On Wednesday, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron (R) said the two officers who shot Taylor were justified because her boyfriend fired at them first. A third officer was indicted by a grand jury for firing shots that traveled through Taylor’s apartment and into a neighboring one.
The decision spurred chaotic scenes in downtown Louisville, with a pair of officers shot Wednesday night and authorities making 127 arrests amid looting and fires. Another two dozen people were arrested Thursday night. City leaders said they expected that protests could grow through the weekend.
Taylor’s family on Friday encouraged people to continue to demonstrate to keep up pressure on officials. Speaker after speaker pilloried not only Cameron but also the police, the media and the country’s justice system, which Tamika Palmer, Taylor’s mother, described as fundamentally not set up to protect people of color in the United States.
“It’s clear that is the way they will always see us,” Palmer said in a statement that was read aloud by her sister, Bianca Austin. “I was reassured Wednesday of why I had no faith in the legal system, in the police, in the law. . . . The system as a whole has failed her.”
Ben Crump, an attorney for Taylor’s family, demanded the release of grand jury transcripts in the case, calling for Cameron to make plain what he did and did not present to them and leading the crowd in a chant echoing that plea.
“Did he present any evidence on Breonna Taylor's behalf?” Crump said. “Or did he make a unilateral decision to put his thumb on the scales of justice to help try to exonerate and justify the killing of Breonna Taylor by these police officers?”
Crump said: “If you want us to accept the results, then release the transcript.”
Cameron said Wednesday that he was not releasing the full grand jury report because of both the ongoing criminal case and an FBI investigation.
Elizabeth Kuhn, a spokeswoman for Cameron, said Friday that Cameron “understands that the family of Ms. Breonna Taylor is in an incredible amount of pain and anguish” and that the grand jury’s result “was not what they had hoped.”
“Regarding today’s statements at the news conference, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but prosecutors and grand jury members are bound by the facts and by the law,” Kuhn said in a statement. “Attorney General Cameron is committed to doing everything he can to ensure the integrity of the prosecution before him and continue fulfilling his ethical obligations both as a prosecutor and as a partner in the ongoing federal investigation.”
Gov. Andy Beshear (D), who preceded Cameron as the state’s attorney general, has also called on him to release whatever he can from the investigation without interfering with the criminal case against the officer charged this week.
Taylor’s mother, in her statement, said she hoped Cameron “knew he had the power to do the right thing” in the case. “That he had the power to start the healing of this city,” she said.
“What he helped me realize is that it will always be us against them,” Palmer wrote in her remarks. “That we are never safe when it comes to them.”
As her sister read her remarks, Palmer stood nearby, kneading her hands as some of those gathered around comforted her. At one point, one of them reached out to wipe tears from Palmer’s eyes. A short time later, she sobbed.
Palmer wrote that she knew speaking about her feelings would make her labeled “an angry Black woman,” saying she was angry about Black people dying at the hands of police officers.
While Taylor’s family and their attorneys spoke, voices in the crowd shouted out “a sham,” “dog and pony show” and “kangaroo court.” They were surrounded by signs bearing messages including, “No lives matter until Black lives matter” and “No justice no peace.” People were also wearing masks bearing Taylor’s name.
Another speaker, Tamika Mallory, co-founder of the group Until Freedom, spoke blisteringly about Cameron, describing him as “a coward” and “a sellout” for his actions.
“He protected the police,” she said.
Cameron, a 34-year-old Black man and a rising Republican star, spoke about the case at length Wednesday when discussing the outcome. At one point he choked up while invoking his own mother and described his understanding of how painful the moment was. Mallory, meanwhile, condemned Cameron in bluntly personal terms.
“You were used by the system to harm your own mama, your own Black mama,” Mallory said. “We have no respect for you. No respect for your black skin. . . . You do not belong to Black people, at all.”
Taylor’s death spurred months of protests and became a rallying cry across the country, with demonstrators and celebrities calling for the Louisville officers who shot and killed her to face charges.
In March, police were serving a warrant at Taylor’s apartment shortly after midnight when they broke down the door.
Taylor’s boyfriend, fearing intruders, fired one shot, striking one of the officers.
Three officers fired in response, and two of them struck Taylor a combined six times. After a months-long investigation, a grand jury Wednesday indicted one of the three officers who fired shots that night, charging him with three counts of wanton endangerment for firing shots that traveled into the nearby apartment.
But the revelation that no one would be charged for shooting Taylor spurred a new wave of anguished demonstrations in Louisville and other cities. On Wednesday night, multiple businesses were looted and two Louisville police officers were shot, both of whom are recovering, police said.
Thursday night was calmer, but authorities said there had still been an unacceptable level of unrest, including more than a dozen burglaries.
Among those arrested Thursday was state Rep. Attica Scott, the only Black female lawmaker in Kentucky’s capitol and author of Breonna’s Law, a bill that would end no-knock warrants statewide.
A judge had authorized a no-knock warrant to be served the night Taylor was killed. Cameron said police announced themselves, citing officer statements and a “civilian.” Taylor’s boyfriend said he didn’t hear the officers announce themselves, only knocking and the door being broken down.
Scott was released Friday morning after being charged with first-degree rioting, a felony, along with two misdemeanors: failure to disperse and unlawful assembly. Appearing alongside the Taylor family, Scott decried the charges and vowed to make her proposed legislation a reality.
“We will pass Breonna’s Law for Kentucky,” she said.
On Friday, streets remained blocked throughout downtown Louisville, with a nightly curfew in effect at least through the weekend. Police were a visible presence.
Among the speakers at the Taylor family news conference was Jacob Blake Sr., whose son was shot seven times in the back by a Kenosha, Wis., police officer. Jacob Blake Jr. is paralyzed and the case remains under investigation.
The elder Blake spoke Friday about driving to Louisville to join another member of a grim collective, people who have had relatives wounded or killed by police.
“I knew I had to be here, standing next to my fraternity member,” Blake said. “We didn’t choose this fraternity. This fraternity chose us.”
The FBI has launched its own investigation into whether any civil rights violations were committed. The Louisville police are also conducting an investigation to see whether any officers violated the department’s policies and procedures, the mayor’s office said this week.
Police rarely face charges for fatally shooting people, and those that are prosecuted are unlikely to be convicted. The number of these prosecutions increased after a deadly police shooting in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014 spurred a wave of protests, but they largely ended the same as before that case sparked a nationwide reckoning, with police still given wide latitude to use deadly force.
Brett Hankison, the officer indicted Wednesday after the Taylor shooting investigation, was fired from the Louisville police force in June. The grand jury Wednesday indicted him on three counts, one for each person in the nearby apartment — a pregnant woman, a child and a man. His attorney, Stew Mathews, said Hankison intends to plead not guilty.
The two officers who shot Taylor remain on administrative leave, according to the department.
Interim police chief Robert Schroeder said Friday that he expected an even larger crowd protesting over the weekend. Schroeder also said officials had heard rumors about people traveling to Louisville, mentioning so-called militia-type groups among them.
“Many of them say they’re coming to help us,” he said of those groups. “Let me be clear: That is not help we need, that is not help we want and it does not help the situation, it only exacerbates the situation.”
Schroeder also addressed media reports documenting emails believed to be sent by Louisville Police Maj. Bridget Hallahan, which quoted her dismissively writing that protesters “do not deserve a second glance or thought from us” and that they would “be the ones washing our cars, cashing us out at the Walmart” or playing video games in their parents’ basements.
On Friday, Schroeder said Hallahan had “accepted responsibility for her emails” and was relieved of her command leading the department’s 5th Division. She would be retiring Oct. 1, he said.
Sacchetti reported from Louisville. Berman and Witte reported from Washington.