A ghostly downtown Louisville braces for Breonna Taylor grand jury decision

Police officers operate a check point and control vehicle access to downtown as the community awaits the findings of the grand jury in the case of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman who was shot dead in her apartment by police, in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S. September 22, 2020. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

By Bryan Woolston and Jonathan Allen

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Reuters) – The police department in Louisville, Kentucky, was restricting vehicle access downtown on Tuesday ahead of an expected decision by a grand jury on whether to indict the police officers involved in killing Breonna Taylor, a Black medical worker, in a botched raid.

Although the timing of any decision remains unclear, on Tuesday morning courthouses, offices and restaurants were already boarded up in the mostly deserted blocks around the city’s Jefferson Square Park, the site of regular demonstrations by people protesting police brutality against Black people.

Concrete barriers ringed the area, with a handful of checkpoints manned by police who would only allow people with essential business to drive downtown. Pedestrians were free to walk the streets, but few did.

Taylor, 26, was killed shortly after midnight on March 13 when three plainclothes officers used a battering ram to force their way in to her Louisville home with a so-called no knock warrant. Fearing intruders, her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired a gun. The three officers fired their guns, striking Taylor five times.

Taylor’s death, alongside that of George Floyd, a Black man who died in May after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck, helped spark a nationwide wave of protests demanding racial justice and an end to the use of excessive force by law enforcement.

The Louisville Metro Police Department on Tuesday declared a state of emergency for its staff, cancelling days off and suspending some overtime pay agreements, according to a memo by Robert Schroeder, the interim police chief, published by local media.

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a Black Republican, has said his investigation into Taylor’s death is ongoing, but has declined to confirm media reports that he is convening a grand jury to vote on whether to bring criminal charges against the officers.

Mayor Greg Fischer, a white Democrat, said his office does not know when a decision will come down or what it will be, but said in a statement on Tuesday the traffic restrictions were to “keep everyone safe.”

“Our goal with these steps is ensuring space and opportunity for potential protesters to gather and express their First Amendment rights,” his statement said.

The city’s main federal courthouse has also been closed all week in an order by Chief Judge Greg Stivers of the Western District of Kentucky.

(Reporting by Bryan Woolston in Louisville, Ky., and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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