Lexington protestors march after no charges for death of Breonna Taylor

Protesters march down the sidewalk during a protest in response to the grand jury decision on the Breonna Taylor case on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020, in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Sarah Michels & Natalie Parks

Disbelief. Frustration. Disappointment.

And grief, grief and the kind of exhaustion that comes after running a very long race, only to find out that the finish line has been moved and is still miles away.

Those were the feelings that filled Lexington last night as hundreds of protestors took to the streets in reaction to charges in the case of Breonna Taylor, who was shot and killed by police in her home in March.

The march and rally began around 7 p.m., though some participants had been sitting in the courthouse plaza since the grand jury results were shared with the public around 1:30 p.m.

The jury results did not include any counts of murder or manslaughter related to Taylor’s death.

One officer, Brett Hankison, was charged with three counts of wanton endangerment – a Class D felony – for shooting into neighbors’ apartments. His bail was set at $15,000 cash. The penalty for wanton endangerment can be up to five years in prison.

Neither of the other officers involved in the shooting, Jonathon Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove, were charged with anything.

“I think it’s a lot of bulls**t, but I’m not surprised,” said Alexa Worth, a UK freshman, of the charges. Worth attended the march in downtown Lexington along with a friend and fellow UK student, Victoria McNorton. McNorton said she was angry with the jury’s decisions.

“I feel like all three of them should have been indicted, should have been on trial,” McNorton said. “I feel like one person shouldn’t have gotten that at all.”

April Taylor, one of the organizers of the night’s rally, said that what hurt the most about the indictments was that none of them related to Taylor.

“I really don’t know how I’ll get past, or like when it will stop hurting – or if it will stop hurting – is that it feels like they said, a middle finger. They sent a subliminal message by not even speaking Breonna’s name, but only giving charges that related to the white neighbors. Not a single black person who was impacted by that incident had a single one of those criminal charges related to them you all,” Taylor said.

When the charges were read by the judge, the initials of the affected individuals were read – but none of the initials in the wanton endangerment charges were “B.T.”

Among the protestors Wednesday night, there was a feeling of resignation, of knowing that they might not see justice and knowing that the fight, though long, must continue. That’s why McNorton wanted to attend the protest.

“Our people have been fighting too long. They’re being killed for no apparent reason,” McNorton said.

In a speech at the beginning of the rally, Taylor said she was “sick and tired’ of waiting for justice that didn’t feel like it was ever going to come.

“What I want to challenge you all to do, is look around all these people who have now shown up because there wasn’t a sufficient indictment in the Breonna Taylor case, is to not just show up when there’s no justice,” Taylor said. “You all, there’s no f**king justice, every day in our lives.”

Protest participant Zoe McCarthy said she was disappointed but not surprised by the grand jury decision. She came to the protest because she wanted to be around people working through similar emotions.

McCarthy said she felt “a sense of mourning for our country” because the United States is not what she was taught it was, and “this really reaffirms that.”

After the jury announcement, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron held a press conference to discuss the charges and the evidence.

“According to Kentucky law, the use of force by Mattingly and Cosgrove was justified” because they were returning fire, Cameron said, and that was why charges were not brought against them.

Cameron said that the investigation was able to determine which shot out of six was fatal for Taylor, but the ballistics reports did not confirm who fired the fatal shot.

The FBI lab concluded that the fatal shot was fired by Cosgrove, while the report from the Kentucky State Police was inconclusive.

Hankison fired his weapon 10 times, said Cameron, but “there is no conclusive evidence that any bullets fired from Officer Hankison struck Ms. Taylor.”

During the press conference, Cameron announced a task force dedicated to evaluating how search warrants are filled and received. He also urged Kentuckians not to let celebrities or “influencers” tell them how to feel about the decision.

Cameron said the meeting with Taylor’s family about the grand jury decision was difficult and that, while Taylor’s death was a tragedy, “criminal law is not meant to respond to every sorrow and grief.”

But protestors in Lexington, along with reactors on social media, were focused on the grand jury’s failure to charge for Taylor’s death. Disappointment, resignation and anger were common reactions, but the protestors – many of whom were young – used their emotion to fuel their fight.

Taylor said that what gives her hope is seeing people continue to show up for protests, especially in a “not diverse” Lexington.

“In order to work on racial justice, fear, there has to be like people who are willing to work on it with me,” Taylor said. “And what has continued to happen, day after day, week after week, month after month, is that people show up to do the work.”

Lexington saw several days of Black Lives Matter protests in June after the killing of George Floyd.

Protestors then as now focused on Taylor’s death and accountability for the cops involved.

Lexington’s protests have been smaller and more peaceful than those in Louisville, where Taylor lived and was killed. On Wednesday night, after the grand jury announcement, two police officers were shot in Louisville. The city of Louisville had instituted a 9 p.m. curfew that Lexington did not have; protestors in Lexington began marching around 7 p.m. and wound down around 10 p.m. after several passes by the courthouse and a trip to UK’s campus.

Many of the protestors wore masks, though social distancing was not fully observed as protestors tried to stay on one lane of the road. There was almost no police presence until a couple of hours into the march, although beforehand a volunteer distributed a number to call for jail bond.

“We don’t expect any arrests, but just in case,” Taylor said.

At the beginning of the rally, Taylor and Tayna Fogle spoke about why they were marching and police accountability in Lexington.

Fogle and Taylor are both associated with the Poor People’s Campaign, a group dedicated to “moral revival” by acting against systemic racism, poverty and militarism.

After reminding people to social distance, Fogle reminded people that their vote matters.

“If we change the people who’s sitting in city government – and I did say sitting, because I ain’t seen ‘em work for me yet, down at the City Council – and if we change the people that are sitting in our legislation, and the only way we can do that is if we go out there and vote,” Fogle said.

Fogle then thanked everyone for coming out and reminded them of their right to protest and right to challenge injustice, before leading the crowd in a chant of “forward together” and “not one step back.”

She then passed the mic to Taylor, who spoke more directly about the reasons for protesting.

Taylor advocated for a site called LPD accountability, which lists demands for the Lexington Police Department to improve upon.

Hankison, the officer indicted for wanton endangerment, previously worked for LPD. Upon his resignation, his superior Patrick McBride wrote that he did not recommend Hankison for future employment and would be “strongly against it”, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.

“Had the Lexington Police Department done their job and fired him and made him ineligible for rehired another department, he may not have been part of a team of cops who killed Breonna Taylor,” Taylor said.

Hankison has also been accused of sexual assault, which was also mentioned by Taylor. But she focused mostly on the demands for LPD, most of which center around the collective bargaining agreement, which she said relates to discipline and records.

A dedicated site lists the demands, which include increased penalties for force incidents, diverting funding to social services, equipping body cameras with auto trigger functions and passing Breonna’s Law, which bans no-knock warrants.

Lexington has a moratorium on no-knock warrants, approved by mayor Linda Gorton and police chief Lawrence Weathers, whom Taylor called a “sell-out.”

Protestors at one point made Gorton the subject of their chants, saying “Listen Linda, hear our cries, when we’re through we multiply.”

In addition to auto trigger cameras, which would come on when a certain word is said or an officer gets out of their car, LPD Accountability also wants to full access to body cam footage.

“Because one of the things that they’ve done is pick and choose when they release body camera footage,” Taylor said. “What body camera footage they release and editing it to edit the narrative of the story, so that they can make it look like we’re the bad guy. And they’re the good guy.”

Both Taylor and Fogle called on the crowd to continue to show up and protest because injustice has to stop.

“I need y’all to feel it from your toes,” said Fogle at the end of her speech. “Because this is for Breonna Taylor, it’s for everybody that’s been killed in the line of duty and the police ain’t been. They have no consequences. Are y’all ready?”

And the protestors were.