On the evening of Thursday, Sept. 24, protesters in Sarasota and Bradenton spilled into the streets in response to a Kentucky grand jury’s decision not to indict the three police officers who shot and killed 26-year-old Breonna Taylor on March 13, 2020 while she was asleep in her home in Louisville, Kentucky.
The decision came almost six months after Taylor’s murder. Taylor’s death followed the string of other highly publicized police killings of unarmed Black people that have spurred a massive wave of protests calling for police accountability, racial justice and a critical re-examination of the justice system. Nationwide demonstrations calling for the three Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) officers, Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankinson and Myles Cosgrove, to be fired and arrested.
The grand jury did not charge any of the officers involved with counts related to the murder. Only one officer, Hankison, was indicted and charged with three counts of “wanton endangerment” for shooting a total of 36 bullets into three other apartments—but not for the six bullets that killed Taylor. The two other officers were not indicted.
An outpouring of grief and rage in the wake of the jury’s non-indictment was verbalized through chants of, “Say her name—Breonna Taylor!” and, “No justice, no peace, no racist police,” as dozens of protesters streamed past downtown Sarasota’s coterie of maskless, wine-drinking diners. Some stood and waved, expressing support, while other diners chose to look away.
The Sarasota protest, which was organized by ANSWER Suncoast and the local chapter of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, began at the Unconditional Surrender statue on US-41 before marching through downtown Sarasota. ANSWER Suncoast is a national organization dedicated to fighting racism.
Ruth Beltran, a community organizer for ANSWER Suncoast, expressed that she wanted people to transform their anger into motivation to fight for change.
“I’m motivated by the fact that I am a Black woman, I have a Black son, I have friends that are Black, Indigenous and people of color—I don’t want to see this happen to any of us,” Beltran said in an interview with ABC Action News.
“The one officer that is being charged, he is being charged not for the bullets that killed Breonna Taylor, but for the bullets that missed,” Beltran continued.
As demonstrators overtook downtown Sarasota, the Black Lives Matter chapter of Sarasota-Manatee spearheaded a simultaneous march through the City of Bradenton beginning at 910 1 St. West.
New College second year Gus Frank and his roommate, Adam Hassan, attended the protest with several friends. Frank expressed gratitude that someone made him aware that the protest in Bradenton was happening, but explained that he was disappointed and angry—although not surprised—about the grand jury’s decision.
“It was a complete slap in the face, a middle finger—as biased and racist as it could be,” Frank said, “There was just a rage inside of me that I needed to channel productively, in an expression for the people whose voices must be heard.”
According to Frank, on-duty police officers assigned to monitor the protest blared their sirens in a seeming attempt to drown out demonstrators’ call-and-response chants.
“New College students have a reputation for being forward thinking and fighting for what we believe in,” Frank explained. “We need to walk the walk. Everyone here talks big about being for the movement and all of that, but we, the leftist hippie arts college students in an old people city, aren’t showing up—[the old people] are showing up with their trump flags and stuff—we need more people out there.”
Frank was adamant that New College students should contribute their presence to the front lines of local demonstrations and stressed that students should use their time and energy to contribute a youthful force to the movement, share resources and show solidarity in the face of systemic injustice.
“We can’t change anything with 30 people, but we can make people aware that there are people fighting for and with them,” Frank emphasized. “This is the will of the people. Under our current system that’s the only power we have—the power of the collective.”