Detroit activists slam charging decision in Breonna Taylor case

Mark Hicks Jasmin Barmore
The Detroit News

Standing near the Detroit Police Department headquarters on Wednesday, Sammie Lewis' voice swelled with anger describing what she called a broken system.

Hours earlier,  she and others active with the group Detroit Will Breathe learned of a Kentucky grand jury's decision not to issue charges against any officers for their role in the shooting death of a Black woman more than six months ago. 

Instead, the panel issued three charges of wanton endangerment against one of the former officers involved in the police raid of Breonna Taylor’s Louisville home on the night of March 13. 

The decision shows "that this country continues to fail" its Black citizens, Lewis told a crowd of more than 100 fellow demonstrators. 

"We continue to be targeted and harassed and brutalized and killed through state violence, and then there's no justice," she said. "There’s never any f------ justice and we’re tired of it."

Sammie Lewis, from the group Detroit will Breathe, speaks to demonstrators in front of the Detroit Public Safety Building, in Detroit, September 23, 2020. The group planned a march to protest a Kentucky grand jury's decision not to issue charges against any officers for their role in the shooting death of Breonna Taylor more than six months ago.  (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)

She and more than 100 protesters marched through downtown after Detroit Will Breathe called for an emergency mobilization to denounce the grand jury decision.

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"Breonna Taylor was murdered by Louisville police executing a no-knock warrant at the wrong address after officers Brett Hankison, Jon Mattingley, and Myles Cosgrove stormed her home and opened fire," the group said in a tweet. "Today, a grand jury refused to bring a measure of justice to the Taylor family.

"We stand in solidarity with the friends and family of Breonna Taylor and the movement in Louisville, and join their demands: Fire all officers involved in the no knock warrant and shooting of Breonna Taylor, and prosecute the killer cops!

"The police must be held to account for the racist murder of Breonna Taylor. No justice, no peace!"

Scores of protesters gathered outside the DPD building near Michigan and Third, some carrying signs reading message such as "Our government is a complete failure" and "Say her name, give her justice."

Demonstrators march through downtown Detroit, September 23, 2020. The protest march was in response to a Kentucky grand jury's decision not to issue charges against any officers for their role in the shooting death of Breonna Taylor more than six months ago.

The lack of charges against the officers involved in Taylor's death is a catalyst for more protest, said Lloyd Simpson, an organizer with the group.

"We’ve got to be here in the streets until we get justice for Breonna Taylor and every other Black life lost at the hands of police," he said.

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, also criticized the charging decision on Twitter.

"Did I hear that correctly? Only one officer is being held remotely accountable and it's not for killing #BreonnaTaylor but instead for shooting apartments? It's never been clearer that this country considers property more valuable than Black life," Tlaib wrote.

"The system is broken and has failed us again and again," she said in another tweet. "This failure to deliver #JusticeForBreonna is so painful. My thoughts are with her family. The police just got away with murdering their daughter. #SayHerName #BlackLivesMatter

Detroit city councilwoman Mary Sheffield also said she was unhappy with the lack of more serious charges.

"I am saddened by the news today regarding Breonna Taylor’s case, but unfortunately not surprised at the current justice system that continues to fail African Americans," she said. "We must continue to organize, mobilize and use our collective power to bring the systemic changes that are long overdue."

Detroit, like many other cities across the country, has been the site of protests since George Floyd, a Black man, died May 25 after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes. 

Detroit, which is perennially among the nation’s most violent cities, has largely avoided the violence seen at protests in other communities.

Detroit Will Breathe filed a lawsuit last month against the Detroit Police Department, alleging excessive force against protesters. U.S. District Judge Laurie J. Michelson issued a temporary restraining order barring police from using tear gas, batons or rubber bullets against protesters and group organizer Tristan Taylor said Wednesday he wants to remind DPD that the order hasn't expired.

"The restraining order is still in effect for the duration of the lawsuit," he said. "So that means if they're feeling a little itchy, they need to find another way to scratch the itch because otherwise they are going against the order."

There have been a few outbreaks of violence during Detroit protests, and some insist Detroit police were to blame and have called for Chief James Craig to resign. The chief says he doesn't plan to step down anytime soon.

In a Fox News interview Wednesday, Detroit's top cop applauded how Kentucky Attorney General, Daniel Cameron handled the case and said the death of Taylor was indeed a tragedy. He said in relation to the charges, he believes authorities should get out as much information as they can to calm the public because with grand jury proceedings being secret, "there are facts that none of us know."

But the Rev. W.J. Rideout III, a civil rights leader who is pastor of All God's People Church in Detroit, said Cameron needs to resign immediately. He called the charging decision "hogwash" but said he expected the outcome.

"Did I expect something different because of the times we are living in? No," Rideout said. "We changed the dates and we changed the names, but the outcome is still the same and I think Kentucky knew the outcome of the charges were going to be just like this.

"Because of these charges that have come out, the cops knew that without bodycams they would get away with it. And it deeply saddens me because Breonna could have been my daughter," he said. "It sets the tone that cops not just in Kentucky, but all over America, can get away with killing an innocent Black person." 

Kamilia Landrum, executive director of the Detroit Branch NAACP, called the charging decision painful.

“When the lack of charges were announced, I felt the fear that arose in my body the first time I was stopped by the police after the killing of Sandra Bland," she said in a statement. "Breonna could have been my sister, my cousin, my mentee, my friend or me. The lack of justice in this case only deepens the wound this country leaves in the lives of Black Americans. “