‘These voices aren’t going to stop’: Hundreds in downtown L.A. protest decision in Breonna Taylor case

Several hundred people gathered Wednesday evening in downtown Los Angeles to demand the ouster of Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey, but the protest was turbocharged by an outpouring of anger that only one of three Louisville, Ky., police officers involved in the shooting of Breonna Taylor will face criminal charges — and none for killing her.

The demonstrators assembled, as many of them do every Wednesday, outside the Hall of Justice on Spring Street. Police squad cars ringed the protest and a helicopter hovered overhead.

Willie Baker, who has shown up to protest every Wednesday in recent months, said the larger turnout was due to the upcoming election and the announcement Wednesday that only one of three officers would face charges in Taylor’s death during a botched nighttime raid earlier this year.

“More should have been indicted,” said Baker, 35.

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The two officers who fatally shot Taylor, Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove, will not be charged with a crime, Kentucky’s attorney general, Daniel Cameron, said. A former Louisville police detective, Brett Hankison, was indicted on three counts of “wanton endangerment” for firing blindly into Taylor’s apartment building.

“If we do something, we go to jail like that,” Baker said, snapping his fingers. “It’s time to start locking up the police, too.”

Vincent Irby, 49, wasn’t surprised by the charging decision. “I understood this was going to come down to legalese,” he said, “and I had a sneaking suspicion it would come down to this.”

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Irby, a criminal defense attorney, attended Wednesday’s demonstration at the invitation of a friend, Kat Pavplek. The two have diverging views of the change they want to see in the county’s dominant law enforcement agencies, the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Pavplek wants the agencies abolished over time and, in the interim, some of their funding diverted to pay for housing and other community needs. Irby, who described himself as “not a huge ‘defund the police’ kind of guy,” supports more modest changes, such as requiring police officers to be partnered with social workers.

“You see a cop on the street, and you see a social worker right next to him with a clipboard, in tandem,” he said. “Reform is cooperation.

“I hear the voice of the mother who lost her kid,” said Irby, who is Black. “It’s horrible. There is no mitigating that. But the answer is not saying, ‘[expletive] you, you’re horrible.’”

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To Pavplek, who has demonstrated outside the Hall of Justice since George Floyd’s death in May, the promise of those early protests seems to have soured, as pushes for reform have stalled and, in her mind, business has continued as usual for the county’s police agencies.

“Nothing has reformed, nothing has changed, and they keep killing people,” she said, pointing to the recent fatal shooting of Dijon Kizzee by two sheriff’s deputies.

To Irby, although the protesters may seem to be gathering every week to decry “a new headline but the same theme,” the demonstrations that draw Angelenos from all corners of the city to its downtown represent an awakening.

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“It’s a crescendo,” he said. “It’s the beginning of an awareness. I get that some people don’t like it, that some people are saying, ‘Yeah, we get it,’ but these voices aren’t going to stop. They’re not going to stop crying out.”

Wednesday’s protests over the decision in the Taylor case followed a summer of demonstrations in Los Angeles to denounce police brutality against Black people both locally and around the country, including massive protests in late May and early June that turned chaotic and more recent clashes that also resulted in arrests.

The largest protests followed the death in late May of Floyd, a Black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer detained him by kneeling on his neck for about eight minutes. Protests erupted all across the country, and in L.A. they were met with nightly curfews as huge numbers of demonstrators flooded streets downtown, in the Fairfax district, in Hollywood and elsewhere.

The city declared a state of emergency and the National Guard was called in to assist an overwhelmed Los Angeles Police Department maintain order.

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The city has subsequently described the early summer events as largely peaceful protests that devolved into “coordinated mass looting” and “unprecedented lawlessness and chaos.”

Thousands of people were arrested on suspicion of failing to obey dispersal orders and of violating the curfews. Many protesters were injured when police used batons and projectile launchers to clear streets. Businesses and vehicles were lighted on fire, including LAPD patrol cars, and many stores were burglarized as police said criminals took advantage of the chaos to fill trunks with merchandise.

Similar incidents occurred across the L.A. region, from Santa Monica to Beverly Hills to Long Beach.

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Reviews of how law enforcement handled the summer demonstrations are pending, as are several lawsuits. Both the LAPD and the Sheriff’s Department are being sued for allegedly abusing protesters and violating their constitutional rights, with activist groups seeking injunctions that would ban the police agencies from using batons, projectiles and other weapons against protesters in the future.

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