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Protesters gather in Downtown Cleveland after Breonna Taylor decisions

Posted at 7:40 PM, Sep 23, 2020

CLEVELAND — Protesters took to the streets of Cleveland on Wednesday hours after a grand jury declined to charge three officers for the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor.

Protesters nationwide have been calling for charges to be filed against the officers involved in Taylor's shooting death since she was killed while a no-knock search warrant was served at her home on March 13. No drugs were found.

Instead of being charged for homicide or involuntary manslaughter, one of the officers, Brett Hankison, is being charged with three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment, a Class D felony. The felony is punishable with one to five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000 for each count. The counts involve endangering Breonna Taylor's neighbors, not what happened at her home.

RELATED: Grand jury indicts one officer on criminal charges in Breonna Taylor case, not for her death

About 100 people gathered at the Free Stamp in downtown Cleveland on Wednesday night for a rally to continue pushing for change.

“We’re here today because once again, the American judicial system has shown no value in Black life,” one protester, speaking to the crowd, said.

Those at the rally grieved together, frustrated that no one was charged for Taylor’s death.

Brandon Towns, a Lake County resident who is an assistant principal at Collinwood High School in Cleveland, came downtown Wednesday night. Earlier in the day, he had a conversation with his 5-year-old daughter.

“Watching CNN and she was just kind of like, ‘Why are they walking,’ Towns said. “I said, ‘Well, baby girl, a Black woman was shot in her house.”

He added, “No one’s responsible. And she knows that when you do something wrong, you’re held accountable. But we didn’t see that today.”

Towns said his initial reaction to the indictment was shocked.

“It was, 'Wow, they really did us like this,'” he said. “Disappointment, frustration, pain, anxiety. And then I remembered, this is nothing new. This has happened before.”

He said he believes that “unfortunately, it’ll probably happen again, cause we can’t get change fast enough.”

“I find myself wanting to talk to someone who has a seat at the table and really push to get some change, but are they listening? Do they want to listen, do they want to know?” Towns said. “Do they want to make change, or is the system, as it’s currently orchestrated, exactly the way it’s supposed to be for them, whoever they are?”

Towns said amid “frustration, pain, sadness,” he’s also fighting the feeling of numbness, which he doesn’t want.

“It’s a broken record. It’s a broken record,” Towns said.

He said no matter how many times this happens, he and other Black people will always feel pain.

“It’s never gonna get numb to the point to where we don’t feel the pain of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Jacob Blake,” Towns said. “Everyone is gonna hit us just like the first one.”

He added, “The truth is, we’re not done with George Floyd. The truth is we’re not done with Jacob Blake, you know. The situation may have happened but we haven’t obtained justice. We haven’t got to the point to where we found out what the verdict is on justice. One of my fears is that yet again we’ll be told that, you know what, Black lives don’t matter.”

He said there has to be “some accountability. Someone has to step up and say, ‘It’s my fault.’”

And, Towns said, the system needs to change.

“We have to put more Black women, transgender, Native American, Latinx individuals at the table to actually have a proportional voice and vote in what happens in our communities, cause it’s not happening,” Towns said. “The history’s too long. The practices are too ingrained. The people are too downtrodden. We have to make some really systemic, systematic changes.”

Towns said he has seen a momentum shift as a result of technology and sharing of information, which has allowed more people to become aware. However, he doesn’t think it’s happening quickly enough.

“I definitely think that the work is getting done and we continue to do the work, but you know, justice should been here 50 years ago, justice should have been here 100 years ago, so this is too slow,” Towns said. “It’s not working for us yet.”

In his job as an assistant principal, Towns said they “really educate [kids] on the system. Education is essential to success, to health, to wellness.”

He said it’s also important to hold them accountable to do what’s right and to be themselves.

“The system is broken. We know that. We cannot break kids, too,” Towns said. “We have to allow students to be who they are in all their glory, and that’s a struggle for a lot of places.”

Professor Ayesha Bell Hardaway, assistant professor of law at Case Western Reserve University and co-director of the Social Justice Institute, said no-knock warrants, the type executed in the Louisville raid that killed Breonna Taylor, are allowed under Ohio law.

“Law enforcement officers are allowed to enter someone's dwelling without their consent and without announcing themselves,” Bell Hardaway said.

However, she said they are only allowed in specific situations: if an officer is able to convince a judge their safety is in danger, or that the only safe way to arrest someone or secure evidence is by doing so without warning. Individual jurisdictions can decide on additional protections for residents when it comes to this type of warrant.

“I think in some respects, you might have legislatures say our situation is different than Kentucky’s, because we require officer safety to be questioned, to be an issue,” Bell Hardaway said. “And it can't just be to secure evidence of a crime like money or drugs, right. That's what the warrant in Louisville was for.”

However, Bell Hardaway noted that Ohio has the Castle Doctrine, which allows someone to defend themselves against a person coming into their house. That, she said, makes the practice of no-knock warrants here illogical when it comes to both greater safety for residents or police officers.

“As a resident of a dwelling, it is entirely possible that if I heard something like that [someone entering the house], that gunfire would erupt,” Bell Hardaway said. “And so that in and of itself is inherently dangerous, and I think it's really important for us to keep that in mind. We have these provisions that we think somehow make us safer. But quite honestly, the practice in and of itself, I think is just extremely unsafe, and the results, the likelihood of a deadly result being the outcome is the same.”

Bell Hardaway said she believes it’s “unfathomable” that the former detective in Louisville could be “wantonly reckless against her neighbors, Breonna’s neighbors, but not against Breonna herself.”

“I think the message out of Louisville today typifies why America must constantly be reminded that all Black lives matter, even if they are somehow suspected of being connected to some level of illegality,” Bell Hardaway said. “Excluding Breonna Taylor's name from today's indictment lacks credibility. But I also think it sends a clear message to officers in that jurisdiction that they have unfettered reign and access to handle suspects as they see fit, and quite frankly, that's contrary to law and should have no place in a just system. If we had a just system, that would not exist.”

She said there is no statute of limitations on a murder charge, so it is possible the state of Kentucky could bring charges against the former detective indicted Wednesday or the other officers involved in the future, or that the federal government could pursue charges.