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.