Breonna Taylor decision: Will justice or chaos win out?
Sunday - 13/09/2020 08:08
Louisville anxiously awaits Breonna Taylor decision — and whether justice or chaos reigns
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — In unclouded, impassioned words, Breonna Taylor's mother has made it clear what she expects Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron to do about the three Louisville officers involved her in daughter's death.
Charge them all.
Tamika Palmer said as much in an unflinchingly direct and heartfelt post on her Instagram page Thursday, calling out Cameron by name, appealing to him as a mother would to a son.
"Do you have the power and courage to call my child yours," she asked him, "the power to see that my cry and my community’s cry is heard, and the power as part of a village who raises our children to do right by one of our daughters?!"
For the past 184 days— since she learned the morning of March 13 that her 26-year-old daughter was lying dead in her South Louisville apartment — Palmer has anxiously awaited a decision in the case.
She's not the only one.
Much of Louisville and followers of the story around the country are seemingly holding their collective breath to see what decision Cameron will announce in the months-long investigation into her death.
And, equally important, one critical question is being asked by elected officials, public safety leaders, many residents and business owners: What will happen to the city of Louisville once Cameron's announcement goes public?
"No matter what the announcement is, it's not going to be satisfactory to everybody," said Sam Aguiar, a Louisville attorney representing Palmer.
The protege of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell received the Louisville Metro Police's substantially complete Public Integrity Unit investigation into the shooting May 20.
Since then, he's stayed largely mum publicly about his office's investigation, stating this week that it remains ongoing and "if done properly, cannot follow a specific timeline."
"When the investigation concludes and a decision is made," he said in a Sept. 9 statement, "we will provide an update about an announcement. The news will come from our office and not unnamed sources. Until that time, the investigation remains ongoing."
The days have been particularly trying for Palmer, an intensely private woman who has found herself uncomfortably thrust into the national spotlight after losing a daughter who she gave birth to when she was just 16.
Her attorneys declined an interview with her for this story, seeking to give her a reprieve.
But on Thursday, Palmer took to Instagram to deliver a powerful message to Cameron: "It's crunch time and we're putting our faith and trust in you.
"Your mother put everything she had into raising you," Palmer wrote, tagging the account of the 34-year-old rookie attorney general, elected in November 2019.
"If you ask her, she will say without hesitation that she would stop at nothing to protect you. She would be willing to give her life to save yours. If you were gunned down in your own home, wouldn’t she demand the killers be brought to justice? Would she stand up and demand justice if it was being delayed? Would she want the support of the community and others to help her when her cry for justice for her child’s death was being ignored?
"If she had the power to make sure this type of injustice would never happen without accountability and consequences, would she make sure of it? Will you make sure of it?"
In June, The Courier Journal asked Palmer if she'd thought about what happens if charges aren't filed.
"I have," she said. "But I would like to think it shouldn't have to come to that."
"I didn't agree with it and I didn't feel like it was the Bre way," Palmer said in June. "It doesn't represent who she was."
Palmer, other family members and her attorneys met with Cameron Aug. 12, where the attorney general expressed his condolences and stressed the importance of getting all the facts in the case.
"The attorney general committed to getting us the truth," Palmer said afterward. "We're going to hold him up to that commitment."
Christopher 2X, a community activist who attended the meeting of Taylor's family with Cameron, said "we left that room observing, witnessing and feeling the presence of, maybe, just maybe, Breonna’s gonna get at least a fair shake in regards to the cries for justice.
"My biggest fear right now is that there's not going to be a level of accountability that there should be," he said. "Everything, everything that we see in this case is that it implicates every officer on the scene — and then some."
Walker, Taylor's boyfriend who was with her the night she was killed, said he "prays for a peaceful response" from Louisvillians and a "non-violent" response from the city and its police force.
Walker was charged with the attempted murder of a police officer because he fired at them the night of Taylor's death. That charge was dismissed in May at the request of Jefferson Commonwealth's Attorney Tom Wine, who called for additional investigation.
In a statement Friday to The Courier Journal, Walker shared his expectations of Cameron.
"While Breonna’s murder and my treatment by LMPD has all but destroyed my faith in the criminal justice system, it is my hope that holding the officers criminally accountable for their actions can bring some measure of justice," Walker said.
His Louisville attorney, Steve Romines, said if no officers are charged, "a lot of people are going to be very upset."
Protesters: 'Will they get what they're crying for?'
While the goals of the Taylor movement have grown over the summer, at the crux is the same cry that protesters have been asking for since demonstrations began, more than 100 days ago: “Arrest the cops.”
That message echoed in the early days of the protests, was sung on the steps of the state Capitol during a rally in Frankfort, presented itself in living rooms in the form of a television ad, and is still evident on artwork at Jefferson Square Park and on the lips of protesters in the small groups that continue to march from there each night.
Demanding that the three involved officers be charged with responsibility for Taylor’s death has been the most tangible and consistent desire of the protesters.
“Will they get what they’re at least crying for, cries for justice, murder charges on all three counts?” 2X said. “That’s a little high bar, to be quite frank.”
If the three officers are not charged with significant crimes, demonstrators may respond with anger to a justice system they feel has let them down yet again.
Kris Smith was one of the first protesters downtown the night it began on May 28, and he’s worried that this time, if there is any looting after a decision is announced, it could result in deadly encounters between looters and protective, armed business owners.
“The first looting caught everybody off guard,” he said. “But once Daniel Cameron says he’s going to come out with his decision, the store owners are going to be ready.”
He doesn’t, however, predict looting and rioting will occur.
Protesters in Louisville are determined to be nonviolent, regardless of the decision, although they’re cautious that frustration and anger, and even opportunism, could lead to destruction.
“The battle is being waged on many fronts and on many levels involving leaders from various constituencies," said the Rev. A. Russell Awkard, a regular at the protests, "and therefore it’s hard to predict what might happen because there is no one leader or any one organization that is going to set the tone for what might happen."
Louisville police: We will 'be prepared' for decision day
As the city braces for Cameron's decision, Louisville Metro Police say they are preparing for large-scale protests.
“While the uncertainty most definitely is causing concern for many, LMPD wants to assure our community that we have a plan and will be prepared to respond as needed,” department spokeswoman Jessie Halladay said in a statement.
Such was the case in late August, when the department declared an “all work day” ahead of scheduled Until Freedom protests.
Tensions between protesters and police have flared over the course of the 100-plus days of protests, particularly during the first week, which saw police deploy tear gas, a citywide curfew and property destruction and looting downtown.
Moreover, the department is poised to get its third chief since June after Steve Conrad was fired and interim Chief Robert Schroder announced he is retiring Oct. 1. Yvette Gentry will take over as interim chief then until a permanent replacement is hired.
Maj. Stephen Martin, spokesman for the Kentucky National Guard, said as of Thursday, the guard hasn’t received requests to come to Louisville from LMPD, Mayor Greg Fischer or Gov. Andy Beshear.
Martin said in a statement that “generally all other options are exhausted,” such as Kentucky State Police or neighboring police agencies, before the guard is activated.
How Louisville responds to an announcement from Cameron will play a significant role in determining the legacy of Taylor, said Metro Councilman Markus Winkler, D-17th District, who leads the Democratic caucus of the 26-member council.
The city has made progress in addressing equity gaps and changing police policies, Winkler said, but “we still have a long way to go.”
“Is the legacy one that takes us down a path of complete civil unrest? Rioting? Or is it a path that leads us to conversations on equity, on better interactions between the police and the community that they serve? And a better understanding of racial equity and really the underlying causes of her tragic killing?” Winkler said.
Louisville is both “ready and anxious” for a decision to come down, Winkler said.
Fischer, in a statement, said that no matter what Cameron's decision is, some people will be "unhappy." He said his goal from the beginning has been to get to the truth.
"We all have a choice to make in how we respond. My hope is that we lean into each other, not against each other," he said. "And then, we take our pain, our energy and our commitment to power the work of real transformation."
Metro Council President David James, D-6th — who said he expected Louisville residents to have “good, robust dialogue” following Cameron’s decision — agreed that “justice for Breonna” will come from lasting policy changes.
“That doesn’t eliminate the emotional factor,” he said, “but overall, I have to have faith in the judicial system, in the justice system, and hope the attorney general does the right thing.”