Since the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor on March 13, communities in Louisville and across the country have been in a state of unrest, sharing their pain and grief, and grappling with what justice for the loss of Taylor’s life would actually mean. Calls to arrest and charge the three police officers who shot and killed Taylor in her own home have been raised by activists, celebrities, and some elected officials, while critiqued by others who argue that justice cannot be found within this current system and who deftly point out that those demands stand in opposition to the movement to defund and eventually dismantle the police.
On Wednesday, in a long-awaited decision, a Kentucky grand jury chose to indict only one of the three officers who raided Taylor’s home and killed her. Officer Brett Hankison, who was fired from the Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) in June, has been charged with three counts of wanton endangerment for firing a round of shots that entered into the home of Taylor’s neighbor. The two other officers present were not indicted on any charges and remain on the Louisville police force, though they are currently on administrative leave.
The decision came in the wake of a long summer when the city of Louisville was constantly pressed to respond to ongoing outrage over Taylor’s death. In mid June, the Louisville Metro Council passed Breonna’s Law, banning the no-knock raids that killed her, and last week, the city agreed to a $12 million settlement for the Taylor family following a wrongful death suit filed by Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer.
The moment the grand jury decision was released immediately triggered rage, sorrow, and yet another wave of grief. Coverage from downtown Louisville showed community members crying, confused, and eventually taking to the streets in protest and being met with police caravans and helicopters.
To help process the news and design a way forward, organizers from Black Lives Matter hosted a panel discussion early Wednesday evening during which they reiterated a set of demands that were originally crafted in May, but which take on renewed urgency this week.
The demands include the termination and pension revocation of all three officers who murdered Taylor and the immediate resignation of Mayor Greg Fischer, who the panelists continuously called out for his failure to adequately respond to police violence and to protect not just Black people, but Black women in particular. Other demands seek to systematically change policing in Louisville. Those included an end to the use of force by LMPD, the establishment of a local community police accountability council that operates independently from the mayor’s office and LMPD—and which would possess investigative and disciplinary powers—and the creation of policies that ensure transparent investigations into police misconduct. The coalition also calls for divestment from LMPD and investment in community building, a demand that will be facilitated by an online resource guide organizers recently created. The guide aims to help community members plan invest/divest campaigns and features targets, talking points, and information on the LMPD budget.
These demands and the panel conversation were spurred by what moderator Shauntrice Martin explained was the need for “radical imagination,” and an acknowledgement that “we get to decide what’s possible.”
Metro Council member-elect JeCorey Arthur spoke on how police terrorism is just one part of a larger problem of racial oppression. He argued that an effective invest/divest strategy recognizes the ways different forms of injustices build off of one another. Diverting funds from the police budget, for example, could help remedy other social problems such as food insecurity.
In order to meaningfully respond to the grand jury decision—one that comes after 119 days of sustained protest in Louisville—organizers left the public with a host of action items. For those unable to protest, organizers encourage volunteering or donating to local food banks such as Feed the West in Louisville. They also expressed support for civil unrest such as “disturbing business as usual” by reading the demands aloud at a local restaurant, hopefully bringing new people into the conversation. Panelists also encouraged people to find a political home wherever they may be.
Finally, with less than 50 days until a closely watched national election, panelists urged people to recognize the power of local elections too, highlighting the ways local politicians’ decisions impact our day to day lives. For instance, the Kentucky attorney general and prosecutors who have helped shape the outcome of cases like that of Taylor, are elected positions.
Notwithstanding the grand jury decision, the story of how Taylor has catalyzed change throughout Louisville is not over. As Ashley Carter of the Advancement Project shared, “Breonna Taylor’s life and memory deserves more than what we have now.”