By Mark Guarino, Erin Chan Ding, Cleve R. Wootsen Jr. and Annie Gowen
September 24, 2020 at 7:26 p.m. CDT
CHICAGO — Law enforcement across the country tightened tactics against racial justice protesters who have again taken to the streets in anger and exhaustion after a grand jury decided against homicide charges for the officers involved in the death of Louisville resident Breonna Taylor.
Protesters nationwide said they were feeling despair and outrage that the police officers responsible for the deaths of Black people — such as Eric Garner in New York, Philando Castile in Minnesota and a host of others — would not be held accountable.
Crystal McGee, a housing and voter registration activist in Chicago, said the result of the Taylor case left her feeling disgusted and depressed, but not surprised.
“It could easily put me in the position of no hope for my family. But I refuse to do that,” said McGee, who is Black. “I have to believe that there’s going to be an answer soon, because if I don’t, I’m going to crack up.”
A night of bruising dissent, chaos and looting in Louisville after the grand jury announcement Wednesday culminated with the shooting of two police officers — one has been released from the hospital and the other remains there in stable condition — and 127 arrests. The state’s Republican attorney general, Daniel Cameron, had announced Wednesday that two officers executing a warrant at Taylor’s home March 13 were justified in using force. Taylor’s boyfriend fired a shot at them after they broke through the door of Taylor’s apartment with a battering ram after midnight. A third officer was indicted on charges of wanton endangerment for blindly firing his weapon during the raid, causing the bullets to enter neighboring apartments.
At a news conference Thursday Louisville’s interim police chief, Robert Schroeder, appealed for calm, with the city bracing for protests to keep “going on for some time.”
In the months since the killing of George Floyd in police custody prompted nationwide protests and spurred a national reckoning on race, the name of Breonna Taylor — a 26-year-old emergency room technician — has become synonymous with Floyd’s as a rallying cry. Protesters chanted “Say her name” and “Breonna Taylor” as unrest spread to several major cities Wednesday and Thursday.
In Buffalo, a man drove a pickup truck into a crowd of protesters. In Seattle, 13 people were arrested Wednesday evening and multiple officers were injured, according to the Seattle Police Department. A video circulating on Twitter appears to show a Seattle officer riding a bike over the head of someone lying in the street.
In Chicago, four separate protests unfolded during a long night — mostly peacefully — that culminated with marchers spray-painting the iconic 1918 Illinois Centennial Memorial Column with Taylor’s name and other graffiti.
NaSeita Luckett, 24, decided to join the Chicago marchers for the first time Wednesday after she left her job as an aesthetician at a spa. Luckett, who is Black, said she had one reason: “I’m tired, like every Black American.”
“I’m exhausted that Black people are not getting the justice we deserve,” she said. “I’m so tired of turning on the TV; it keeps going and it is never going to stop. . . . This is my time to try to make a difference.”
In Portland, Ore., more than 300 demonstrators blocked off the street in front of the Portland Police Bureau’s headquarters Wednesday night, shouting Taylor’s name and proclaiming, “Black lives matter.”
The demonstration took place despite a cold rain that drenched protesters. Portland has seen nearly four months of protests since the death of Floyd, a string only broken when smoke from wildfires made outdoor activities hazardous.
Authorities are expecting another tense stretch in Portland. In a few days, thousands of members of the Proud Boys — a self-identified “western chauvinist” group that the FBI has said has ties to white nationalism — are expected to arrive in the City of Roses and engage in clashes with local activists.
Danialle James, a grandmother who has been protesting since Floyd was killed, said Portland demonstrators have coalesced around several concerns.
Many want the police to be defunded, and for that money to be used to address homelessness, public schools and other issues that affect people of color. Others have called for Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, a Democrat, to resign, saying he is complicit in the city’s systemic racism and has not done enough to stop police brutality.
“It’s like we never get a chance to get in and make a change,” James said. “This is something that I care enough about that I want it to be consistent. I make it my business to educate myself and others around me about what the real issues are because I’m in it for the long haul.”
Most of all, she said she hopes the multicultural outpouring of outrage continues.
“It’s a bit of a slap in the face being a Black woman in America and in Portland, Oregon,” she said. “When I see these non people of color come out in support of Black lives, I expect a certain level of consistency. The momentum has slowed down.”
In Minneapolis, a city that has been on edge since Floyd was killed there, around 3,000 people gathered Wednesday night outside the state capitol building in neighboring St. Paul. The demonstrators later marched across the city, briefly blocking traffic on Interstate 94.
On the streets here, where demonstrations have been held at least twice a week since early June, organizers have been trying to keep people motivated by likening their struggle to the civil rights movements of the 1960s, which went on for years. And after the charging decision in the Taylor case, they urged them to continue marching.
“Although we are all devastated and many of us are tired, we must find a way to press forward until significant change comes,” said civil rights attorney and protest organizer Nekima Levy Armstrong in a Facebook post. “Please keep showing up, standing up against police violence and oppression.”
Despite fears that momentum was slowing elsewhere, Schroeder said officers in Louisville would be out in force in riot gear Thursday evening. Russell Coleman, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Kentucky, issued a terse warning that his office will charge those who are engaged in criminal conduct rather than peacefully protesting.
“Shooting this city’s law enforcement officers, looting its businesses, and committing arson at the front door of its state courthouse is far from peaceable,” Coleman said in a statement, insisting that Louisville had “endured enough loss of life.”
Jefferson Square Park in Louisville remains a gathering spot for demonstrators, and it is filled with memorials to Taylor, including portraits, a handmade sign that said “Grannies for justice for Breonna” and banners calling the area the “Breeway.”
Mathew Ballard, 33, a Louisville resident who has been documenting the protests on Facebook for months, said police have deployed tear gas and pepper balls to control crowds during past protests. But he said authorities had a higher degree of coordination Wednesday and more physical barriers to contain the protests.
“This is a lot more serious,” he said. “They have locked it down.”