People in Louisville, Kentucky, cried out upon hearing there would be no murder charges for the police officers who shot and killed Breonna Taylor — and then they marched. 

Early Wednesday afternoon, a Kentucky judge read out the charges in the Taylor case: Det. Brett Hankison, one of three officers involved, was charged with “wanton endangerment” — notably, for shots fired into neighbouring apartments, not Taylor’s. None of the three was charged with murder. 

As people who were gathered in Louisville’s Jefferson Square Park heard the announcement, some cried out “what the hell” and one woman burst into tears, saying, “They murdered her.” Dozens began marching in the downtown streets, with the crowd soon growing to hundreds. Some chanted: “If we didn’t get it, burn it down.”

Within hours of demonstrations starting, videos showed police arresting protesters. Police also appeared to be firing munitions at protesters, which one reporter at the scene described as “pepper balls.”

In March, Louisville police executed a warrant at the apartment of 26-year-old Taylor, who was Black, where she and her boyfriend were asleep. The warrant was for a narcotics investigation not involving Taylor or her boyfriend. Three officers, who were white, fired more than 20 gunshots, several of which hit Taylor, killing her. Her boyfriend, who said he didn’t hear police announce their presence before breaking into the apartment, shot one of the officers once in the leg. 

On Wednesday, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron spoke about the indictment, saying the other two officers, Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove, were “justified in their use of force.”

Taylor’s family attorney Ben Crump called the lack of charges “outrageous and offensive,” adding that Hankison’s charge “should have been ruled wanton murder.”

“It’s yet another example of no accountability for the genocide of persons of colour by white police officers,” he said in a statement.

Two of the officers, Mattingly and Cosgrove, were placed on paid administrative leave, and Hankison was fired more than three months after the killing, following widespread protests. 

On Tuesday, Louisville’s mayor declared a state of emergency and blocked off part of downtown, and on Wednesday set a curfew and called in the National Guard, in anticipation of the announcement and the public unrest that was expected to follow. 

After another Black person, George Floyd, was killed by police in Minneapolis in May, protests spread nationwide against racism and police violence. Many activists swiftly called for renewed attention on Taylor’s death, noting Black women often don’t get the same level of public outrage as men. People have been protesting in Louisville for months calling for justice for Taylor, including murder charges for the officers involved.

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