Louisville braced for a second night of unrest on Thursday after two policemen were shot and wounded during protests over a grand jury’s decision not to bring homicide charges against any of the officers involved in the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor.
Police Chief Robert Schroeder, whose department has been reinforced with state police officers and Kentucky National Guard troops to help enforce a nighttime curfew, said he expected demonstrations to go on through the weekend and for some time.
The two police officers shot on Wednesday were expected to recover, he said, and a suspect was taken into custody, one of 127 people arrested during the protests, most for curfew violations or disobeying failure-to-disperse orders.
“For all of us it is a very tense and emotional time,” Schroeder told a news conference on Thursday.
Protesters took to the streets of Kentucky’s largest city on Wednesday just after the grand jury decided that none of the three white officers who collectively fired 32 gunshots as they stormed Taylor’s apartment would be charged with causing her death.
Instead, one of the officers was indicted on charges of endangering Taylor’s neighbors with several stray bullets he fired into an adjacent apartment during the ill-fated March 13 raid, carried out as part of a narcotics investigation.
Taylor, 26, a Black emergency medical technician and aspiring nurse, was struck by six bullets moments after she and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, who exchanged gunfire with police, were roused from bed in the commotion of the raid.
The grand jury decision, announced by Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, was immediately denounced by civil rights advocates as the latest miscarriage of justice in a U.S. law enforcement system corrupted by racial inequity.
Cameron said there was “no conclusive” evidence that any of the 10 shots fired by former Detective Brett Hankison, the officer indicted on wanton endangerment charges, ever struck Taylor.
His two colleagues, Sergeant Jonathan Mattingly and Detective Myles Cosgrove, used justified force under Kentucky law because they were returning fire – a combined total of 22 rounds – after Walker shot at them first, wounding Mattingly in the thigh, according to Cameron.
Walker has said he fired a warning shot because he feared a criminal intrusion and did not hear police identify themselves.
Protests in Louisville on Wednesday turned violent around nightfall as police in riot gear ordered demonstrators to clear the streets after several fires were set in trash cans near a downtown park and outside the city’s Hall of Justice.
A Reuters journalist heard several gunshots ring out, and members of the crowd scurried for cover. A suspect in the officer shooting was arrested a short time later – Larynzo Johnson, 26, who was charged with two counts of assault in the first degree and 14 counts of wanton endangerment. His first hearing was set for Friday.
Authorities have given no details about precisely how the shooting transpired. Police also said several businesses were vandalized or looted during the night, but the demonstrations were otherwise mostly peaceful.
Protests in reaction to the Taylor case also flared on Wednesday in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Washington, Oakland, Philadelphia, Denver and Portland, Oregon. In Seattle, police said 13 were arrested for property destruction, resisting arrest, failure to disperse and assault on an officer.
In Buffalo, New York, a pickup truck sped into a group of demonstrators, injuring one person, video on social media showed.
The demonstrations were the latest in a wave to grip the country this summer over excessive police force and racial injustice following the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man arrested for a non-violent offense, when a white Minneapolis officer knelt on his neck.
With Americans already casting ballots in early voting for the Nov. 3 U.S. presidential election, the demonstrations have drawn not only peaceful anti-racism protests but also a volatile mix of armed, right-wing militias and anarchists.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer declared a state of emergency ahead of the grand jury announcement, ordering much of the center of town barricaded and setting a curfew.
“Tonight I expect more people to hit the streets,” said Timothy Findley Jr., 41, a leader of the Justice & Freedom Coalition and a pastor with the Kingdom Fellowship Christian Life Center in Louisville. “Hopefully and prayerfully, no one gets hurt tonight.”
Taylor’s death initially drew little national attention but was thrust into prominence after Floyd’s death and with the help of celebrities such as Hollywood stars and basketball great LeBron James. Demonstrations under the banner “Say her name!” have been held in Louisville for months.
(Reporting by Bryan Woolston in Louisville; Additional reporting by Peter Szekely, Nathan Layne, Maria Caspani and Daniel Trotta; Writing by Daniel Trotta and Steve Gorman; Editing by Alistair Bell and Cynthia Osterman)