Dozens of protesters chanting “Who do you protect?” gathered outside Chicago Police Department headquarters Wednesday night, as demonstrations spread across the city following news that a Kentucky grand jury would not indict three Louisville cops in the shooting death of Breonna Taylor.
Taylor is a Black woman who was shot to death in her own apartment in a botched police raid in March. Outside Chicago police headquarters on the South Side, Tanya Watkins was emotional as she described how upset she feels about Taylor’s death.
Watkins said people were not only demonstrating to demand justice – but also to grieve as a community.
“We are tired of police killing us and getting away with it,” she said.
Meanwhile, more than a hundred demonstrators blocked traffic at 79th St. and Racine Ave. on the city’s South Side. The march was led by St. Sabina pastor Michael Pfleger, a vocal anti-violence advocate.
“That’s why nobody trusts the justice system,” Pfleger said, referring to Taylor’s killing. “That’s why nobody trusts the government because this is what ends up happening to us out there. Black and brown lives don’t matter.”
Pfleger also says police unions should be abolished, “because all police unions are doing is protecting bad police in whatever they do,” he said.
Earlier Wednesday, officials in Kentucky announced that former Louisville police detective Brett Hankison was charged with three counts of wanton endangerment for allegedly risking the lives of Taylor’s neighbors during the raid on her home on March 13 when he shot into her neighbor’s apartments. But none of the cops were charged with causing Taylor’s death.
Taylor, an emergency medical worker, was fatally shot multiple times by three 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.
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron said the officers acted in self-defense after Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired at them.
“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.”
While none of the officers were charged with killing Taylor, the FBI is still investigating potential violations of federal law in the case.
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.
Hours after Wednesday’s announcement, many of the highest-ranking elected officials in Illinois joined together to lament the decision and called for protests to be peaceful.
“This is, to put it simply, a gross miscarriage of justice,” Gov. JB Pritzker said at an afternoon press conference.
Joining Pritzker at the somber and rare gathering of Democratic public officials were former political opponents Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton and Jahmal Cole, from My Block, My Hood, My City.
“The decision to only charge one officer with wanton endangerment is unacceptable,” Stratton said. “It is hurtful, it is confusing and it further illustrates how Black people are often dehumanized and disenfranchised by the criminal justice system. Today’s decision is yet one more example of why Black women often don’t feel protected.”
Lightfoot, who called the grand jury’s decision “heartbreaking,” asked Chicagoans to join her in a moment of silence for Taylor at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
In previous instances of civil unrest following Floyd’s killing, the mayor was criticized for raising downtown bridges, enacting a curfew and blocking routes to the city’s highways on short notice, leaving workers downtown with few options for getting around in the midst of demonstrations and looting.
Lightfoot said the city would try to give as much notice as possible if any similar measures are taken again.
In Kentucky, hundreds of demonstrators quickly gathered to protest the grand jury’s decision.
Ben Crump, a lawyer for Taylor’s family, denounced the decision as “outrageous and offensive” as protesters shouting “No justice, no peace!” began marching through the streets as others sat quietly and wept.
Later, police in the city cordoned off a street with yellow tape, and officers in protective gear could be seen handcuffing some people. Some scuffles broke out, and police ordered a group that broke off from the protests to disperse, warning that chemical agents might be used if they didn’t.
Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear said he authorized a “limited” deployment of the National Guard to protect “critical infrastructure,” including hospitals.
But Beshear also urged Cameron, the state’s first Black attorney general, to post online all the evidence and facts that can be released without affecting the charges filed.
“Those that are currently feeling frustration, feeling hurt, they deserve to know more,” he said. “They deserve to see the facts for themselves. And I believe that the ability to process those facts helps everybody.”
WBEZ reporters Tony Arnold, Maria Ines Zamudio and Michael Puente contributed to this story.