Louisville, the United States – The mayor of Louisville, Kentucky has declared a state of emergency ahead of an expected decision on whether charges will be brought against the officers involved in the police killing of Breonna Taylor, an unarmed Black woman.
Mayor Greg Fischer said in a statement on Tuesday that he does not know when State Attorney General Daniel Cameron will announce a decision in the case, “but we must prepare for it”.
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“Our goal is ensuring space and opportunity for potential protesters to gather and express their First Amendment rights after the announcement,” Fischer added.
The declaration will allow the mayor to implement curfews and other restrictions as needed, the statement said.
Parts of downtown Louisville were eerily quiet on Tuesday after the Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) closed down traffic to vehicles, barricading streets and prohibiting street parking. The LMPD on late Monday declared its own state of emergency in preparation for the expected announcement. The department also cancelled all off-day and holiday requests until further notice.
“Due to increased attention and activity in anticipation of an announcement from Attorney General Daniel Cameron regarding the Breonna Taylor case, a decision was made to accelerate plans to physically restrict access to the downtown area,” the LMPD said in a statement early on Tuesday.
Many businesses in the area were boarded up. One local university announced it would move to online classes on the day Cameron makes his announcement.
Protesters accused police of “caging in a section” of the city.
“What’s happening in this city is once again a sign of the failed leadership. Who in their right mind thought caging in a section of this city was smart? It reminds me of a lyric in No Love by Lil Wayne that says, ‘OK, you want me up in a cage, then I’ll come out in beast mode,'” tweeted Louisville-based activist and writer Hannah Drake.
“You don’t cage ANYONE into submission. This was not the way. The leadership in this city doesn’t think. They just do – poorly,” she added.
What’s happening in this city is once again a sign of the failed leadership. Who in their right mind thought caging in a section of this city was smart? It reminds me of a lyric in No Love by Lil Wayne that says, “OK, you want me up in a cage, then I'll come out in beast mode.” pic.twitter.com/7rfnL5KYwW
— Hannah Drake (@HannahDrake628) September 22, 2020
Interim Police Chief Robert Schroeder on Tuesday morning apologised to those who viewed the restrictions as a lockdown, but said they were necessary during this time.
“We just ask that people bear with us as we go through these unprecedented times,” Schroeder said at a news conference. “We felt these steps were necessary to help protect the public.” LMPD officials also stressed they do not know when Cameron plans to announce a decision in the case.
Cameron has not publicly commented on the case since September 9, when he cautioned against reading into “conflicting rumours”.
“When the investigation concludes and a decision is made, we will provide an update about an announcement. The news will come from our offices and not unnamed sources. Until that time, the investigation remains ongoing,” Cameron said in a statement at the time.
The attorney general’s office did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment on Tuesday.
Several dozen demonstrators, meanwhile, gathered in Jefferson Square Park, the site of ongoing protests, on Tuesday. Protesters mostly quietly talked among themselves. Some walked around the makeshift memorial that has been erected to remember Taylor and call for justice. At one point, a woman removed the silver bracelet she was wearing, placed it on the memorial and bowed her head in reflection before walking away.
Louisville native Travis Nagdy, who has participated in the protests since May, said he was “emotional, very emotional”.
“I’m sick to my stomach for one, just anxious,” Nagdy told Al Jazeera. “I’ve been crying a lot.”
He said he was especially emotional on Monday morning after a large caravan of cars passed protesters in support. “It kind of set it in, like, oh s***, this is like D-day.”
Racial justice activist Chris Wells called the police barricades an overreaction and “just a back-door way of controlling the situation.”
Standing in Jefferson Square Park on Tuesday, he said he did not know how protesters would react if the Kentucky attorney general’s announcement fell short of demonstrator demands that the officers involved in Taylor’s killing be charged with murder. He said he would encourage people to vote local leaders out of office, and noted “We just need change.”
On Tuesday night, protesters marched in the city centre chanting “Whose street? Our street.”
‘Say her name’
Taylor, 26, was killed by police in the early hours of March 13 when plainclothes officers conducting a narcotics investigation barged into her home to serve a “no-knock” warrant. Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, said he mistook police for intruders and fired his weapon, injuring one officer. LMPD Sergeant Jonathan Mattingly, Detective Myles Cosgrove and then-Detective Brett Hankison returned fire. Taylor was hit at least five times and left bleeding in her hallway where she died, according to the Courier-Journal.
The case garnered little national and international attention at the time, but it became a focal point during daily Black Lives Matter protests in Louisville after the May 25 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Chanting “say her name”, protesters have taken to Louisville’s streets for more than 115 days, demanding the officers involved in Taylor’s death be charged.
Last week, the city of Louisville announced it will pay Taylor’s family $12m and implement police reforms.
Taylor’s family welcomed the settlement, but demanded criminal charges against the officers involved.
“I’m hoping to hear that there will be charges – that these people will be fired and arrested,” Tamika Palmer, Taylor’s mother, told National Public Radio last week.
Sam Marcosson, a professor at the University of Louisville School of Law, said he believes homicide charges are unlikely, in part because officers could claim they acted in self-defence after Taylor’s boyfriend fired a gun.
Lesser charges could include wanton endangerment against Hankison, who was fired in June. Chief Schroeder in his termination letter said Hankison fired “wantonly and blindly” into the apartment.