SOUTHERN INDIANA — Just after former Louisville Metro Police officer Brett Hankison was indicted Wednesday in the Breonna Taylor case, the city of Louisville reacted.
Hundreds marched and drove through the streets, protesting the grand jury decision to charge Hankison with wanton endangerment and to not return indictments against the two police officers who shot Taylor, resulting in her death. Taylor was killed March 13 when Louisville police executed a warrant at her home.
Thousands have demonstrated in Louisville in the ensuing months, protesting what they see as a lack of justice and accountability in the death of the Black woman at the hands of police.
Across the bridge in Southern Indiana, residents and leaders also reacted to the decision felt across the country.
“Everybody is upset; it doesn’t sit well with me,” Antia Fields, president of the Clark County NAACP, said. “We can’t question what the grand jury has done [but] it’s hard to understand the justification.”
She said the conversations on systemic racism and prejudice that have come to the national forefront this year in the wake of deaths of Black Americans such as Taylor, George Floyd and others are not at all new issues.
“It’s been there for centuries,” Fields said, adding that, “I do know that it has caused everyone to search deep within their conscience, particular Caucasians who for centuries have, I guess, buried it in the sand when innocent black people were murdered.
“You have to go back historically to look at what’s happened in the present, and I do know that the African American community all over is just tired of seeing innocent Black men and women killed at the hands of the police who are sworn to protect and defend.”
Fields said she feels institutional racism abounds across the U.S., not just in one locale. And she said there needs to be real change — not just diversity training within companies or departments but a focus on equality and making sure all Americans are given opportunities to succeed and thrive.
“I am saddened by [the decision] and just hope and pray for good things, positive things to come,” she said. “I do not condone violence of any kind.”
Jeffersonville resident Brandy Brewer, who’s been involved in protests in Southern Indiana over the past several months and is a member of the Jeffersonville Township Advisory Board, said the grand jury decision was “exactly what I expected. ...That’s something they can bank on with doing something but not really doing something.”
Brewer said what’s happened in Louisville and other cities may be a pressure point, but “I think that what has happened in the past is a hyper-focus on a specific act or incident takes precedence and dies out much faster than a really streamlined hard look at the specific issue at hand.”
Brewer is currently campaigning for Clark County Council At-large in the general election.
“I think it’s important as somebody who’s currently elected and as somebody who is running for office to make sure I’m speaking on behalf of constituents who are not in a privileged space to have somebody speak for them all the time,” she said. “I’m not here for political reasons. I’m here because I’m a human and a I’m a citizen and I’m a mom. Those come first and foremost before anything else.”
Although there were orange barricades staged near the Indiana side of the Second Street Bridge throughout Wednesday afternoon, they were not in place as of the evening and the bridge remained open to traffic between Jeffersonville and Louisville.
There were no issues in Floyd County following the announcement, Sheriff Frank Loop said. When asked for his reaction, Loop said he wasn’t surprised by the outcome.
“I think the public doesn’t understand the criminal justice system and they needed to let the investigation play out,” he said. “Once you start doing your homework on what really happened and get the facts out instead of social media, that’s when you get the real story.”
But Jeffersonville resident Miguel Hampton, who has attended several demonstrations both in Southern Indiana and in Louisville, said the decision to only charge one of the officers involved in the shooting with a crime was a “true reflection of the lack of justice Black people” have faced.
“I think it’s a complete disregard for the murder of Breonna Taylor that they charge one officer with wanton endangerment that had nothing to do with him shooting Breonna Taylor,” Hampton said.
“If this doesn’t get national attention, I don’t know what will. If this doesn’t scream injustice, I don’t know what does.”
Shawn Carruthers, president of the Floyd County Commissioners, said, “The whole situation is a tragedy.
“However, there was a search for the truth and time was taken to find out what has happened and that is what we found out with the announcement from the attorney general,” Carruthers said. “The next step is healing. We need to start to come together and look forward to the future and at making whatever changes need to be made in policies.”
Marcia Booker of New Albany is also looking at the next steps, which she said include holding elected officials accountable, pushing for citizen involvement on deciding police union contracts, and ensuring that people make their voices heard by voting.
“Until a correction is made with the legal system, this is going to continue,” she said. “The major thing that I get out of this is that we have to change the system.”
Booker added that she sympathizes for Taylor’s family, but that she wasn’t surprised by the outcome based on how long the process lasted.
“Justice has not been served,” she said.
The shooting may have occurred in Louisville, but Hampton said systemic racism and issues involving police force are problems across the country.
“We know that disparities exist in Southern Indiana,” he said. “It’s time to put action in place. It’s time to change so that people who look like me, who talk like me, will feel safe in a country that’s our country.”