Dismay over Breonna Taylor spills onto streets, includes burning statue in San Jose

Anger, frustration and sadness over the decision not to charge Kentucky police officers for Breonna Taylor’s death poured into America’s streets, including in the Bay Area, as protesters lashed out at a criminal justice system they say is stacked against Black people.

Violence seized the demonstrations in her hometown of Louisville as gunfire rang out and wounded two police officers and protests erupted across the country, including in the Bay Area.

Activists, celebrities and everyday Americans have been calling for charges since Taylor, an emergency medical worker, was shot multiple times by white officers who entered her home during a narcotics investigation in March. While the officers had a no-knock warrant, the investigation showed they announced themselves before entering, said state Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a Republican and the state’s first Black top prosecutor.

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A grand jury returned three charges of wanton endangerment Wednesday against fired Officer Brett Hankison over shooting into a home next to Taylor’s with people inside. 

Hankison was fired on June 23. The three wanton endangerment charges he faces each carry a sentence of up to five years. A termination letter said he had violated procedures by showing “extreme indifference to the value of human life” when he “wantonly and blindly” fired his weapon.

Hundreds of demonstrators chanted Taylor’s name and marched in cities including New York, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Las Vegas and Portland, Oregon. People gathered in downtown Chicago’s Millennium Park, chanting demands for justice as drivers on Michigan Avenue honked their horns. Police in Atlanta unleashed chemical agents and made arrests after some protesters tried to climb on a SWAT vehicle. In Wisconsin, peaceful marchers blocked traffic on an interstate and spoke about Taylor on the steps of the state Capitol.

The scene repeated itself in Oakland, where Warriors coach Steve Kerr was disheartened by what happened,  as well as in San Francisco where about 200 people marched in the Mission District chanting "Defund the Police." 

And in San Jose, protesters stood in front of City Hall, chanting: "When our brothers and sisters are under attack, what do we do? Stand up and fight back." Late Wednesday night, another group of protesters set fire to the base of the Thomas Fallon statue in downtown San Jose. Video from the Spartan Daily shows dozens of people surrounding the statue which was also spray-painted with anti-police messages. The statue commemorates the raising of the U.S. flag in San Jose in 1846, when California was still part of Mexico.

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Nearly 100 people were arrested in Louisville, police said, after what had been peaceful protests. Police said vehicles were damaged, fires were set in garbage cans and several stores were looted. Two officers were shot, and Interim Police Chief Robert Schroeder said both are expected to recover. One was undergoing surgery. Schroeder said a suspect was in custody, offering no details about whether that person was participating in the protests.

Along with George Floyd, a Black man killed by police in Minneapolis in May, Taylor’s name became a rallying cry during nationwide protests that called attention to entrenched racism and demanded police reform. Her image is painted on streets, emblazoned on protest signs and silk-screened on T-shirts worn by celebrities.

Taylor’s case has exposed the wide gulf between public opinion on justice for those who kill Black Americans and the laws under which those officers are charged, which regularly favor police and do not often result in steep criminal accusations. Last week, the city settled a lawsuit against the three officers brought by Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, agreeing to pay her $12 million and enact police reforms.

Carmen Jones has protested in downtown Louisville every day for nearly three months. She said she feels despair after the grand jury’s decision and doesn’t know what’s coming.

“We’re tired of being hashtags. We’re tired of paying for history in our blood and our bodies and being told to respond to this violence and aggression with peace,” she said. “We did it the Martin way for the entire summer, and it got us nowhere. Maybe it’s time to do things the Malcolm way.”

Jones said she still hopes their demonstrations will lead to systemwide change in the U.S., but the decision in Taylor’s case makes her feel like her life doesn’t matter in America.

“I don’t think I’ll sleep the same ever again, cause it would happen to any of us,” she said. “The system does not care about Black people. The system chews Black people up and spits us out.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.