https://www.chicagotribune.com-By William Lee, Annie Sweeney, Jessica Villagomez, Gregory Pratt and Dan Petrella
A group of about 100 people shut down the corner of Racine and 79th St. in Chicago following the announcement of charges in the Breonna Taylor case on Sept. 23, 2020. (Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune)
Kellie Black said she was expecting an announcement regarding Breonna Taylor’s grand jury inquiry but didn’t think anything was amiss until businesses in her Gresham neighborhood began boarding up windows.
On Wednesday, Black joined about 100 community residents and activists who blocked off a trucking route on the South Side in a peaceful protest after a Kentucky grand jury decided not to charge any Louisville police officers for their role in Taylor’s killing.
As trucks and buses blocked traffic, demonstrators briefly sat in the street and wrote “Breonna” in fake blood.
During the roughly hourlong protest at the center of Racine Avenue at 79th Street that included prayers and songs, the 15-year Gresham resident was caught up in the moment, swaying to gentle protest songs and raising two clenched fists in the air at the urging of a speaker.
Black, 52, said her enthusiasm was simple. “Breonna Taylor and justice brought me here,” she said. “It’s one law for us and one law for (police). I am sick of it.”
Later in the evening, about 300 people gathered at the east end of a dark Palmer Square Park.
After about 10 minutes, the crowd began walking peacefully to Sacramento Avenue, where they turned north toward Milwaukee Avenue.
“Say her name,” a woman’s voice cried out.
“Breonna Taylor,” the crowd responded.
They passed a group of uniformed police officers on bikes.
People used their own bicycles to form a line between police and the assembled marchers.
The police on bikes then followed the crowd north.
Dozens of demonstrators also gathered in two separate groups by The Bean in Millennium Park.
Passing cars on Michigan Avenue honked as protesters chanted, “If we don’t get it, shut it down” and, “We demand justice.” Police officers on bicycles circled the block.
About 8 p.m., the group, which had grown by several dozen, took to the street and marched northbound on Michigan Avenue. One protester, wearing a police costume and pig mascot head, stopped to take a picture with the lined up police.
On the South Side, the protest led by the Rev. Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Church and several faith leaders, had a message: Peacefully let those who represent the status quo know you’re not happy with the Taylor decision. They said months of protests were being planned.
“We’re here tonight because we do care,” Pfleger told the crowd gathered in a circle in the intersection. “And we’re here because we want to say, ‘We object and we don’t accept it. Somebody has to be held accountable.’”
Pfleger and others such as the Rev. David Swanson from the New Community Covenant Church in Bronzeville called on people to protest throughout the city to share their outrage.
“We need to hear her name in Wheaton. In Glen Ellyn. Naperville. We need to hear her name all over this country,” Swanson told the crowd.
The announcement in Kentucky made Gresham resident Kisha Washington and her daughter Taylor, 16, both feel compelled to participate in the protest. Washington, 40, who works in education and social justice, said the feeling that police officers escaped justice in Taylor’s case opened old wounds for African Americans that they remain second-class citizens.
“Seeing (racism) on display and so blatantly, it’s overwhelming,” she said. “At least our presence will help fill out the crowd and call attention to people who aren’t paying attention. I don’t know how you cannot be paying attention to this.”
Following the protest, Black, standing with a friend, said she hoped their message reached beyond their community, just as Taylor’s case went beyond Kentucky’s borders.
“It’s happening everywhere. You don’t know where to hide, where it’s going to strike you. If you live up North and think it ain’t gonna touch you, don’t be fooled.”
Earlier in the day, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Gov. J.B. Pritzker called for peaceful protests after the announcement in Kentucky but said they are prepared for the possibility of civil unrest.
Lightfoot called the grand jury’s decision a setback in the fight against inequality and called for a citywide moment of silence at 7 p.m. to honor Taylor.
“Afterward, I encourage you to say her name,” Lightfoot said.
Pritzker called the decision not to bring charges “a gross miscarriage of justice.”
“A grand jury in Louisville made a decision that doesn’t come close to capturing the injustice of what we know to have happened on that tragic night in March when Breonna Taylor, an innocent young woman, was killed by law enforcement officers as she slept in her own home,” Pritzker said.
Lightfoot said the decision “leaves more questions than it answers.”
“My fear is that it reinforces the deeply held notion that there are two systems of justice,” Lightfoot said.
Before the news conference, city officials announced that the Emergency Operations Center has been activated and the city has deployed more than 300 city vehicles across Chicago “to protect neighborhood commercial corridors and critical businesses in the event of potential public safety incidents.”
Ever since civil unrest surged across the country following the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd in May, Chicago leaders have regularly deployed garbage trucks and other city vehicles across key streets and intersections to block potentially destructive protests.
Lightfoot also has previously ordered the lifting of Chicago’s downtown bridges as a public safety measure, drawing criticism from civil libertarians and activists.
Referring to civil unrest and looting earlier this summer, Pritzker said he has readied the National Guard in case it needs to respond because “we have seen that there are people who have wanted to take advantage of these moments.”
“In every circumstance we want to be prepared,” he said.
But the governor said the Guard is a “backup” and “support mechanism” for front-line law enforcement, including the Illinois State Police.
“The reluctance here is not a reluctance to provide safety for people,” Pritzker said. “It’s just a desire to use the proper resources where they are needed at the time that they are needed.”
The moves came as the Kentucky grand jury on Wednesday indicted a single former police officer for shooting into neighboring apartments but did not move forward with charges against any officers for their role in Taylor’s death.
The jury announced that fired Officer Brett Hankison was charged with three counts of wanton endangerment in connection with the police raid of Taylor’s home on the night of March 13.
At a news conference in Kentucky, state Attorney General Daniel Cameron said Hankison and the two other officers who entered Taylor’s apartment announced themselves before entering and did not use a no-knock warrant.
Lightfoot and Pritzker joined Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and others on Wednesday afternoon to address the decision and call for peace.
The mayor also invoked high-profile Chicago police shootings while calling for justice.
“We will and we must continue to say her name, we will and we must continue to demand justice, and we will and we must do everything in our power to prevent any more names from being added to this roll like George Floyd or closer to home, Rekia Boyd, Laquan McDonald, too many others,” she said.
“Today’s ruling will not distract us from continuing to pursue justice and righteous change,” she said.
Asked about police accountability in Chicago, Lightfoot spoke about the need to implement reforms and said no-knock warrants should be “extraordinarily rare.” She criticized the acquittal of police Officer Dante Servin in the killing of Rekia Boyd and of a group of officers in the Laquan McDonald case, while also noting Jason Van Dyke’s conviction.
“Are we satisfied with the way in which Black and brown people have been treated in this city historically and currently at the hands of our police department? No,” Lightfoot said. “That is why every single day we work hard to make sure that we build real authentic relationships with the police.”
William “Will” Lee has been a reporter with the Chicago Tribune since July 2009. Since then, Will has covered cops, courts, politics and entertainment, reviewing video games and interviewing celebrities. He also worked as a legman to Page 2 columnist John Kass. Will covered similar topics for the SouthtownStar and the Daily Southtown.
Annie Sweeney is on the Tribune’s criminal justice team, covering the impact of violence in Chicago and policies to address it. She has reported for the Sun-Times, the Daily Southtown and City News Bureau. She joined the Tribune in 2009.
Jessica Villagomez is a general assignment reporter for The Chicago Tribune. She recently graduated from Northwestern University where she focused on immigration and community reporting. She has been published in PBS Newshour, In These Times Magazine, NPR’s Latino USA and HOY.
Raised in Little Village, Gregory Pratt covers Mayor Lori Lightfoot and City Hall. Before joining the Tribune in 2013, he worked for the BGA, alt-weeklies in Phoenix and Minneapolis, and Hoy. He has been a finalist for the Livingston and earned other national honors, including from the National Headliner Awards, the Lisagors, and Scripps Howard.
A Lombard native, Dan Petrella has written for newspapers from Chicago to Carbondale. Before joining the Tribune in 2017, he was Springfield bureau chief for Lee Enterprises newspapers. He’s also been an editor and reporter at The State Journal-Register in Springfield. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.