As the city’s 9 p.m. curfew approached Thursday, people holding signs and chanting, “Say her name” and “You can’t stop the revolution,” marched from a protest hub at Jefferson Square Park, despite concerns of a police crackdown.
Russell Coleman, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Kentucky, issued a terse warning that his office will charge those perceived to be acting outside the bounds of “peaceable” protest. The demand came after 127 people were arrested amid chaotic scenes of fires and looting Wednesday night.
“Shooting this city’s law enforcement officers, looting its businesses, and committing arson at the front door of its state courthouse is far from peaceable,” Coleman said in a statement, insisting that Louisville had “endured enough loss of life.”
The warning came as a tense mood settled over the city late Thursday afternoon, with protesters gathering downtown to vent their anger over the Wednesday announcement that officers who shot 26-year-old Taylor to death at her apartment in March would face no charges in her killing.
“It’s just what we know, that nobody cares about us as a Black community,” said Naeshaa McDonald, 23, one of more than 100 people gathered in downtown Louisville’s Jefferson Square Park as police and National Guardsmen carrying long guns looked on nearby.
That sentiment was matched by relatives of Taylor, who had been an emergency room technician.
Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, posted an illustration of her daughter on Instagram on Thursday with the caption, “It’s still Breonna Taylor for me #ThesystemfailedBreonna.”
Tawanna Gordon, Taylor’s cousin, told the Louisville Courier-Journal that she was unsurprised by but “mad as hell” about the grand jury’s decision.
“Today’s decision was an additional injustice on our family and this country,” Gordon, 45, told the newspaper. “Until Americans start getting mad enough and speaking out and forcing legislators to change the laws for all races, nothing is going to change.”
Lawyer Ben Crump said that the family — expected to speak at a news conference Friday — was “devastated” and that relatives had been informed by Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron of the decision only 10 minutes before it was announced publicly.
Crump was among the growing number of people Thursday — including the state’s Democratic governor — calling for Cameron to release more information about his findings and the grand jury’s decision-making.
“Right now, it appears to many people that this was a sham proceeding, that there was an attempt to exonerate these officers more so than to hold them accountable,” Crump told CNN.
Grand jury proceedings are closed to the public, and Cameron, a Republican, said Wednesday that he would not release a full grand jury report at this time because of an ongoing criminal case against one of the officers, as well as the FBI’s investigation into potential civil rights violations related to Taylor’s case.
But Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) said he believed many of Cameron’s findings could be released without harming other investigations.
“It’s about trusting the people of Kentucky,” Beshear said Thursday. “I trust them. That if they have all the facts, the evidence, and maybe some explanation if needed, that they can process it.”
A spokeswoman for Cameron’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Cameron said Wednesday that the two officers who shot Taylor were justified in using force because her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, had fired a shot at them first, hitting one of them. Police were serving a warrant shortly after midnight on March 13 in connection with alleged drug dealing by Taylor’s former boyfriend, Jamarcus Glover.
Walker, who was with Taylor in the apartment, has said he feared an intruder, perhaps Glover, was entering the home and fired a shot in self-defense.
Police say they announced their presence before they entered the apartment, and at least one neighbor has said he heard them shout “Police!” before they went in. But numerous other neighbors have said they did not hear officers provide warning before bursting into the apartment.
Taylor was previously reported to have been shot five times, but Cameron said Wednesday her body was struck by six bullets or bullet fragments.
A third officer who opened fire, Brett Hankison, was indicted on three counts of wanton endangerment for firing into a nearby apartment that housed three people, including a child. Hankison was fired earlier in the summer, while the two other officers remain on administrative leave, officials said.
Hankison’s lawyer said Thursday that the former officer intends to plead not guilty.
“He’s disappointed,” lawyer Stew Mathews said of his client’s reaction to the charges.
The failure to charge anyone directly in connection with Taylor’s death became a trigger Wednesday night for demonstrations in cities across the country.
In Louisville, a crowd of protesters amassed at Jefferson Square Park, the site of months-long demonstrations sparked by Taylor’s death, where they chanted and listened to speeches by organizers.
But the scene became chaotic after nightfall, with people setting fires in garbage cans. Police declared the gathering an “unlawful assembly” and threatened to use chemical agents if protesters refused to clear the park.
Heeding the warning, several hundred protesters marched south, chanting, “Say her name!” and “Breonna Taylor!” as they wove through downtown Louisville.
At 8:29 p.m., police fired at least a pair of flash-bangs at the protesters. A split-second later, gunfire erupted. At least eight shots rang out near the intersection, sending the crowd scrambling for safety. Two officers were hit and transported to University of Louisville Hospital for treatment.
Officials said Thursday that Maj. Aubrey Gregory, who was directing the police response to the protests, was struck in the hip, treated and released. Officer Robinson Desroches was hit in the abdomen and is in stable condition.
“For all of us, it is a very tense and emotional time,” Robert Schroeder, interim police chief, said at a briefing. “I think our officers are in good spirits, given the conditions we’re in right now.”
Authorities said Larynzo Johnson has been charged with two counts of assault and 14 counts of wanton endangerment in connection with the shooting. It was unclear whether Johnson had a lawyer.
Schroeder declined to discuss a suspected motive or whether police believe Johnson was a protester, saying it would be premature to release any information. He also declined to elaborate on how Johnson was identified.
Schroeder described 16 incidents of looting in the region, including at a pair of City Gear stores and a pawnshop on Preston Highway.
He also said the law enforcement footprint on the ground in Louisville would be “very similar” Thursday night, when more demonstrations were expected to protest the outcome in the Taylor case.
As they had on Wednesday, officials preemptively appealed for protesters to refrain from violence — and warned of consequences if they failed to listen.
“No one else in this community should face the loss of a loved one or destruction of their place of business,” said Coleman, the U.S. attorney. “Cross the line from peaceful protest into federal criminal conduct that puts people at risk and we will do everything in our power to swiftly bring federal charges. If you use lawful protest as a cover to harm this city, be prepared to stare down a federal judge.”
At a morning news conference, Mayor Greg Fischer (D) urged demonstrators to honor the city’s curfew and avoid a repeat of Wednesday night’s protests. Later in the day, Fischer said he was extending the curfew through the weekend.
The governor confirmed Thursday that President Trump had offered federal assistance in restoring order to the streets of Louisville but that he and Trump agreed it was not necessary.
“At this time, we have appropriate levels of law enforcement or peacekeepers,” he said. “It was a good call. I appreciate him making it.”
On the streets of Louisville late Thursday afternoon, protesters said they worried about tensions giving way to violence as the night drew closer.
Men in military fatigues armed with AR-15s and other military-style rifles who spoke of defending Louisville, its citizens and their property were a fixture across the city. The Oathkeepers, one of a handful of self-styled militia groups who increased their Kentucky presence this week, said a handful of business owners reached out to the group seeking protection.
“We feel a duty to protect peoples’ rights,” said Stewart Rhodes, 55, who led the group in creating a perimeter around a gas station blocks from Jefferson Square Park.
But their presence made some of the protesters nervous.
Kejohn Jennings, 23, said protesters were feeling especially vulnerable after their security team and several medics were arrested Wednesday night. He said he feared a repeat of the violence in Kenosha, Wis., where an armed civilian allegedly shot and killed two protesters last month.
“Kenosha is one of the first things that went into my head,” Jennings said. “We have nobody to protect us.”
Demonstrators said they felt angry, helpless and powerless. Some said they were still in shock that Taylor could have been killed in her own apartment and that nobody was held accountable.
But some also said they were ready to look forward to a new phase of the movement that began in Taylor’s name.
“This is where the real work starts,” said Monica Hunter, an assistant principal in the Jefferson County Public Schools. “The real work is sitting down with city and state officials and rallying behind change outside the streets. We need to be in the board rooms and the town halls. We need people in power to want this as well.”
Witte reported from Washington. Mark Berman, Timothy Bella, Marisa Iati, Holly Bailey, Hannah Knowles and Robert Klemko contributed to this report.