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'Deeply Wrong': Bay Area Reacts to Grand Jury Decision in Death of Breonna Taylor

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Charnelle Ruff speaks outside of the SFPD Mission Station during a Justice for Breonna Taylor protest on Sept. 23, 2020. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Updated 12:11 p.m. Thursday

Bay Area lawmakers and activists condemned a Kentucky grand jury's decision on Wednesday not to charge any police officers directly for the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor.

Taylor, an emergency medical worker, was shot multiple times by officers who entered her Louisville home on a "no-knock" warrant as part of a botched drug raid in March. The warrant used to search her home was connected to a suspect who did not live there, and no drugs were found inside.

Alex Karim from the group Defund SFPD Now speaks during a Justice for Breonna Taylor protest outside of the SFPD Mission Station on Sep. 23, 2020. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Grand jurors indicted one former officer for the reckless use of a gun, which he had fired several times without hitting Taylor. Brett Hankison, who has since been dismissed from the force, was charged with three counts of "wanton endangerment" for firing into Taylor’s neighbors’ apartment.

The two officers whose bullets hit Taylor were not charged.

"The walls of Breonna Taylor's neighbors got more justice than Breonna Taylor did herself," said Cat Brooks, co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project and executive director of the Justice Teams Network, in an interview with KQED. "Apparently being Black, educated, employed and in your own home somehow creates a path for justified causation to be shot to death. ... Were she not a Black woman, we would be having a very different conversation right now."

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Prosecutors said Wednesday that the two officers who shot Taylor were trying to protect themselves.

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron said those two officers, who were first fired upon by Taylor's boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, "were justified in their use of force." Walker has maintained he did not hear the officers announce themselves before entering the home. He has said he mistook them for intruders and fired a warning shot, which hit one officer in the leg. Then officers opened fire.

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"The officers shouldn't have been going into her house in the first place, right? So [they needed to] protect themselves from whom? Breonna Taylor and her partner, who were asleep in their bed, which was their right to do?" Brooks said. "Officers aren't the ones who need to be protected in this country. Black bodies need to be protected in this country, from police officers."

Bay Area civil rights attorney John Burris said he was not surprised by the lack of charges brought by the grand jury, but he was still disappointed.

"Certainly the charges that have come out are not reflective in any way that Breonna had been killed as a consequence of the police officer's action," he said. "She had all the earmarks of someone who was trying to fulfill the American dream, and to be killed in her house that night when she was minding her own business, based upon faulty information that the police had … is fundamentally wrong."

Silicon Valley Congressman Ro Khanna called the grand jury's decision “beyond comprehension.”

"It just shows the total dehumanization of Breonna Taylor’s life that you would charge an officer who killed her — not for the crime of killing her — but for creating damage in someone else’s property," Khanna said.

The decision came after months of nationwide outrage and protests over the killings of Black men and women by police officers. Demonstrations renewed immediately in Louisville after the grand jury's decision was announced Wednesday.

State Sen. Scott Wiener called the decision "devastating and deeply harmful."

"Sadly, however, it's not surprising, given the structural racism in our criminal justice system," he wrote in a tweet. "This is why we need to change our criminal justice system from the ground up."

"Breonna Taylor deserves justice," wrote San Francisco District Attorney and former public defender Chesa Boudin in a tweet. "Her life mattered. We will continue to fight to show that her life continues to matter."

Several protests took place across the Bay Area Wednesday. In San Jose, demonstrators said they plan to occupy City Hall indefinitely starting at 5 p.m.

Khanna said he supports the protesters but called for peaceful, nonviolent action.

"We need systematic change," Khanna said. "I certainly support the protesters who are frustrated that no change has happened."

KQED's Julie Chang, Lakshmi Sarah and Tara Siler contributed to this story, along with the Associated Press.

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