‘No justice or peace’: CT activists react to charges in Breonna Taylor killing
Staff and wire reports
Updated 9:46 pm EDT, Wednesday, September 23, 2020
Connecticut advocates expressed frustration and exhaustion Wednesday after a Kentucky grand jury decided Louisville police officers would not face charges for the shooting death of Breonna Taylor in March.
Former Officer Brett Hankison was charged with three counts of wanton endangerment from the botched March 13 raid for having fired his weapon into Taylors’ neighbors homes.
“There is no justice or peace in today’s announcement from Kentucky, which is the latest example in our nation’s long history of denying that Black lives matter,” said David McGuire, executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut. “It is a pattern that is all too familiar to Connecticut, where since 2001, prosecutors have investigated 81 police uses of deadly force and refused to pursue charges against police in all but two.”
Along with the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, Taylor’s case became a major touchstone for the nationwide protests that have gripped the nation since May — drawing attention to entrenched racism and demanding police reform. Taylor’s image has been painted on streets, emblazoned on protest signs and silk-screened on T-shirts worn by celebrities.
The charges drew immediate sadness, frustration and anger that the grand jury did not go further. The wanton endangerment charges each carry a sentence of up to five years.
McGuire said Taylor should still be alive today, as should five people killed by police or who died in police custody in Connecticut this year.
The deaths include Jose Soto, 27, killed in a SWAT raid in Manchester; 57-year-old Edward Gendron, of Waterbury; Michael Gregory, 30, shot dead by police in Ansonia; Mubarak Soulemane, a 19-year-old shot by state police in West Haven; and Justin Griffin, 31, who died while in Milford police custody.
“To those protesting for justice for Breonna, Mubi, Jay, Stephen, and everyone killed and hurt by police across the country and in our state, we are with you,” McGuire said.
Taylor, an emergency medical worker, was shot multiple times by officers who entered her home on a no-knock warrant during a narcotics investigation. The warrant used to search her home was connected to a suspect who did not live there, and no drugs were found inside. The use of no-knock warrants has since been banned by Louisville’s Metro Council.
“I would say that people in the community are reeling over this. It’s still very violent, and this is why we organize for change,” said Ala Ochumare, co-founder and community organizer for Black Lives Matter New Haven.
After months of waiting for the officer’s involved in Taylor’s killing to be charged, she described Wednesday’s announcement as “a slap in the face,” and said she’s exhausted by the news.
“A lot of people are pissed off. A lot of people are still trying to figure out exactly what the hell just happened,” she said.
Doris Dumas, president of the New Haven NAACP, used similar language to describe the grand jury decision.
“Sadly, I am not surprised, but it is shameful, and it’s more proof that there is no real value for the lives of black people. It is like Breonna Taylor’s life does not matter or have any value,” Dumas said.
She said people cannot allow for there to be “two justice systems.”
“Where is the justice? Breonna Taylor’s life matters, black lives matter, and we can’t stop fighting and demanding until we can get justice, equality and fair treatment,” Dumas said.
Wednesday evening, police in Louisville set off flashbang devices to clear a square after several hundred gathered to protest the decision.
Police announced the gathering was an “unlawful assembly,” fired the flashbangs and advanced in riot gear.
President Donald Trump offered praise for Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron for his handling of the investigation, calling him “brilliant,” and said “he’s handling it every well.”
“It’ll all work out,” Trump said.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said he has not received enough information to comment fully, but urged protesters to remain peaceful.
“Do not sully her memory or her mother’s by engaging in any violence. It’s totally inappropriate for that to happen,” Biden said. “She wouldn’t want it, nor would her mother, so I hope they do that.”
NAACP President Derrick Johnson described Attorney General Cameron as patronizing, after 200 days of waiting for accountability and justice.
“One officer was charged for the wanton endangerment of others in connection to the death of Breonna Taylor, but nobody was charged for actually killing her,” Johnson said.
He called the announcement an “insult” to Taylor’s memory, and said the “unsubstantial” charges against Hankinson “are an attempt to placate the Black community.”
Danielle Wedderburn, a Bridgeport photographer who attended and photographed Black Lives Matter protests in the city in late May, said her initial reaction was anger.
“I’m still in awe of the final verdict that was given; a life was lost. Regardless of anything Breonna Taylor and her boyfriend were involved with, that still doesn’t justify her being wrongfully killed,” Wedderburn said Wednesday.
“We deserve the justice we seek when our brothers and sisters get gunned down in the streets. Otherwise, civil unrest will continue. Our people aren’t going to stop until we see the results we’re fighting for — inside and outside of Connecticut,” she added.
The case exposed the wide gulf between public opinion on justice for those who kill Black Americans, and the laws under which those officers are charged, which regularly favor working police and do not often result in steep criminal accusations.
At a news conference, state Attorney General Cameron spoke to that disconnect.
“Criminal law is not meant to respond to every sorrow and grief,” Cameron told reporters after the charges were announced.
“But my heart breaks for the loss of Miss Taylor. And I’ve said that repeatedly. My mother, if something was to happen to me, would find it very hard,” he added, choking up.
But Cameron, who is the state’s first Black attorney general, said the officers acted in self-defense after Taylor’s boyfriend fired at them. He added that Hankison and the two other officers who entered Taylor’s apartment announced themselves before entering — and so did not execute the warrant as “no-knock,” according to the investigation.
“According to Kentucky law, the use of force by (Officers Jonathan) Mattingly and (Myles) Cosgrove was justified to protect themselves,” he said. “This justification bars us from pursuing criminal charges in Miss Breonna Taylor’s death.”
Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, opened fire when police burst in, hitting Mattingly. Walker was charged with attempted murder of a police officer, but prosecutors later dropped the charge.
Walker told police he heard knocking but didn’t know who was coming into the home and fired in self-defense.
Before charges were brought, Hankison was fired from the city’s police department on June 23. A termination letter sent to him by interim Louisville Police Chief Robert Schroeder said the white officer had violated procedures by showing “extreme indifference to the value of human life” when he “wantonly and blindly” shot 10 rounds of gunfire into Taylor’s apartment in March.
Hankison had previously been placed on administrative reassignment, as were Sgt. Johnathan Mattingly, Officer Myles Cosgrove and the detective who sought the warrant, Joshua Jaynes.
On Sept. 15, the city settled a lawsuit against the three officers brought by Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, agreeing to pay her $12 million and enact police reforms.
Jasmine Thomas, point guard for the Connecticut Sun, a professional basketball team, called the news “disappointing.”
Sun players have dedicated their season to social justice, printing Taylor’s name on the back of their jerseys. The Players Association and Social Justice Council plan to discuss more ways to use their platform.
“More should be done, it’s not enough,” Thomas said. “But we can’t just give up.”
Staff writers Peter Yankowski and Doug Bonjour and the Associated Press contributed to this report.