Protesters in Jefferson Square Park were cautiously optimistic Friday afternoon after Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer announced the police department is firing Officer Brett Hankison.
Protesters have been gathering downtown for more than three weeks, demanding accountability for the officers who shot Breonna Taylor in March and for police reform.
“I was ecstatic [at the news of Hankison’s firing],” said Tyra Walker, who is one of the co-chairs of the Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression. “I grabbed our megaphone and I came over here and announced that Hankison has been fired. Because he should be. They should be. But you know, baby steps, I’ll take it.”
Hankison was one of three Louisville officers executing a no-knock search warrant at Breonna Taylor’s apartment in March. Officers entered in the middle of the night, and Taylor’s boyfriend fired a shot at them; he has said the officers didn’t identify themselves and he didn’t know they were police. Hankison and at least one other officer returned fire, killing Taylor.
In his pre-termination letter, Acting Chief Robert Schroeder found Hankison “displayed an extreme indifference to the value of human life” when he fired 10 rounds into Taylor’s apartment.
The significance of Fischer’s announcement coming on June 19 — Juneteenth — wasn’t lost on Walker, or on Keva Gardner, another protester downtown Friday. Juneteenth is celebrated as the day the final enslaved Black people learned of their freedom.
“Today is a new day and as of the date that we celebrate Juneteenth, it’s victorious,” Gardner said.
Walker said her group is calling for a number of actions, including firing all three police officers involved in Taylor’s shooting and arresting and charging them with her murder. They’re also asking for significant police reform and defunding the department: redirecting the money that currently funds police to other community uses like mental health care, housing and Black businesses.
But today — in this moment, she said she was happy to see incremental progress.
“We’re asking for a whole mile,” Walker said. “Breonna’s Law was an inch. Now we have another inch. So, we’re just inching our way up to what we want and we have to stay out here until we get it.”
The news was also acknowledged by Ben Crump, one of the attorneys for Breonna Taylor’s family who renewed his calls for all three officers to be fired and charged with murder. That was echoed by Sam Aguiar, a local attorney for the family.
“It’s about time,” he wrote in a text message. “Letter shows the chief looked at the file and appears to have almost immediately found the conduct to at least be attempted murder, wanton murder and wanton endangerment. We expect and demand these charges. Lots of explaining to do if they don’t come soon.”
In a statement, Black Lives Matter Louisville reiterated its demands for Fischer, including that Fischer and Metro Council address LMPD’s use of force and fire, arrest, charge and revoke the pensions of all three officers involved in the Taylor shooting.
Despite Friday’s news of Hankison’s firing, protester Cherita Keene was still skeptical that the city will take additional action.
“It’s a start but it’s not enough,” Keene said of Hankison’s firing. “All three of them need to be charged.”
And for the meantime:
“I’m going to be out here every day until justice is served,” she said.