It is nothing less than a tragedy when protests continue to call for police reform, justice and peace only to be met with legal forms of police brutality.
On March 13, Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, was shot and killed in her apartment in Louisville, Kentucky. Three officers from the Louisville Metro Police Department forced their entry into Taylor’s apartment, prompting Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, to fire a warning shot which hit one of the officers in the leg.
The officers stated they announced themselves before entering, but this was disputed by Walker.
In the ensuing crossfire, Taylor was shot six times. One of the officers, Brett Hankinson, fired blindly from the outside of Taylor’s apartment through a patio door and window.
The primary targets of the Louisville Police Department’s investigation were neither Taylor nor Walker. The city of Louisville would agree to pay Taylor’s family a settlement of $12 million on Sept. 15.
The tragic death of Taylor sparked protests around the country, including in St. Louis. Lawmakers, sports teams/athletes, and activists called for justice and the prosecution of the police who had killed Taylor. Citizens of Louisville took to the streets in protest for over 100 straight days. A memorial was even erected in Jefferson Square for Taylor. Within 75 days, the Louisville Metro Police Department had arrested 500 protesters.
On Sept. 23, a state grand jury reached a decision to indict only one of the officers involved in Taylor’s shooting—for wanton endangerment.
The response in Louisville was swift. Immediately, protestors took to the streets decrying the decision. Many businesses in downtown Louisville began boarding up their shops’ windows, and the city of Louisville issued a 9:00 p.m. curfew.
Videos flooded Twitter of police pushing protestors back, and reports came in of white supremacist militia groups showing up in the city. However, when I arrived in Louisville, there was no civil unrest or riots.
Scattered groups of protesters quietly held signs stating, “Stop Killing Us,” “Say Her Name,” and “Black Lives Matter.” Protestors were largely scattered, holding signs with looks of sadness and frustration.
James Jones, a resident of Louisville, said of the grand jury decision: “It’s bullshit. They didn’t even charge them with murder.”
Jones’ sentiments are largely felt by the people of St. Louis, who have endured continued grief following the death of Mike Brown in 2014 and the decision to acquit former St. Louis Police Officer Jason Stockley of murder in 2017. The day following the grand jury decision in the Taylor case, a vigil was held in her name in the city of St. Louis.
On the death of Taylor, Webster student Micah Barnes asked, “What could you possibly justify this with?”
Indeed, what could possibly justify this absolute tragedy? By all standards of idealist thought, Taylor should still be alive. To a large degree, the grand jury decision in the case of her death was not justice. Not even close.
The frustration goes much deeper when you see how these protests are often responded to by police. From Louisville to North County St. Louis, protests have been met with tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets. As I navigated the protest in Louisville, I passed a Citypost sign that quoted Albert Einstein: “Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.”
There wasn’t a lot of understanding in Louisville that night from Louisville’s police.
I watched a stun grenade explode mere feet away from a small group of Black protestors. They were all young adults, maybe even kids. They were peacefully moving to another part of the city to record the protests. They were not rioting or committing a crime. At first, I thought perhaps this was a misfire until a column of police pushed down the street shooting a barrage of rubber bullets.
What use is this response? Imagine the pain of seeing people that look like you are being killed far too frequently, only to be beat down when you protest for justice. It is nothing less than a tragedy when protests continue to call for police reform, justice and peace only to be met with legal forms of police brutality.
As long as this vicious cycle of injustice and brutality continues, protests calling for justice in the name of the Breonna Taylor’s of the world will likely continue. As I’ve heard from St. Louis to Louisville, “No justice, no peace.”