By Ashley Moss
Hours after a Kentucky grand jury indicted a former police officer on charges related to the shooting of Breonna Taylor, protesters in Dallas took to the streets, expressing outrage and dismay that the charges did not go far enough.
On September 23, a Jefferson County (Ky.) grand jury indicted former Louisville Metropolitan Police detective Brett Hankison on three counts of first degree “wanton endangerment” in the Breonna Taylor case.
According to the grand jury, Hankison wantonly fired shots into an occupied apartment next door to Taylor’s on the night she was shot and killed.
Wanton endangerment is a Class D felony in Kentucky and carries a sentence of up to five years, if convicted.
The grand jury chose not to indict two other officers involved in Taylor’s shooting, Louisville Police Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly and Det. Myles Cosgrove. The jury found that the two officers were not criminally liable in Taylor’s death because they shot the young woman after a companion who was in her home fired on them first.
Meanwhile, protests were held in New York City, Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia and in other cities across the nation in response to the Kentucky grand jury decisions.
In Louisville, two officers were shot during protests. The city’s police chief said he expected the two to recover.
In Texas, Pamela Grayson, told a crowd gathered in front of Dallas Police Department’s downtown headquarters that, despite Taylor’s achievements, the young woman’s life appears to have had little value.
“Breonna faced challenges to become a successful, award-winning EMT (emergency medical technician),” Grayson said. “She had to have a heart for people and she had to be smart.
“And yet and still,” she said. “I’m in pain.”
Grayson questioned whether the indictments of “wanton endangerment” against Hankison – and no indictment of murder – meant the legal system is indifferent to police officers shooting unarmed African Americans.
“I’m heartbroken because America does not like me,” said Grayson, who is African American. “When is my life going to matter?”
Taylor, 26, was shot and killed on March 13 after Louisville police officers stormed into her apartment in an attempt to serve a warrant. Taylor’s companion shot at the officers saying he believed they were intruders.
Local activists said they were not surprised that murder charges were not brought against the Louisville officers.
“It is very difficult to get an indictment or a conviction of a police officer,” said John Fullinwider, co-founder of Mothers Against Police Brutality.
“This is the fight of our lives and, sometimes, it takes a lifetime to win,” Fullinwider said.
In Fort Worth, attorney Valerie D. Baston agreed.
“I’m not surprised,” she said. “It’s only been within the last seven years that we’ve even seen police officers being prosecuted for crimes that they do.”
Baston speculated that higher charges against the officers were not brought because of Taylor’s companion’s actions. “He just thought someone was breaking into the house,” Baston said.
She said the wanton endangerment charge could be confusing to many Texans because the state does not have such a charge.
“The closest thing that we have to it would be unlawfully discharging a firearm in public, which would carry a punishment of up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine,” Baston said.
Still, the attorney said she, too, was as disappointed as others at Wednesday’s protest.
“Being an African American woman, it’s very disheartening and upsetting that this is what was brought to the grand jury,” said Baston. “They need to bring a higher charge than this Class D felony—maybe more along the lines of a manslaughter charge.
“What gets me is the unfairness of it all,” she said. “It seems like we make some progress but never really get past the finish line.”
In a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron said examination of the case was hindered by a lack of video footage.
“There is no video or body camera footage of the officers attempted execution of a search warrant at Ms. Taylor’s residence. Video footage begins when patrol officers arrive at the location,” the attorney general said. He said the sequence of events on the night Taylor was shot was pieced together from ballistics evidence, 911 calls, police radio traffic and interviews.
Across the nation, civil rights activists expressed dismay at the indictments.
“Jefferson County grand jury indicts former officer Brett Hankison with three counts of wanton endangerment in first-degree for bullets that went into other apartments but nothing for the murder of Breonna Taylor,” civil rights attorney Ben Crump tweeted Wednesday. “This is outrageous and offensive.”
“If Brett Hankison’s behavior was wanton endangerment to people in neighboring apartments, then it should have been wanton endangerment in Breonna Taylor’s apartment too,” said Crump, who has served as the Taylor family’s attorney.
“In fact, it should have been ruled wanton murder!”
The national NAACP denounced the Kentucky attorney general’s decision calling it a “devastating blow to the community of Louisville and the nation.”
In a statement posted Wednesday on the nation’s oldest civil rights organization’s website, NAACP officials said the country’s judicial system is a “faulty and burdensome justice system that compromises our society’s moral and humane fabric.”
The NAACP called on voters to make their disdain for the decision heard at the polls.
“Our course of action is to vote and make it abundantly clear that we will not tolerate the injustice we’re observing,” the statement read. “Far too many Black lives have been lost due to the egregious malpractice of police officers, elected officials and the justice system as a whole.
“We must press forward in our pursuit of dismantling oppressive ideologies that plague our country so we can reach parity and equity on all fronts.”