NEWARK, NJ — More than 100 people outraged by the grand jury decision not to indict the officers in Louisville, Kentucky who shot 26-year-old Breonna Taylor convened at Essex County courthouse on Thursday for a rally, where organizers and officials pushed next steps for the fight against police brutality in their corner of the ring.
Larry Hamm, Newark’s most prominent organizer and founder of People’s Organization for Progress, who co-organized the rally with Young Professionals for Justice, had choice words for Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, whom he felt was responsible for the grand jury’s failure to indict the three officers involved in a botched raid on Taylor’s home in March.
Cries of “Down with Daniel Cameron!” were followed by scathing criticisms in what Hamm says should have been an easy case for Cameron to secure indictments.
“Let me tell you something, every lawyer knows that if an attorney general, if a district attorney, if a county prosecutor wants an indictment of a ham sandwich, they can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich,” he said. “The failure of the grand jury to bring back indictments of those officers that shot and killed Breonna Taylor in her bed must be put squarely at the feet of the Kentucky Attorney General, Daniel Cameron. He should resign immediately.”
Taylor’s case and name have become ingrained in the ongoing civil uprising against police brutality sparked by the death of George Floyd in May. Plainclothes officers kicked in the door of Taylor’s apartment under a no-knock warrant in the middle of the night in March, prior to the widespread unrest.
Believing the officers were Taylor’s ex-boyfriend forcing his way in, Taylor’s boyfriend fired once at the officers with a registered weapon, to which officers responded with more than 30 shots, striking Taylor six times and killing her in her bed.
A detailed report from the New York Times unveiled the deeper complexities of how and why police ended up at Taylor’s door, which stemmed from her ex-boyfriend’s criminal history. Taylor was never the target of an inquiry, nor did she have a criminal record.
A grand jury was tasked with deciding whether evidence sufficed to charge the officers with her death, but found their use of force was acceptable because they had been fired upon first. One officer, whose bullets did not strike Taylor, was charged with reckless endangerment for firing into Taylor’s neighbor’s apartment.
The United States Justice Department is reviewing the case, but Hamm told those present in Newark on Thursday not to expect it to return indictments, either. Cameron read the grand jury decision yesterday, setting off angry protests in the streets of Louisville that resulted in two officers shot non fatally by a civilian.
Protests in cities across the country have returned to the streets, with 2,000 people flooding the streets of New York City. In Newark, Mayor Ras Baraka, who’s leading the charge alongside Assemblywoman Angela McKnight for official civilian oversight of police misconduct in New Jersey, encouraged protesters to channel their anger into action.
“It’s proven that our anger is not enough. In the middle of all that’s going on nationally, they’re still killing people, there’s still no indictments,” he said. “We have to become more calculated in what we’re doing. We have to continue to march, we have to continue to protest.”
Baraka pushed for support of McKnight’s Civilian Complaint Review Board bill (A4656/S2963), which now includes language establishing subpoena power and concurrent investigatory power for review boards as a result of Newark and the Essex County delegation. Another bill that requires police and firefighters to live in the municipalities that they serve is also up for consideration in the legislature.
He also called for an end to qualified immunity in New Jersey, under which police civil suits so long as they did not violate any “clearly established” law.
“Even when we get all of that, it won’t be enough. Even when we get a civilian review board, even when we get residency requirements even when we get rid of qualified immunity, it won’t be enough,” he said. “But that’s not an excuse for us not to fight for us. These are steps to get us where we need to be.”