Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and County Board President Toni Preckwinkle tried Wednesday to calm Chicagoans angered by a Louisville grand jury’s decision to indict just one of three officers involved in the botched drug raid that led to the death of Breonna Taylor.
“A grand jury in Louisville made a decision that doesn’t come close to capturing the injustice of what we know happened that night in March,” Pritzker said in a news conference Wednesday afternoon at the Chicago Cultural Center. He called the decision “a gross miscarriage of justice.”
Lightfoot noted that Taylor’s family has continued to call for peace and “to build, not destroy, community.” She said there will be a citywide moment of silence and reflection at 7 p.m. — the same time protesters planned to gather in Millennium Park.
Pritzker acknowledged the “sense of rage” that many Chicagoans feel, particularly African Americans. He acknowledged that peaceful protest is a “powerful longstanding tradition” in America and he is determined to uphold that constitutional right.
“We stand with you. Peaceful expression of anger is powerful ... and I am committed to ensuring Illinois residents have a right to protest,” Pritzker said.
“I want to say to every Black woman, every Black mother, sister. To their husbands and friends. I will not rest until you are treated with the equality that is your basic human right.”
Lightfoot said “nothing will repair the hole” in Taylor’s mother’s heart. She was “heartbroken” by the decision, she said, adding that too many Chicago moms know that pain only two well.
“There are two systems of justice. ... I know that our flawed system of justice often feels unfair and can be brutal to people of color,” the mayor said.
Lightfoot said there is much work to do to make certain that Black Americans can “live their lives safely and free from fear.”
“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 prevent more names” from being added to a list that also includes Laquan McDonald and Rekia Boyd.
Lightfoot vowed to “keep everyone safe and out of harm’s way” even as she protects the legitimate right to peaceful protest.
“This is a time for us ... to show our unity in our common humanity. ... The spirit of Breonna Taylor can and should live on in all of us. ... We must rise to the occasion and be worthy” of her legacy, the mayor said.
Preckwinkle was the most pointed in her warning to those who might seek to turn their disappointment into anger that triggers yet another round of civil unrest.
“While many of us are deeply disappointed, discouraged and confused by the decision today, we must stay focused. Now is not the time for violence,” Preckwinkle said.
“Protest if you’re moved to do so. Peaceful protest is powerful. However, we cannot meet the violence of police with violence of our own. It gives ammunition to those who do not share our vision of racial justice.”
The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. said a violent response in Chicago would be a “mistake” that would only turn into a “commercial for Trump. ... We can’t do that. We must be smart enough not to turn our anguish and anger” into civil unrest that “gives Trump a commercial.”
Jackson said he’s concerned, “not so much about local people, but about sinister forces at work” by “provocateurs” from outside Chicago.
Under questioning, Pritzker said he is concerned about those who “might want to take advantage of” peaceful protests and may “hide among” the protesters. He vowed to use the “proper resources where they’re needed” to stop it—by having Il. State Police troopers “back up” Chicago Police officers with the National Guard as yet another back-stop.
Lightfoot said peaceful protest is “what we hope and what we expect”—even on, what she called a “difficult day” for African-Americans across the nation.
“We are prepared for every eventuality. But, what we hope and our prayer is for peace,” the mayor said.
“If people step over the line, we are ready with the appropriate response.” Lightfoot said she has “pre-positioned” hundreds of city snow plows and heavy trucks to protect neighborhood commercial corridors and was prepared to raise downtown bridges yet again, if need be.
Fired Louisville Police Officer Brett Hankison was charged with three counts of wanton endangerment in connection to the police raid of Taylor’s home on the night of March 13.
Immediately after the announcement, people were expressing frustration that the grand jury did not do more.
“Justice has NOT been served,” tweeted Linda Sarsour of Until Freedom, a group that has pushed for charges in the case. “Rise UP. All across this country. Everywhere. Rise up for #BreonnaTaylor.”
Attorney Ben Crump, who is representing Taylor’s family, tweeted that the charges involved “NOTHING for the murder of Breonna Taylor. This is outrageous and offensive!”
At a news conference, state Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron said Hankison and the two other officers who entered Taylor’s apartment announced themselves before entering the apartment and did not use a no-knock warrant.
“According to Kentucky law, the use of force by (Officers Jonathan Mattingly and (Myles) Cosgrove was justified to protect themselves. This justification bars us from pursuing criminal charges in Miss Breonna Taylor’s death.”
Regarding the inevitable disappointment by those who wanted criminal charges brought in Taylor’s death, he remarked, “The decision before my office as the special prosecutor in this case was not to decide if the loss of Ms. Taylor’s life was a tragedy. The answer to that is unequivocally yes.”
Cameron added that, “I understand that Breonna Taylor’s death is part of a national story, but the facts and evidence in this case are different than others” involving police shootings.
“If we simply act on emotion or outrage, there is no justice,” Cameron said. “Mob justice is not justice. Justice sought by violence is not justice. It just becomes revenge.”
Earlier this week, Pritzker put the Illinois National Guard in a “state of readiness” ahead of the announcement of criminal charges in Taylor’s death.
The decision was made after a Tuesday morning meeting between Pritzker and Lightfoot.
Taylor, an emergency medical worker. Was shot multiple times March 13 by officers who entered her home using a no-knock warrant during a narcotics investigation. The use of no-knock warrants was subsequently banned by Louisville’s Metro Council.
The warrant used was connected to a suspect who did not live there. No drugs were found inside.
After the death of George Floyd at the hands of now-former Minneapolis police officers, Taylor’s death was scrutinized anew.
Protesters took to the streets of Chicago and other major cities shouting Floyd’s name and Taylor. Those demonstrations devolved into civil unrest and rampant looting in Chicago. In August, apparently erroneous rumors spread on social media about a Chicago Police shooting triggered, yet another round of looting that started in downtown, River North and Lincoln Park and spread to commercial corridors on the South and West Sides.
After the first round on looting on May 31 and June 1, Lightfoot belated imposed a curfew, raised the bridges sealing off downtown and asked Pritzker to deploy hundreds of National Guard troops to patrol expressway entrance ramps in the downtown area.
Earlier this month, Chicago aldermen bemoaned the continuing bloodbath that’s killing and maiming the city’s children, but nevertheless shot down a request to declare a state of emergency that would have paved the way for a four-month stint by the Illinois National Guard.
It wasn’t the $54 million price tag that prompted the 16-to-2 vote by the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety.
It was the stigma of a “military occupation” of Chicago neighborhoods and how that would undermine efforts to repair the trust between citizens and police in African American neighborhoods a trust shattered by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald long before the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.