GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Demonstrations were held in Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo after a Kentucky grand jury announced one of the Louisville police officers involved in Breonna Taylor’s death would face charges — but not for killing her.
People gathered at Rosa Parks Circle in downtown Grand Rapids around 7 p.m. A separate rally happen around 5:30 p.m. outside the courthouse in Kalamazoo.
Taylor was a Grand Rapids native. She died March 13 when Louisville officers raided the home she shared with her boyfriend. On Wednesday, the grand jury decided to indict one of the officers, former Detective Brett Hankinson, with three counts of wanton endangerment for firing his weapon blindly, endangering the neighbors in Taylor’s apartment building. Two other officers were not indicted.
“It is so insulting that you would say that the neighbors’ lives matter more than Breonna Taylor’s life,” Taylor’s cousin Tawanna Gordon told reporters in Grand Rapids late Wednesday afternoon, arguing the officers were negligent.
She called her cousin’s death “a wound that never heals.”
“Our family is grieving all over again. It is March 13 all over again for us,” Gordon said. “We are not surprised, but we definitely still had hoped that they would do the right thing.”
She said the grand jury’s decision was emblematic of racial inequity in United States.
“Our lives matter. And today they told us that they did not, as they have always told us in this country … that we are three-fifths of a human,” Gordon said. “When you put animals before you put us, it’s something wrong with this country.”
Around 7:40 p.m., the group at Rosa Parks Circle marched for solidarity to the Grand Rapids Police Department headquarters where Chief Eric Payne took a knee with them. A moment of silence was held for 26 seconds in honor of Taylor, who was 26 years old at the time of her death.
“I believe in you,” Payne told Taylor’s family.
The family thanked Payne for sticking to his word and joining them.
Grand Rapids City Manager Mark Washington also joined the crowd outside of the police department headquarters.
“We mourn for her and her family and we empathize … I can only imagine how she feels. I couldn’t imagine how it would feel to be robbed of that so young and so innocently,” Washington said.
The group marched back to Rosa Park Circle around 8:10 p.m. then went their separate ways.
Later on, a few dozen gathered near Division Avenue and Fulton Street.
A woman in the crowd had a medical emergency and collapsed. She was taken to the hospital by ambulance. The victim was alert and talking when she was leaving for the hospital. It’s unknown what caused the medical incident.
GR NAACP: DECISION EXPECTED BUT STILL TRAUMATIZING
Cle Jackson, the president of the Greater Grand Rapids NAACP, said no one within his community seemed surprised by the grand jury’s decision, but that didn’t make it right.
“It’s the same-old, same-old we’ve seen that’s happened time and time again, not only in the case of Breonna Taylor but when you look at multiple cases involving the murder what we consider murdering, lynching — and harassing Black and brown bodies across this country,” Jackson said.
“It’s traumatizing,” he added. “Again, all of us are again traumatized.”
He also noted the pain was worse for Taylor’s family members, who see the decision as an injustice.
“Just because we expect something does not mean we shouldn’t fight against it,” Jackson said. “The important thing for us now is we have to continuously fight against these systems that … are unjust until we change these systems.”
Ahead of the Grand Rapids demonstration, city officials removed tables and chairs from social zones set up along Monroe Center to clear the way for any possible marches.
They shut down Monroe center between Monroe and Division Avenues, as well as Fulton Street between Ionia Avenue and Division. A public works truck was stationed along Fountain Street NW to help with traffic control.
“We want to ensure the safety of community members who are gathering to grieve Breonna Taylor, express their feelings about today’s Grand Jury announcement in her death and honor her life as well as other pedestrians downtown this evening,” the city said in a statement.
Separately, the city released a statement encouraging anyone who went out to demonstrate to follow coronavirus mitigation practices like social distancing and wearing a mask.
The city said it is aware of multiple peaceful demonstrations over the next few days and fully supports those actions. It offered condolences to Taylor’s family and reaffirmed the city’s commitment to improving racial equity.
In Kalamazoo, cars honked in support of protesters’ signs, which called for justice in Taylor’s case and reform within the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety.
Plans for a peaceful demonstration were already in the works as the group has been gathering regularly to hold events calling out the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety.
“It’s important for us as positive leaders and leaders of Kalamazoo at the citizen level and residential level to just promote that safe space for people that are feeling outraged in hopes that people can come down … and get their emotions out,” demonstration organizer Tamara Custard told News 8. “As well as stick to the script because our ultimate plan is to make sure that there’s some positive change with the organization at KDPS.”
In light of Wednesday’s national news in Taylor case, the protest shifted focus.
“We’re not satisfied with the charges that came out and I think it’s important for everybody to stand together so the message is heard very loud and clear,” one of the organizers, Quinton Bryant, said.
The group plans to continue protests every Wednesday and Saturday through the end of the month.
Both events Wednesday night were peaceful, though demands for justice remain strong.