Angry protesters demanded justice in the U.S. city of Louisville on Wednesday after charges were filed against only one policeman involved in the controversial fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old black woman whose name has become a rallying cry of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Detective Brett Hankison, who was fired in June, was charged by a grand jury with three counts of “wanton endangerment” over shots he fired into apartments adjoining Taylor’s home.
But neither Hankison nor the two other officers who fired the shots that killed Taylor were charged in direct connection with her death.
Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Louisville, the largest city in Kentucky, following the announcement, and Ben Crump, a lawyer for the Taylor family, condemned the grand jury decision as “outrageous and offensive.”
Police in riot gear were seen making several arrests. A state of emergency and a 9 p.m. curfew have been declared by the mayor of the city, which has a population of 600,000, with much of downtown closed to traffic. Some downtown business owners boarded up their shopfronts in anticipation of unrest sparked by the grand jury decision.
Taylor, an emergency room technician, was shot dead after three plainclothes policemen turned up at her door in the middle of the night to execute a search warrant.
Taylor’s boyfriend, who was in bed with her, grabbed a gun and exchanged fire with the officers. He later said he thought they were criminals.
The officers, who had not activated their body cameras as required, shot Taylor multiple times, killing her. A police sergeant was wounded.
The charges filed against Hankison are not for killing Taylor, but for the endangerment he caused by firing shots that passed through Taylor’s apartment walls into an adjouning apartment.
Under Kentucky law, a person commits wanton endangerment when he or she “wantonly engages in conduct which creates a substantial danger of death or serious physical injury to another person,” and does so “under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life.”
As the neighboring apartment’s three occupants were deemed by the grand jury at risk of being hit by stray bullets, three accounts of wanton endangerment were therefore charged against the former detective.
A pregnant woman, her husband and their five-year-old child, who were asleep, did not get hit by the 10 shots that Hankison fired at the time. None of those shots are known to have struck Taylor.
Kentucky Attorney-General Daniel Cameron said Hankison could face five years in prison for each count if convicted.
He said Hankison had not fired the fatal shots and the two other officers who opened fire had done so in self-defense.
“This is a tragedy,” Cameron said. “I know that not everyone will be satisfied with the charges reported today. Every person has an idea of what they think justice is.”
Crump, the Taylor family’s lawyer, expressed disappointment on behalf of the family.
“This is outrageous and offensive to Breonna Taylor’s memory,’ he said in a statement. “It’s yet another example of no accountability for the genocide of persons of color by white police officers.
“If Hankison’s behaviour constituted wanton endangerment of the people in the apartments next to hers, then it should also be considered wanton endangerment of Breonna,” Crump said. “In fact, it should have been ruled wanton murder.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) condemned the grand jury charges as “not accountability and not close to justice.”
“This is the manifestation of what the millions of people who have taken to the streets to protest police violence already know: Modern policing and our criminal legal system are rotten to the core,” the ACLU said.
Cameron, the attorney general, also addressed reports that the police officers had executed a “no-knock” search warrant on Taylor’s home, bursting in without warning. “They did knock and announce,” he said. “That information was corroborated by another witness.”
“I understand as a Black man,” but acting on outrage “is no justice,” Cameron said.
U.S. Democratic nominee Joe Biden urged protesters to be peaceful and patient as they await the results of an ongoing federal investigation.
“My heart goes out to her mother… they (protests) should be peaceful. Do not sully her memory or her mother’s by engaging in any violence. It would be totally inappropriate for that to happen. She wouldn’t want it nor would her mother… I don’t know the details so I’m reluctant to comment,” Mr Biden said.
The city of Louisville settled a wrongful death suit with Taylor’s family for 12 million U.S. dollars last week, which reflected the public pressure and emotion surrounding her death. Taylor’s death came about two months before that of George Floyd, a black man who was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis.
(With input from agencies)