“No Justice, No Peace”: No Officers Charged for Breonna Taylor’s Death

By Lily Vining || Contributing Writer

Photo courtesy of @tamikalpalmer on Instagram.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020, marked the 119th day of consecutive protesting in downtown Louisville, Kentucky, and there appears to be no end in sight.

Earlier that day, the Kentucky grand jury decided to not press homicide charges against the three police officers responsible for the death of Breonna Taylor. Attorney General Daniel Cameron announced that Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) officers Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove, whose shots struck and killed Taylor, would receive no charges. Another officer, Brett Hankinson, was indicted for wanton endangerment for shots he fired into a neighbor’s apartment not linked to Taylor’s death. He could serve up to five years for each of the three counts of the Class D felony.

Taylor was killed on the night of March 13th by police during a search for two men involved in an illegal drug operation. The department initially obtained a “no-knock” warrant, but orders were later changed to “knock and announce” before entering the residence. Though police accounts and witness testimonies differ, an independent investigation concluded that the officers did knock and announce their presence before using a battering ram to enter the apartment. Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, believed there was an intruder and fired a single shot at the approaching officers, wounding one of them in the leg. The officers subsequently opened fire of over 20 rounds directed at Walker and Taylor. Detective Brett Hankinson also opened fire from outside of the building, shooting blindly through patio doors and windows into the apartment. His bullets passed through multiple rooms in Taylor’s house and into a neighboring apartment, where a couple and their young daughter were sleeping. 

All three officers were placed on administrative reassignment throughout the investigation of the event. In a letter sent to Hankinson regarding his termination, interim Louisville police Chief Robert Schroeder wrote, “I find your conduct a shock to the conscience,” referring to the shots fired blindly into Taylor’s apartment building. “Your actions have brought discredit upon yourself and the Department.” In the recent grand jury decision, Hankinson received charges for endangering three occupants of the apartment complex, but none were directly related to Taylor’s death.

The grand jury announcement comes only weeks after the City of Louisville agreed to pay Taylor’s mother $12 million in a wrongful death lawsuit filed in May. The department also promised changes to their training and practices, including having all officers wear body cameras. The city mayor also banned all “no-knock” warrants, a decision introduced by Democrats in Congress in June. 

Many, including the victim’s family and attorney, are dismayed by the court decision’s failure to bring justice. “Taylor’s death is indisputably a terrible tragedy,” said the Attorney General, “but the law, the criminal law, is not always able to adequately respond to tragedy.” Cameron also stated that after the investigation, it was determined that both officers who lethally shot Taylor acted legally in self-defense. The investigation also included facts that contradict witnesses’ previous reports that the officers did not announce their presence before entering.

Cameron also noted that “if we simply act on emotion or outrage, there is no justice. Mob justice is not justice,” anticipating violence sparked by the decision. He encouraged the public to remain peaceful in their demonstrations despite their frustration. “Justice sought by violence is not justice. It just becomes revenge.”

The announcement was met with disappointment and frustration from the public, who have been protesting in the streets since May. Many believed that the grand jury would produce manslaughter charges against the officers. Cries of outrage echoed in the streets as the public gathered in Jefferson Square to revive their demonstrations. As the sun went down, conflict ensued between the public and law enforcement, leading to the shooting of two police officers.

Their injuries are considered non-life-threatening, and a suspect is in custody. Over two dozen protesters have since been arrested.

The next day, hundreds returned to the square bringing signs, photos, and flowers for Taylor’s memorial. The frustrated but peaceful public expressed the disappointment they felt upon hearing that justice was not served for Breonna. Though the gathering was peaceful, many protesters shared that they were worried that high tensions would lead to violence later that night. After the nine o’clock evening curfew put in place by the city mayor, protesters sought refuge at the Louisville Unitarian Church, a designated safe house, where they continued expressing their support for Taylor’s family and anger over the court ruling. When asked by journalists, protesters say that they will continue their efforts until justice is served for Taylor and the Black community.

Photo courtesy of The Washington Post

The demonstrators echo the sentiments of Taylor’s family. Her mother, Tamika Palmer, took to Instagram on Thursday with an illustration of her daughter. “It’s still Breonna Taylor for me. #ThesystemfailedBreonna,” read the caption.

Taylor’s cousin, Tawanna Gordon, told the Courier-Journal that she was “mad as hell” after the grand jury’s ruling on Wednesday. “Until Americans start getting mad enough and speaking out and forcing legislators to change the laws for all races, nothing is going to change.” 

Calling for the end of police violence towards marginalized communities, Gorden emphasized that “it needs to happen now. Not tomorrow, but today.”

Photo courtesy of the Des Moses Register

First-Year Lily Vining is a Contributing Writer. Her email is lvining@fandm.edu

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