WKU students gathered to protest in Centennial Mall on Wednesday evening, just hours after the Kentucky attorney general announced charges against one of the three officers involved in the death of Breonna Taylor on March 13.
The Jefferson County grand jury involved in Taylor’s case announced Wednesday afternoon that former Louisville Metro Police Officer Brett Hankison would be charged with three counts of wanton endangerment in the first degree. The other two officers involved in Taylor’s death, Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove, did not have any charges brought against them.
“We are here today because we are representing Breonna Taylor,” freshman Avery Wells said. “We are representing all of the people who have been putting in tireless effort to find justice for Breonna. We’re here today because we feel like the charges that were placed against one of the police officers was not adequate.”
Wanton endangerment, the charge brought against Hankison, alludes to actions in which a person haphazardly engages in activity that causes danger leading to serious injury or death of another person. These charges were brought against Hankison for the ten shots that he fired that passed through Taylor’s wall and into the neighboring apartment.
“We would like to see all of the officers involved in the shooting and killing of Breonna Taylor indicted, convicted and arrested,” Wells said.
Jay York, a Black student that organized Wednesday afternoon’s protest, began the gathering by reminding everyone present that the protest was peaceful. He proceeded to announce to the audience that the protest had three intentions — to be peaceful, to be intentional and to be solution-based.
“What I mean by [solution-based] is...we have to start taking our thinking to a different level,” York said. “We have been marching and doing all of that, and that is great…but we need to take it to a different level. The best way to change a corrupt system is to infiltrate the system.”
York and Tracy Scott, the Black woman who co-organized the protest, then began to encourage the audience to register to vote, to vote in the upcoming election and to run for office. York also encouraged students to keep their masks on, covering their noses, and to remain six feet apart if possible.
“Us, we are part of the student body here,” Scott said, following York’s opening speech. “We may not be the majority of the student body here, but we have the power to make an impact….We’re gonna be peaceful, but we are also here to make a change, and change starts with us.”
Reece Chessor, a resident of Bates-Runner Hall, joined the protest after catching a glimpse from his dorm room window. He volunteered to voice his opinions to the protestors.
“I had no idea about this,” Chessor said. “I just saw what was happening, and I marched right down. I’m just sick and tired of seeing people die for no reason.”
Chessor, the only white man that spoke at the protest, told the Herald that he didn’t know about the decision in Breonna Taylor’s case before joining WKU students Wednesday afternoon.
Sidonia Brown, a sophomore from Nashville majoring in child studies, shared a spoken word poem that she had written about experiences that Black people face.
“If you were to spend one day in the shoes of a Black American, I hope it’s the day you realize that in this country, your life is political,” Brown said. “I hope it’s the one day you’re walking to class on this campus and you see ‘Black Lives Matter’ crossed out on the sidewalk.”
After sharing her poem, Brown shared her feelings about seeing Black Lives Matter crossed out on the sidewalk while walking on campus.
“As a Black student, to see that your life doesn't matter to people and to see that crossed out whether you think it’s political or not, that hurts people a lot,” Brown said.
Malia Gardner, a freshman from Louisville majoring in nursing, shared her feelings about the current justice system as a Black woman.
“This is our lives, after hearing about Breonna Taylor today, we need to hold the people who caused this accountable,” Garner said. “We are fighting for our lives, we’re dying because we’re Black. Simply because of that. It’s my life. It’s not debatable. It’s not political. What are we supposed to do when the people who are supposed to save us and help us are the ones killing us?”
Protestors in Centennial Mall stood and watched guest speakers for 50 minutes before beginning the peaceful march. The women walked on the inside, and the men walked on the outside of the group.
“When we’re marching, if the men could be on the outside, and allow the women to walk in the middle,” York said. “Because we are here today to voice our opinions on the loss of the life of a Black woman.”
WKU Public Information Officer Tim Gray, Jay York and Tracy Scott led the protestors from Centennial Mall, through campus and around Pearce-Ford Tower, back through campus and eventually arrived back at Centennial Mall for closing statements.
Nia Douglas, a freshman from Louisville majoring in political science and English for secondary teachers, discussed how she felt about the Bowling Green police presence at the protest.
“I have to say I am not too pleased with the police presence here,” Douglas said. “Like why would you invite the perpetrator here? It’s not genuine in my opinion.”
Lydia McCoomer, freshman from Louisville majoring in psychology, also stated her opinions about the police presence at the protest.
“It was odd that the police were here,” McCoomer said. “The reason why we’re here is because they’re killing us, like how do you shout about police killing people but then invite them here?”
During closing remarks, York and Scott thanked the WKUPD for standing in solidarity, as well as the faculty and staff that came to the protest. Students were dismissed with a reminder to register to vote.
Julianna Lowe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Julianna on Twitter @juliannamlowe. Debra Murray can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Debra on Twitter @debramurrayy.