An indictment comes in Breonna Taylor case, but it doesn’t bring closure
Louisville residents say charges against officer aren’t enough to bring justice
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Breonna Taylor’s name has been everywhere over the past six months.
Athletes have lifted up her name. From the WNBA kicking off its return to the court with a tribute to Taylor to NBA star Donovan Mitchell, who played college basketball at the University of Louisville, wearing “Say Her Name” on the back of his jersey. Naomi Osaka, who won the 2020 US Open title, wore a face mask with the words “Breonna Taylor” before her opening-round match.
Some of the biggest names in the sports and entertainment world, from LeBron James to Stephen Curry, from Beyoncé to Oprah Winfrey, have spoken out and called for justice for Taylor after she was killed in her Louisville, Kentucky, home on March 13 by Louisville Metro Police officers executing a warrant.
And Louisville, a cozy, charming city that is the home of the Kentucky Derby and the birthplace of perhaps the most beloved athlete of all time, Muhammad Ali, has become the epicenter of the racial tension that has been brewing in this nation for months.
On Wednesday, a grand jury announced that one of the three police officers on the scene, Brett Hankison, will face three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment in the incident. The wanton endangerment charge was filed due to Hankison blindly firing into Taylor’s apartment and putting other nearby residents at risk. He was not directly implicated in Taylor’s death. Wanton endangerment is a Class D felony that carries a penalty of one to five years in prison. The other two police officers on the scene will not face charges.
Louisville native Shannon Ragland said that the announcement will not do much to ease tension in the community.
“For those aggrieved by her death, justice for Breonna Taylor has not been satisfied,” Ragland said. “It’s not a good situation.”
In the hours leading up to the announcement, the city of Louisville appeared to be bracing itself for the worst. Many of the buildings and parking garages in the area between 2nd and 9th streets, the heart of the downtown area, were closed. Traffic restrictions were implemented. Buildings were boarded up in anticipation of rioting. Louisville mayor Greg Fischer declared a state of emergency on Tuesday. A 9 p.m. curfew has been put in place for the next three days.
Ragland, who lives in Louisville’s East End, said fear is prominent in the suburbs as well. Several schools implemented plans for early dismissal on Wednesday, and many high school sporting events scheduled for Wednesday evening have been canceled.
“There’s anxiety, people are on edge,” said Ragland. “There’s a lot of people who live out here that are afraid and believe they are in danger. There’s really no validity to it because rioters aren’t coming out here, but people are concerned.”
There had been some movement in the case before the announcement. Hankison has been fired. In June, the city’s Metro Council voted unanimously to pass Breonna’s Law, which bans no-knock warrants. On Sept. 15, the city of Louisville agreed to pay Taylor’s family $12 million and reform police practices as part of the settlement.
But many Louisville residents still believe that justice has not been served. They want the officers responsible for Taylor’s death to be held accountable and charged with murder. Hankison’s indictment on lesser charges just isn’t enough.
“There’ll never be any closure for the family or the city until somebody is held liable for that young woman’s death,” said Perry Pettus, an African American Navy veteran and Louisville resident since 1977. “That’s the only form of justice that many people will accept.”
Relations between Louisville police and the African American community have been strained for a long time. It was local police who enforced the old Jim Crow segregation laws in the Black community. And in 2019, the Louisville Metro Police Department faced several lawsuits alleging that police were using traffic stops as a pretext to pull over African American drivers and conduct racially-biased searches and seizures.
Protests in the area have been mainly peaceful to this point. But residents expressed concern that things could go south very quickly. In similar situations, riots and violence became the main story, overshadowing the primary issue that led to unrest in the first place. The most logical comparison is the 1968 riots that took place in the West End, where a crowd protested the possible reinstatement of a white police officer who had been suspended for beating a Black man weeks earlier. The result was a two-day period of chaos that resulted in 472 arrests, the deaths of two Black teenagers and more than $200,000 worth of damage. Many believe that the West End never recovered from the aftermath.
Pettus doesn’t believe that the uproar over Wednesday’s announcement will carry the gloom and doom that many are forecasting.
“I really don’t think there will be the violence that many people are predicting,” he said. “I think you’ll have more people coming out and voicing their opinions. But things usually don’t end up as bad as they try to make them out to be. I’m praying for our city. ”
Things were fairly quiet near Jefferson Square Park, a downtown area near the courthouse that has served as a hub for many of the protests. Protesters gathered and chanted for justice, but it was nothing like the scene that occurred in late June when a local photographer was shot and killed and another citizen was wounded by gunfire. As of 8 p.m. Wednesday, the police department reported 29 arrests – 13 on Bardstown Road in the Highlands and 16 in the downtown area.
Kimberly Kelsey said she’s listened to many protesters and believes most of the issues stem from troublemakers coming in from out of town.
“I don’t think it’s our people, Louisville people, who are out there stirring things up,” she said. “The ones I’ve heard, they want to protest, but they want to do it peacefully. I think you’ve got other people who have a different agenda who are behind most of the trouble.”
Emotions were already running high shortly after Wednesday afternoon’s announcement. In the Highlands, an upper-middle-class area populated by numerous restaurants and businesses located just outside downtown Louisville, police brandished riot shields. But the evening didn’t conclude peacefully. The Louisville Metro Police Department confirmed a suspect is in custody after two officers were shot during the demonstrations downtown.