Invoking Breonna Taylor’s name, hundreds of Philadelphians marched through Center City on Wednesday, calling for justice hours after a grand jury in Kentucky failed to indict officers in the 26-year-old’s death and charged only one officer with firing into a neighbor’s unit.
By 7 p.m., about 100 people had gathered. The crowd continued to swell, growing to about 300 an hour later, when the group decided to march through the city.
At the outset of the protest at City Hall, speakers listed Taylor’s name alongside other Black men and women killed by police in recent years. They shouted in memory of George Floyd, Tamir Rice, Tony McDade and others whose legacies had been the subject of a summer of protests that roiled both this city and the United States.
Tamar Wilson, an organizer with Socialist Alternative, said Wednesday’s news shows the criminal justice system remains broken, even after the months of unrest. He called fellow protesters “the faithful few” who continued to demonstrate.
“After thousands of people have marched demanding change, the system has not yielded, because we do not live in a democracy,” Wilson, of Philadelphia, said. “The only way that the system is going to change is if the young people band together into organization.”
As the crowd snaked through Center City, passing by blocks damaged during earlier protests, speaker Sam Rise addressed diners eating outside at restaurants along Locust Street, telling them the group was there to “interrupt your regularly scheduled programming.”
Several diners held up fists in solidarity, some pulled out their phones to record, and many silently looked on.
During the hours-long march Wednesday, protesters gave inspirational speeches to rally the crowd.
“We will still be amazing and powerful and brilliant and magical beings. You cannot take that away from us ... because we are like the sun, powerful,” one said.
Another speaker named Diamond, who declined to give their last name, said they had a sister the same age as Taylor.
“We ain’t backing down for nothing. And if you think we’re scared, you’ve got another thing coming. Because I am looking fear straight in its face, and I am saying, ‘Not today, Satan.’”
“I’m way past being peaceful and whatnot. I’m so enraged at the gross negligence this country has when it comes to Black and brown lives,” Diamond, 28, said later. “Every single day I don’t know if I’m going to live.”
Speakers had similar sentiments, issuing a call to arms and saying protests aren’t enough and political organization is key. Others sounded tired and enraged. One speaker had tears streaming down her face.
One chant from the crowd: "“Are you tired of it?” “Yes!” “Put your hands up if you’re tired of this s—!”
In March, Louisville officers fatally shot Taylor, an emergency medical worker, multiple times after entering her apartment with a warrant connected to a suspect who did not live in the home.
Former detective Brett Hankinson was charged with three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment for shooting into a home next to Taylor’s. Two other officers involved in the shooting — Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly and Detective Myles Cosgrove — were not indicted.
About 100 Philadelphia police officers carrying helmets were stationed around City Hall and the Municipal Services Building before 5 p.m. Wednesday. More were milling about on Chestnut Street between 15th and 16th, where some looting took place in the wake of Floyd’s killing. Philadelphia officials said Wednesday afternoon the Police Department was increasing its presence in Center City and “roving officer details” would be stationed around the city’s commercial corridors.
Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration recommended any storefront businesses “that are openly accessible because of past vandalism or other reasons” board up doors and windows.
Talia Giles, a 25-year-old who lives in West Philly, was at City Hall prior to the protest for a presidential campaign event with the Party for Socialism and Liberation, which Giles joined in June after Floyd’s death. She said the outcome of the grand jury investigation solidified her conviction in becoming an organizer this summer, fighting to “defund the police” and allocate more funds to community-based programming.
“This justice system is not broken. It’s working exactly how it was designed to,” she said. “It doesn’t need to be changed. It needs to be replaced.”
The Kentucky grand jury’s indictment and ensuing civil unrest came four months after the police killing of Floyd in Minneapolis spurred weeks of demonstrations and a national reckoning over racism and policing. Protesters took to the streets in Philadelphia every day for weeks after Floyd was killed.
Throughout the summer of protests in Philadelphia, Taylor’s name and the chant “Say her name: Breonna Taylor” became a common refrain for demonstrators calling for justice for Black people shot by police. In West Philadelphia, an artist painted a memorial to Taylor on a boarded-up restaurant. And in June, as thousands marched from the Philadelphia Art Museum to City Hall calling for racial justice and an end to police brutality, some protesters erected a birthday tribute to Taylor, who would have turned 27 on June 5.