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Protesters march at UNI after no officers indicted for Breonna Taylor killing

CEDAR FALLS — On Wednesday, a Kentucky grand jury chose not to indict any officers for the killing of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman who was shot six times March 13 when police executed a search warrant at her apartment.

On Thursday, students and residents gathered at the University of Northern Iowa to call for justice.

Dozens of marchers held signs high at Maucker Union, walking between university buildings and sharing personal testimonies. They chanted Taylor’s name and that of George Floyd, the 46-year-old Black man killed after a Minneapolis police officer kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes.

Taylor was a 26-year-old emergency room technician whose boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, shot an officer in the leg when police busted in the door. Walker said officers did not announce who they were. Police then fired 32 shots in the apartment.

Officer Brett Hankison, 44, was indicted on three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment for bullets that entered a nearby apartment housing a pregnant woman and her child. Other officers who fired in her apartment, Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly and Detective Myles Cosgrove, were not charged.

Police searched the apartment after receiving a no-knock warrant. They believed she was connected to a drug trade with her former boyfriend. The shooting led Louisville council members to ban no-knock warrants.

“I know how warrants should go,” said Kathy Mahoney, criminal defense attorney in Black Hawk County who attended Thursday’s march. “Was what they thought they would find there worth a human life? The answer is no.”

Mahoney said she is encouraged that Waterloo Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald is working on police reforms, such as updating use-of-force policies and calling for an increased training budget. But she said change needs to go further.

“I see racism every day of the week and twice on Sunday,” Mahoney said of her job. “We white people have to fix this problem. It’s not up to African Americans to fix our unjust system.”

Johnnie Hill, a 22-year-old UNI student, helped organize the march. She said she felt sick to her stomach to hear that no officers were indicted on charges for killing Taylor.

“Black women have never been respected in this country, and have never been protected,” Hill said. “That’s kind of what our system was founded on. ... There just needs to be a whole reform in our system.”

Hill organized the march with her friend and soccer teammate, 21-year-old student Genevieve Cruz, who said she is “speechless” that no one was held accountable for Taylor’s killing.

“It angers me because that could be Johnnie, you know?” Cruz said. “You have to put it into your perspective — who could it be in your life?”

Student Laura Roman-Jimenez, 22, works on various committees at UNI to improve diversity and equity on campus. As supporters of President Donald Trump drove through campus in trucks, revving their engines and shouting expletives Thursday, Roman-Jimenez stood facing them.

“What else can you do but do something?” Roman-Jimenez said. “It’s not exactly like it really pushes me to fight harder, but if I won’t, then who will, you know?”

Waterloo resident and marcher Zion Dale, 18, called attention to modern-day oppression faced by Black residents. He called on people to educate themselves on systemic disadvantages, such as housing discrimination and lack of opportunities, that prevent some people of color from exiting their neighborhoods and avoiding crime.

“That could’ve been someone I knew; that could’ve been someone I didn’t know. But at the end of the day, it was something that shouldn’t have happened,” Dale said about Taylor’s killing.

He called on police to engage with community members by getting out of the squad cars to play basketball with kids, volunteer and talk with residents.

“I understand that someone doesn’t like me because of the color of my skin. OK. I don’t care about changing your opinion,” Dale said Thursday. “But when you do harm or take an action towards someone which will cause them harm, that’s not OK.”

Student Alicia Wilder, 18, missed an exam to attend Thursday’s march. She said instances of police brutality erode trust between officers and communities of color.

“I feel like a lot of white people just talk about it while they’re sleeping ... just a casual conversation, when it shouldn’t be a casual conversation,” Wilder said. “It’s something real and it’s something serious, and a lot of people do not see it for that. It’s not pillow talk.”

Student marchers said they hope to see an increase in white allies to their cause, more support from the university for their efforts and additional police reforms throughout the county.

There will be another march next Thursday, organizers said.

Photos: George Floyd reaction in Cedar Valley
Overman Park Vigil, June 6, 2020

Louisville mayor pleads for calm

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — In the wake of the decision not to prosecute Kentucky police officers for killing Breonna Taylor, authorities and activists alike wrestled Thursday with the question of what comes next amid continued demands for justice in the Black woman's death.

“The question obviously is: What do we do with this pain?” Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said during a news conference. “There is no one answer, no easy answer to that question.”

Fischer pleaded for calm a day after peaceful protests in Louisville turned violent, and a gunman shot and wounded two police officers. Activists, who were back out chanting Taylor's name and marching for a second night as police in riot gear blocked roads, vowed to press on after a grand jury Wednesday didn't bring homicide charges against the officers who burst into her apartment during a drug investigation in March.

Taylor, an emergency medical worker, was shot multiple times by white officers after Taylor's boyfriend fired at them, authorities said. He said he didn't know who was coming in and opened fire in self-defense. Police entered on a warrant connected to a suspect who did not live there, and no drugs were found inside.

State Attorney General Daniel Cameron said the investigation showed officers acted in self-defense; one was wounded. A single officer was charged with wanton endangerment for firing into neighboring apartments.

The only possibility for criminal charges against the officers for the killing itself seems to rest with the U.S. Justice Department. The FBI is still investigating whether Taylor’s civil rights were violated. But the burden of proof for such cases is very high, with prosecutors having to prove officers knew they were acting illegally and made a willful decision to cause someone’s death.

Returning Thursday to the park in downtown Louisville that has been the hub for protesters, Reginique Jones said she’ll keep pressing for increased police accountability and for a statewide ban on “no knock” warrants — the kind issued in the Taylor case, though Cameron said the investigation showed police did announce themselves before entering.

“I believe that we are going to get past this,” Jones said. “We can still get some justice.”

Taylor’s family planned to weigh in at a news conference scheduled for Friday morning in the park that's become known as Injustice Square.

Demonstrators kept gathering there Thursday, while others marched through downtown, where streets were barricaded by police cars and crowds blocked roads as they violated a nighttime curfew.

Activists, celebrities and everyday Americans have called for charges against police since Taylor's death. Along with George Floyd, a Black man killed by police in Minneapolis, Taylor’s name became a rallying cry during nationwide protests this summer that called out entrenched racism and demanded police reform.

The grand jury's decision set off a new wave of protests nationwide, with people marching in cities like Philadelphia and Rochester, New York, on Thursday, a night after violence marred some demonstrations.

Protesters in Portland, Oregon, hurled several firebombs at officers during a demonstration, police said, escalating tensions in a city that's already seen nearly four months of nightly protests over racial injustice and police brutality.

Deputy Police Chief Chris Davis said Wednesday night's demonstrations were the most violent that Portland has seen thus far in four months of nearly nightly unrest since Floyd's death.

Louisville's mayor instituted a curfew through the weekend, and Gov. Andy Beshear called up the National Guard for “limited missions.” Protesters on Thursday streamed through the streets, where stopped cars honked and one man leaned out a sunroof, his fist in the air, and shouted, “Black lives matter.” Police in riot gear turned out in force as the nighttime curfew passed, but they kept their distance from the crowd.

Earlier, it got heated between some protesters and a group of 12 to 15 armed white people wearing military-style uniforms, but it didn't turn physical.

Peaceful protests a night earlier gave way to fires set in garbage cans, damage to several vehicles and thefts at stores. Then, two officers were shot.

Larynzo D. Johnson, 26, was charged, and an arrest citation said police had video of him opening fire. Court records did not list a lawyer for Johnson, who was scheduled to be in court Friday.

The two officers were “doing well and will survive their injuries,” interim Police Chief Robert Schroeder said.

Maj. Aubrey Gregory was shot in the hip and has been released from the hospital. Officer Robinson Desroches was shot in the abdomen and underwent surgery.

Taylor’s case has exposed the wide gulf between public opinion on justice for those who kill Black Americans and the laws under which those officers are charged, which regularly favor police.

Since Taylor's killing, Louisville has taken some steps to address protesters' concerns. The officer who was eventually charged has been fired, and three others were put on desk duty. Officials have banned no-knock warrants and hired its first Black woman as the new permanent police chief.

Last week, the city agreed to more police reforms as part of a settlement that included a $12 million payment to Taylor's family. But many have expressed frustration that more has not been done.

A grand jury returned three charges of wanton endangerment against Officer Brett Hankison that carry a sentence of up to five years each. The other officers involved weren't charged.

Jodi Reisner helps Kassidy Brown and her friend, Jayonna Taylor, left, try on new boots during the Koats 4 Kids event at Becker Elementary School in Waterloo in December 2019.

AP breaking top story
Iowa fines beef plant $957 after huge coronavirus outbreak

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Iowa regulators have issued their first citation to a meatpacking plant with a large coronavirus outbreak that sickened its workforce — a $957 fine for a minor record-keeping violation.

The outbreak at the Iowa Premium Beef Plant in Tama in April resulted in 338 of the plant’s 850 workers testing positive for the virus, 80 more than the state previously acknowledged, according to inspection records released Thursday.

The Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Administration said on June 1 that it had launched inspections at the Tama plant and four other meatpacking plants where thousands of workers had tested positive.

Records show that the inspections did not lead to any citations at the other four plants, where at least nine workers have died after contracting the COVID-19 virus. Those included Tyson Foods plants in Waterloo, Columbus Junction and Perry and the JBS plant in Marshalltown.

The agency cited Iowa Premium Beef in August for failing to keep a required log of workplace-related injuries and illnesses, and for failing to provide the document within four hours after inspectors requested it.

Both violations were labeled “other-than-serious,” according to documents obtained by The Associated Press under the open records law.

photo courtesy of the Buljic family via AP 

Sedika Buljic of Waterloo  died April 18 at the age of 58 after contracting the coronavirus. Buljic's estate and the estates of two other deceased employees are suing Tyson Foods, saying the company put workers at its Waterloo pork processing plant at risk during a huge virus outbreak and lied to keep them working.

On Sept. 2, Iowa OSHA administrator Russell Perry approved a settlement with the company that reduced the proposed penalties from $1,914 to a $957 fine. The company also agreed to correct the violations. It had already turned over the log the day after the inspection, although it was initially missing information about several workers’ illnesses.

Democrats and labor activists have blasted the Iowa agency for a lax approach to worker safety during the pandemic. Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds has defended the state’s approach, saying it has helped keep a critical industry operating while protecting workers.

The outbreak in Tama produced one of the first hot spots in the state.

Photo courtesy of the Garcia family via AP 

Reberiano Garcia, 60, died died April 23 after contracting the coronavirus. Garcia's estate and the estates of two other deceased employees are suing Tyson Foods, saying the company put workers at its Waterloo pork processing plant at risk during a huge virus outbreak and lied to keep them working. ()

The beef plant suspended production for two weeks in April after scores of workers became ill. A two-day mass testing conducted by the Iowa Department of Public Health found that 338 workers were infected by then, the records show.

The health department’s deputy director, Sarah Reisetter, nonetheless announced at a news conference May 5 that only 258 workers had tested positive. The department has blamed record-keeping problems for erroneously announcing artificially low numbers of positive tests at another meatpacking plant the same day.

Facing criticism for its response, Iowa OSHA decided to inspect the Tama plant May 21 based on news reports of the 6-week-old outbreak.

Inspectors found that four workers were still hospitalized with COVID-19 and saw some employees working close to one another on the floor with no barriers between them.


People rally in support of workers at Tyson's Fresh Meat plant in Waterloo in May.

Inspectors noted that employees were wearing surgical-style masks that were issued by the company and required when the plant reopened April 20. The company had allowed workers to begin wearing their own face coverings April 2, four days before the plant shut down, records show.

The plant has taken steps to prevent the virus’ spread by installing plastic barriers where possible, staggering breaks, adding seating, providing hand sanitizer and checking temperatures before entry.

The plant was purchased last year by National Beef, which is based in Kansas City and supplies grocery stores and restaurants with meat products.

CEO Tim Klein praised his company in an open letter published Wednesday for “rapidly adjusting our processes and protocols to improve safety” during the pandemic.

“Our industry was in the local and national news for the wrong reasons during a time when we were all learning how to combat COVID-19 and keep our people safe,” he wrote. “And yet our employees continued to deliver — safe, quality beef products, ideas for improved safety, and time and talents to help their families and communities thrive in challenging situations.”