice is not justice. Justice sought by violence is not justice. It just becomes revenge.”
After Hankison was charged with wanton endangerment, Taylor family attorney Ben Crump at first said, “While not fully what we wanted, this brings us closer” to justice for Taylor. But in a second tweet, Crump said the fact that no one was charged directly with Taylor's death was "outrageous and offensive."
Initially, thousands of people peacefully protested the decision in Louisville, a city of 600,000. But the protests turned violent Wednesday night, with police and protesters clashing.
Mayor Greg Fischer ordered a 72-hour curfew, beginning at 9 p.m. Wednesday. Much of the city’s downtown area had been closed to traffic.
The city recently agreed to pay Taylor’s family $12 million to settle its lawsuit against Louisville for the manner in which the raid was conducted.