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‘We won’t let this go’: Protesters voice outrage after Hankison acquittal

Protest organizer Chris Wells addresses reporters in Jefferson Square.
Protest organizer Chris Wells addresses reporters in Jefferson Square.

A group of about 50 protesters gathered in Jefferson Square Park on Thursday night after a jury acquitted the only officer charged in the shooting that killed Breonna Taylor.

A jury found Brett Hankison not guilty on three counts of wanton endangerment for firing rounds into neighboring apartments while serving a search warrant at Taylor’s home. The verdict came after about three hours of jury deliberation and a six-day trial. 

During a news conference assembled hours after the verdict, protesters expressed frustration with a system they said unfairly protects police officers.

Dre Dawson, a Louisville man, said the verdict represented a failure of the judicial system and the city’s leadership.

“To shoot blindly into an apartment complex is neither professional, considerate of neighbors, nor legal, in fact it’s wanton endangerment,” Dawson said. “So who are the real criminals and when will we receive justice for the victims of their crimes?” 

Hankison was one of three officers who fired their weapons during the raid, though none of the 10 rounds he shot hit Taylor. LMPD fired him in July 2020, saying he “displayed an extreme indifference to the value of human life.”

Following the guidance of Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a Louisville grand jury indicted Hankison on three charges of wanton endangerment in 2020. The two officers who fired bullets that hit Taylor – Myles Cosgrove and Jonathan Mattingly – were not charged.

Cosgrove, who an FBI ballistics report determined fired the fatal shot, was terminated last year for “failing to properly identify a threat” during the raid. Mattingly, who was shot in the leg during the raid by Taylor’s boyfriend, retired.

During the demonstration on Thursday, several protesters brought up how Hankison became emotional during the trial. Tyra Walker, co-chair of the Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, said the jury had more sympathy for a white officer than for victims of police violence.

“Black mothers have been crying for hundreds of years for their Black children who have been ripped from their homes, lynched on the tree, now shot by police officers,” Walker said.

The group included leaders of the movement that demonstrated in downtown Louisville for more than 100 days in 2020, expressing outrage over Taylor’s killing.

“We won’t let this go,” shouted protest organizer Chris Wells, beginning a call and response chant. 

Wells said the verdict demonstrated that Louisville Metro Police can act with reckless abandon without facing legal consequences.

“[Police] could feel like a threat was coming out of your house and fire into your house and maybe kill you or your children,” he said. 

Protesters march through Fourth Street Live following verdict acquitting Brett Hankison.
Protesters march through Fourth Street Live following verdict acquitting Brett Hankison.

Following the news conference, protesters marched through downtown Louisville to Fourth Street Live, a tourist-based restaurant and bar district.

Standing in the middle of a downtown intersection, organizer Chris Will shouted into a bullhorn asking people to vote in Louisville’s upcoming mayoral election.

The group briefly blocked traffic on Broadway before returning to Jefferson Square Park, vowing to return Friday evening for another protest.

Ryan Van Velzer has told stories of people surviving floods in Thailand, record-breaking heat in Arizona and Hurricane Irma in South Florida. He has worked for The Arizona Republic, The Associated Press and The South Florida Sun Sentinel in addition to working as a travel reporter in Central America and Southeast Asia. Born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, Ryan is happy to finally live in a city that has four seasons.
Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives for Kentucky Public Radio, a group of public radio stations including WKMS, WFPL in Louisville, WEKU in Richmond and WKYU in Bowling Green. A native of Lexington, Ryland most recently served as the Capitol Reporter for Kentucky Public Radio. He has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.
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