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An Indictment of the System: Protests Erupt as Cops Cleared for Killing Breonna Taylor in Her Home

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We go to Louisville, where protests erupted after police officers who shot Breonna Taylor in her own home were not charged for her death. A grand jury indicted a third officer for “wanton endangerment” for shooting into an adjacent apartment during the fatal raid that killed Breonna Taylor in March. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in cities across the country demanding justice for Taylor and defunding of police departments. “The lack of indictments in the grand jury process is an indictment on the system itself,” says Sadiqa Reynolds, president and CEO of the Louisville Urban League. “They have created a completely separate grand jury system for police officers.”

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: A grand jury has failed to charge any of the three white Louisville police officers involved in the killing of Breonna Taylor with her death, more than six months after they stormed the 26-year-old Black woman’s home in a no-knock raid and fired a hail of bullets in the middle of the night, leaving her dead. The grand jury’s only indictments were three counts of wanton endangerment against former Louisville police detective Brett Hankison for shooting into the apartment of a neighbor during the raid that ended Taylor’s life on March 13th. The two officers who shot her six times were not charged, after the grand jury deemed their actions justified. In all, the three officers fired 32 shots in the raid.

This is Kentucky’s Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron announcing the decision at a news conference on Wednesday.

ATTORNEY GENERAL DANIEL CAMERON: After hearing the evidence from our team of prosecutors, the grand jury voted to return an indictment against detective Hankison for three counts of wanton endangerment for wantonly placing the three individuals in apartment three in danger of serious physical injury or death. The charge of wanton endangerment in the first degree is a Class D felony. And if found guilty, the accused can serve up to five years for each count.

AMY GOODMAN: Breonna Taylor’s family responded to the grand jury’s decision through their attorney, Benjamin Crump, who called it, quote, “outrageous and offensive to Breonna Taylor’s memory. It’s yet another example of no accountability for the genocide of persons of color by white police officers. With all we know about Breonna Taylor’s killing, how could a fair and just system result in today’s decision?” Crump asked.

Soon after the decision came down, protesters flooded the streets in cities nationwide. In Louisville, at least two police officers were shot before a 9 p.m. curfew. Police say the shooting suspect is in custody. Police fired chemical agents and projectiles at protesters throughout the night, arresting at least 46 people. This is one of the protesters in Louisville.

PROTESTER: It feels like today — and I think it’s a fact — that Black lives do not matter to our elected officials in Louisville, in Kentucky and apparently in this country. This has been an incredibly traumatic, difficult time for the community.

AMY GOODMAN: News of the grand jury’s decision comes after months of relentless protests demanding justice for Breonna Taylor amidst an uprising for racial justice. But Wednesday Trump praised how her case was handled.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, I thought it was really brilliant. Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron is doing a fantastic job. I think he’s a star. … He is handling it very well. You know who he is, right?

AMY GOODMAN: All of this comes as an FBI investigation into the no-knock warrant the officers used to enter Breonna Taylor’s home in March is ongoing.

For more, we go directly to Louisville, Kentucky, where we’re joined by Sadiqa Reynolds, president and CEO of Louisville’s Urban League.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Sadiqa. You’re an attorney. You’re an activist. You’ve been in the streets. Can you respond to the grand jury decision?

SADIQA REYNOLDS: I think the lack of indictments in the grand jury process is an indictment on the system itself. Some of what we heard the attorney general talk about, presenting to the grand jury some of the things he talked about being inconclusive, one example is, we’ve all heard and read the death certificate that said five — she had been shot five times. He indicated yesterday in his talk that that was six times. These are things that should have gone to a jury.

They have created a completely separate grand jury system for police officers. And really, if you compare it to the process that Kenny Walker went through — you all will remember that Kenny Walker was the boyfriend of Breonna, and he was in the home at the time that police arrived. And he ended up firing at the officers and hitting one of them. And his grand jury process — I mean, he was there, same fact pattern. Everything that they would have had to present as it relates to police, they should have had to present as it related to Kenny. Kenny’s grand jury process took less than three minutes, and for these officers, two days of presenting.

And there’s something else. We are saying now that the grand jury has said that the officers’ behavior was justifiable, but we don’t know if that’s what the grand jury said or if that’s what the attorney general decided and therefore did not even present to the grand jury. We don’t know what he presented to the grand jury. And I think that’s really important for us to talk about.

I think the other part of it is, anybody practicing law knows there’s nothing easier than getting an indictment. There’s nothing easier than getting an indictment. And so, the fact that they could not and did not get indictments, in my view, is an indictment on this entire system. And it is the reason that people are protesting and raising their voices, because of this inequity in our justice system.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Sadiqa, the attorney general said that the state’s investigation about the use of force by these police officers — that the use of force was justified because they had been fired upon first by Breonna Taylor’s husband, Kenneth Walker — not husband, her partner. Your response to that, what the attorney general said?

SADIQA REYNOLDS: The police, the officers, had the right to fire on the person who fired on them. That self-defense does not apply to Breonna. Breonna had no weapon. Breonna did not fire. So, again, we are changing the law in order to take care of police officers. That is just not how that should be applied.

There are so many things that are questions of fact here for a jury to decide. When the attorney general was addressing whether or not Hankison fired any weapon that landed in Breonna’s body, he answered there was no conclusive evidence. Well, was there any evidence at all? Because if in fact there was, that’s something that would be a question for a jury, and not answered in a grand jury.

When you heard him say there was one witness who indicated that they did hear the police announce themselves, because you’ll remember this is a no-knock warrant and then it was changed to a knock-and-announce, and so the police officers are saying, “We did knock and announce.” Well, 12 people were interviewed, and 12 people — 11 of them said, “We did not hear police announce.” What you heard the attorney general say is there was one person who did hear them say, “This is police.” That person was upstairs and outside. Well, did you tell the grand jury that there were 11 other people who did not hear police announce? Did you tell the grand jury two people called 911 and said, “We need the police here”? Did you allow the grand jury to listen to Kenneth’s tape of him calling 911, where he’s saying, “Someone has come in, and they shot Breonna”? What did —

AMY GOODMAN: Wait. Actually, Sadiqa, we want to play that 911 clip.

SADIQA REYNOLDS: OK.

AMY GOODMAN: This is when Breonna’s boyfriend called the police for help.

SADIQA REYNOLDS: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Kenneth Walker.

KENNETH WALKER: I don’t — I don’t know what’s happening. Somebody kicked in the door and shot my girlfriend. … Bre! Oh my god!

911 OPERATOR: You said 26? Where was she shot at?

KENNETH WALKER: I don’t know. She’s on the ground right now. I don’t know. … Help! Oh my god! Breonna’s so ill! Help!

911 OPERATOR: What’s her name, sir? Is she alert and able to talk to you?

KENNETH WALKER: No!

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Kenny Walker crying. He calls the police because he doesn’t realize it’s the police who shot his girlfriend dead with these six bullets. Now, this is a critically important point. They were not in uniform, and he clearly did not know who these men were.

SADIQA REYNOLDS: That is exactly right. And so, then you have an attorney general who stands up yesterday and tells us that he should have known, basically, that somehow he did know, because there’s someone else. I know there are 12 people who didn’t hear police, and there are two people that called 911, and there’s Kenny who called 911 to get police on the scene. But somehow you should believe that everybody knew it was police, and so, I mean, this is not a question for a jury. It is unbelievable. It is an unbelievable assault on our intelligence. It is offensive.

And it exposes the system for what it is. This system is designed to protect the privileged. And police have the greatest privilege. And that is why we are in the streets. People are so frustrated with not being heard, not being seen, not being protected or valued.

There are so many problems with this case. And anyone knows — I mean, on average, really, a grand jury could indict 12 people in an hour. I mean, they just keep spitting them out. It’s not a hard process. Prosecutors go in, they give you a little bit of information, and you move on. You vote, and you move on. And if you get a tape of a grand jury, you would see that. In any criminal case — excuse me — you would get a copy of the grand jury indictment. And usually they’re not five minutes long. So, this process of presenting all of this information and contradictory information, that doesn’t happen for regular citizens. That is just not the way the grand jury process works. And those of us who know the system understand that.

You know, and there’s another thing that is important here. The attorney general was not prepared yesterday to tell us whether or not the warrant was even a good warrant. I mean, do you understand that? This woman was killed in March, and we are now in September, and we still don’t know if the warrant that they were relying on was even a good warrant? He did not answer that question. If a white woman — if a 26-year-old white woman was killed in this country, and six months later you could not answer the question about whether or not police went in with a good warrant, this country would burn itself down. But somehow we are supposed to act with all of this restraint and be ready to move on and heal. It is frustrating. The system is completely broken and needs to be reformed, because there’s too much subjectivity.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you about the foot, this new information yesterday, Sadiqa Reynolds, that the attorney general shared, saying that Breonna was shot not five times, but six. When he was questioned about this, to the shock of everyone, he said, “Well, there was something in her foot.” Talk about the significance of what it means to be in her foot.

SADIQA REYNOLDS: Listen, it has been my understanding that Breonna died in the fetal position on the floor. And if you think of police officers — we know that Kenny shot one shot, and he stopped firing. And they continued to fire. They continued to fire repeatedly into that apartment. And apparently, according to the attorney general, a bullet was lodged in her foot.

First of all, even the fact that he is contradicting the death certificate is a question of fact. Was it a bullet? What was lodged there? Who fired it? We need to understand more. This case deserved a jury. I mean, and I prayed. When I heard that, all I could think of was, I pray to God that he has told her mother, before he told the world, that her baby was shot in the foot. I hope he had a very long conversation with the mother. I have since learned that there was not enough conversation. He did not explain everything. This is a —

AMY GOODMAN: And just to be clear, it means she was lying down already.

SADIQA REYNOLDS: Oh, no doubt about it. No doubt about it, she was lying down already. And you heard him talk about there was one bullet that would have killed her. But I don’t know if it was — was it the first bullet? So, did she suffer through the first three or four or five, and then it was the sixth one that killed her? Which one? Which bullet killed her? How long was she alive? How long did she suffer? She seemed to be alive when Kenny was on that telephone. And again, they’re saying to us, well, she — you know, that one fatal bullet would have killed her within seconds or a couple of minutes.

Well, but there are so many questions here that go unanswered because of this attorney general’s process. How this has been handled is an incredible miscarriage of justice for this city. We deserve better. Breonna Taylor deserved better. Her mother deserved better than this.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Sadiqa, you’ve said that nobody would have even known the names of Breonna Taylor or Kenneth Walker if it weren’t for the protesters. Could you talk about the significance of the protests that have broken out, not just in Louisville, but all across the country? And also, what happened last night? Over a hundred protesters were reportedly arrested in Louisville?

SADIQA REYNOLDS: So, let’s start with the fact that in March, when Breonna was first killed by police, we were at the top of the pandemic, and people were just trying to figure out what this virus was, how their offices were going to work, and we heard that Breonna Taylor had been killed. The officers did not have on body cameras. Basically, it was described to us as a drug raid. And when they went in, the suspect fired, hitting an officer, and then, you know, the female suspect was basically killed in the crossfire.

And so, that is not exactly what happened, right? And so people began to ask questions. People began to ask questions, but, again, they’re doing it in a pandemic with so many other things happening. And this case is sort of pushed to the back of our minds — some of us. But, of course, you have her mother still fighting for answers, because she knows who her child is. And you have us calling to say, “Explain again why there are no body cameras. It doesn’t make sense. These officers could not have been undercover. You know, they obviously were going to serve a warrant. Any cover would have been blown. Why were there no body cameras?” And so you have this repeated questioning, but no traction, no changes, the police department just saying they did everything right.

And then, Kenny Walker, of course, is in custody. So, in March, he’s arrested. He’s locked up in jail. And March, April, May, you begin — more and more people are calling her name and saying her name, and we begin to get the national attention. And when that happens, that’s when we see Kenny released from custody, with charges dismissed.

And I have to commend one of the judges here. I have to tell you, Judge Stevens released Kenny on home incarceration. That was a sign and a half that this case was a terrible case. When a Black man shoots a white police officer, and a Black judge says, “I’m not going to make him stay in jail because there’s something wrong here,” that is a sign that this is a problematic case.

And so, you fast-forward. Kenny is ultimately released completely, even from home incarceration. His charges are dismissed. And then people are more and more saying her name across the country, across the globe, and you get movement, you get motion. And these protesters — and I have certainly been one of them — for 118 days, people have protested in this city, raising their voices for justice, for change — to begin with, police reform, but even really going beyond that and saying, “There are injustices in every system in this city, and we want to see things change.”

And those powerful protests have been successful. And it was important for us to say to everyone who had been willing to sacrifice their freedom, their bodies, their time, to raise their voices here in Louisville — because it has been dangerous for us. I mean, the first night of protest, we were met with tear gas and pepper bullets. Police started that aggression. And then it did get — you know, things got out of hand very quickly.

David McAtee, I think you all remember — excuse me — David McAtee was killed because police were at 26th and Broadway. And if you could just understand Louisville, most of the protests have been happening in downtown Louisville, some to the east of downtown. The West End of this city is much like other urban areas: uninvested, no — nothing there. So, these folks are not at 5th Street, not in the Highlands, but instead they’re all the way down, 21 blocks away from any protest, at 26th and Broadway. And they are just living. They’re doing what they do all the time. Police take the National Guard down there. They begin shooting pepper bullets at people. David McAtee, who is a beloved community member, and even beloved by police — he catered their trainings — he shoots a gun into the air. We aren’t sure that he even realizes it’s police that are outside. He seems to be trying to disperse the crowd. Police return fire. He is killed. But it started with them shooting people who were out — they’re literally shooting at people’s heads for protest violations — I mean, I’m so sorry, for curfew violations. For curfew violations.

So, you move forward from there, and I think it’s important for us to say what was accomplished in these protests. It was more than just whether or not Daniel Cameron decided to indict these officers. We can’t just say that’s the only way we can measure the success of the protesters, but instead we have to talk about the fact that the police chief was exited; that there was one officer that was indicted; that now we have mandatory body cameras here in Louisville, Kentucky, when there’s a search warrant issued; that we’ve banned no-knocks in this city, so no more no-knock warrants; the creation of a civilian review board in order to create an Office of Inspector General to oversee the police department. This is a review board that I am currently on and helping to create. Those kinds of things have happened — a top-to-bottom review of our police department. Now, in writing, we have this duty to intervene; our police officers have a responsibility to intervene if they see an officer engaged in misconduct. You and I probably would have thought that that was something that was just understood. Well, now it’s in writing, because we couldn’t count on that. We’re getting an independent investigation of our police department. There are so many things.

And I go back to, again, if this case had not made the national news, please believe me, Kenneth Walker would have been prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. It is because of the protests in the street that this case changed. We changed everything.

AMY GOODMAN: And I want to again reiterate, he was arrested and jailed as he is mourning the death of his girlfriend who is gunned down in front of him. But I want to go back to the Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who, of course, announced the grand jury decision and talked about who he doesn’t want weighing in.

ATTORNEY GENERAL DANIEL CAMERON: There will be celebrities, influencers and activists who, having never lived in Kentucky, will try to tell us how to feel, suggesting they understand the facts of this case and that they know our community and the commonwealth better than we do. But they don’t. Let’s not give in to their attempts to influence our thinking or capture our emotions.

AMY GOODMAN: And then, this is the Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron just weeks ago, who spoke at the Republican National Convention and referenced the killing of Breonna Taylor.

ATTORNEY GENERAL DANIEL CAMERON: It was General Dwight Eisenhower, a future Republican president, who said, “Democracy is a system that recognizes the equality of humans before the law.” Whether you are the family of Breonna Taylor or David Dohrn, these are the ideals that will heal our nation’s wounds. Republicans will never turn a blind eye to unjust acts, but neither will we accept an all-out assault on Western civilization.

AMY GOODMAN: And yesterday at the news conference, President Trump praised Cameron as a rising star in the Republican Party. Your response, Sadiqa Reynolds?

SADIQA REYNOLDS: He certainly is a rising star in the Republican Party. And I can see very clearly how he is going to be used against us in every imaginable way.

I think we are in a very, very dangerous territory in this country. And there are people right now who are so focused on greed and their money and what they can achieve for themselves, and they are missing the bigger picture. This democracy is under attack. It is not just under attack for Black Americans, it is under attack for all of us. Life as we know it is changing every day, little by little. Our democracy is being killed. It’s the death of a thousand cuts. And we all had better start paying attention.

Daniel Cameron’s rhetoric sounds good. He is an articulate Black man. And I really, generally — I hate when people say that: “Oh, you’re so articulate.” But let me tell you, listening to him deliver the results of his investigation yesterday and the grand jury, the danger that is posed to us is real. And we had better be ready to respond, because this country will change and is changing. And it is not for the better. And that is not a political statement. That is not about partisanship from me. I don’t care if you are a Democrat or a Republican; I run a nonpartisan organization. But what I care about is justice. What I care about is somebody who is honest. And when you look a man in the eye and you expect for them to do their job, and they come back and that is not what happened, you need to hold them accountable.

We are in danger in this state and in this country. It is not a joke. It is really almost unreal. And people of every race, nationality, gender, religion had better be paying attention and get out of your head about what is best for you, and think about this country. We have got to do something different here.

AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly, Sadiqa, on the issue of the fired detective, Hankison, who fired wildly into the bedroom window, into the glass door, ultimately not charged for anything involving the death of Breonna Taylor, but for the bullets going into the neighbor’s apartment, he is a person who we’ve learned more about because as his picture got out there, one woman after another came forward and said, “That man sexually assaulted me, picked me up saying he was a cop, he would drive me home after I left a bar,” and others said that, too. Can you talk about the fact that he might not even face any jail time, or up to 15? He faces three charges of wanton endangerment.

SADIQA REYNOLDS: You can count on him not facing any charges — any time at all. In fact, it’s my understanding that he was arrested in Shelby County. He turned himself in. He posted his $15,000 bond, and he was out. So, this is, gain, another slap in the face. We can plan on him absolutely not spending any time in jail for the death of Breonna Taylor, for wanton endangerment, for anything related to the shooting, the killing that happened at that apartment complex that night.

He may end up spending time in jail for the assault on these women, who I think have tried to defer. I think they have really made an attempt to honor this Black woman’s life by sort of silencing themselves. And I expect that they will step forward even more now as time goes on. Also, it is my understanding that those things are being investigated. But all it’s going to show us is, you can murder a Black woman in America and serve no time, but the sexual assault of a white woman, we’ll come down on you for that. Or maybe —

AMY GOODMAN: And the bullets into the neighbor’s apartment, that was a white family?

SADIQA REYNOLDS: I don’t know who the families were. I don’t know what color, what race the people were. I have no idea. I haven’t — to me, the issue is not in that case what their race was. I’m simply saying if — let me say this. Let me calm down and say this clearly.

If we were talking about a 26-year-old white woman in September, the results of this case would have been different. That’s what Black people know for sure, and that’s why they’re in the street. And that is also why our allies are in the street with us.

And I think it is important for us to say here, in Louisville, Kentucky, the demonstrations, the rallies, the protests, they have been integrated. So, while we certainly have challenges around race, we also have alignment, too, for justice. And it has been a really interesting thing to watch. And I pray that we continue to move together as best we can. I said yesterday, and I sincerely mean it, I think we are in a fight for the soul of our country. We are at 49-51, and the good guys are losing. But it is a close fight. We’ve got to keep fighting.

AMY GOODMAN: Sadiqa Reynolds, thanks so much for joining us, president and CEO of the Louisville Urban League, an attorney in Kentucky.

I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. When we come back, we go to Milwaukee, where the investigation of the police shooting of Jacob Blake is underway. We’ll speak to Jake Blake’s father, Jacob Blake Sr. Stay with us.

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