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As Louisville Awaits Cameron Decision, Marchers Tie Breonna Taylor To Past Civil Rights Heroes

Even as they gathered to remember civil rights icons of another era, Louisvillians are anxiously anticipating Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s decision regarding criminal charges against the Louisville Metro Police Department officers who shot and killed Breonna Taylor.

Cameron’s decision promises to be another turning point for a city that has long played an important role in the struggle for racial justice. A group of people gathered on Saturday to tie Taylor to the legacy of Muhammad Ali, a Louisville native and passionate and high-profile member of the civil rights movement.

Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency room tech who officers killed while serving a search warrant, has become the focal point of that struggle in recent months. Over more than 100 days of protests, demonstrators have called for Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly and detectives Myles Cosgrove and Brett Hankison to be fired and criminally charged for their role in Taylor’s death.

Mattingly, Cosgrove and Hankison were serving a “no-knock” search warrant at Taylor’s home on March 13. Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, has said he thought intruders were making their way into the home and fired a warning shot toward the door, hitting Mattingly in the leg. Officers opened fire in response and killed Taylor.

Rumors circulated last week as reports indicated Cameron was presenting the case to a grand jury and a decision could be imminent. Cameron rejected those reports and released a statement saying the investigation, “if done properly, cannot follow a timeline.”

“When the investigation concludes and a decision is made, we will provide an update about an announcement,” Cameron’s statement said.

Cameron received the case files from LMPD’s Public Integrity Unit investigation on May 20. On Thursday, Taylor’s mother Tamika Palmer posted a message to Cameron on Instagram.

"It's crunch time and we're putting our faith and trust in you,” Palmer wrote. “Do you have the power and courage to call my child yours, the power to see that my cry and my community’s cry is heard, and the power as part of a village who raises our children to do right by one of our daughters?”

Felicia Garr, one of the organizers of Saturday’s event, said Cameron’s decision was on her mind as she prepared to lead marchers from the Muhammad Ali Center to 11th and Main streets.

“How could it not be? We have our first African American Attorney General and by his actions, he says he’s doing his job, says he’s waiting on the results, but we’ve been waiting longer than him,” Garr said.

She said the event, which she called the Great Women’s March, came about because several women with personal connections to Ali wanted to offer their support to the next generation of Louisville activists. Ali died in 2016; Garr said, given the athlete’s storied contributions to racial justice, he would have supported the movement against police violence that has unfolded in his hometown over the past few months.

“We feel within our deepest of spirits that if he was alive today, he would have walked with us every step of the way, saying ‘no justice, no peace,’” Garr said.

Garr led about 40 people on a walk up Main Street. Demonstrators added Ali’s name to the familiar chant of “No Justice No Peace” as they walked past sightseers visiting city landmarks such as the Louisville Slugger Museum.

Five blocks later, the crowd arrived at 11th and Main and heard from several speakers who knew Ali personally.

Marilyn Williams, who was Ali’s sister-in-law and caretaker, said Ali was proud of his hometown.

“He met Kings and Queens. Even the Pope and Sister Teresa. He would tell the world that he was from Louisville, Kentucky,” Williams said. “But now, it's Breonna Taylor telling the world about Louisville, Kentucky.”

Williams also had a message for Cameron.

“Breonna’s family is still sitting everyday for closure,” she said. “Our politicians here in Louisville, Kentucky, we hope you are listening: to not convict the killers of Breonna Taylor makes you weak and unjust.”

Other speakers included Flora Shanklin, the sister of Alberta Jones. Jones was one of the first Black women to pass the Kentucky bar exam and the first female prosecutor in Jefferson County. Before she was murdered in 1965, Jones was Muhammad Ali’s attorney.

Shanklin reminded listeners that they were part of a long history of activists who worked towards equality and justice for Black people.

Shanklin said Jones registered 6,000 Black people to vote in 1963. In the process, Jones noticed city hall had Black laborers, but no Black clerks.

“So she took her 6,000 votes and she walked to city hall and said we will vote in the person, the organization, that takes and hires some Blacks other than doing labor,” Shanklin said.

Ruby Hyde, who met Ali when she was 12 years old and was ringside for the boxer’s early fights, also spoke at the event.

Hyde’s daughter, Nachand Trabue, said she and her mother felt it was important to do something to support Breonna Taylor. “This is a very historical moment in time not only in our city, but in the world,” Trabue said.

Trabue said she’s been waiting to hear what would happen to the officers who killed Taylor since she first heard of the shooting. “It's been on my mind. It's never stopped because Breonna looks like me,” Trabue said. “We're wanting justice. We don't want nothing else but justice, anything else they can keep for themselves because we're going to continue to keep fighting for justice, in our city, in our community and in the world.”

Jillian Kane marched and thought the speakers were inspiring. Kane said she tries to participate in as many demonstrations as possible, especially now that it appears the Attorney General’s decision could be imminent.

“The troubling times we’re in, we’ve got tons of things on our mind but absolutely hearing what the AG is going to do is important,” Kane said. “You hope that our officials do that right thing and that their investigations are effective.”

Kane, like most people at Saturday’s march, doesn’t know what to expect when Cameron does make his announcement.

“Just keep your fingers crossed and hope for the best,” Kane said.

Jared Bennett is an investigative reporter and deputy editor for LPM. Email Jared at jbennett@lpm.org.