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Boulder rally expresses outrage and sadness following grand jury ruling on Breonna Taylor case

Martha Wilson, of Longmont, speaks Saturday near the Boulder Bandshell for a racial justice rally. (Kelsey Hammon)
Martha Wilson, of Longmont, speaks Saturday near the Boulder Bandshell for a racial justice rally. (Kelsey Hammon)

Clutching a megaphone Saturday, Martha Wilson, of Longmont, stood in a circle of people as she flipped her notebook to a letter she wrote for Breonna Taylor, a Black woman fatally shot by Kentucky police in her own home in March.

Looking at the faces surrounding her, Wilson said she didn’t know Taylor personally, but felt she did, because in many ways they were the same.

Bonnie Cramer, of Boulder, holds up a sign as she marches for racial justice Saturday in downtown Boulder.(Kelsey Hammon /Staff Writer)

“Young, Black and beautiful, trying our absolute best to rise above our circumstances with dedication, hard work and helping others … trying to survive in a world that does its systematic best to box us into the most convenient negative statistic,” Wilson read.

Her words, read aloud near the Boulder Bandshell, were part of a rally calling on justice for Taylor, after a Kentucky grand jury ruled last week that officers involved in the raid of her Louisville home March 13 would not be charged in her death. Two of those officers, who fired a weapon at her, were justified in using force for self-defense, according to prosecutors, and a third officer, Brett Hankison, received three charges of wanton endangerment for shooting into Taylor’s neighbor’s home, according to the Denver Post.

The officers involved in the narcotics investigation had a warrant tied to someone who didn’t live at the Louisville home. Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical worker, was shot multiple times. No drugs were found.

“Frankly I’m tired, so tired,” Wilson said. “Justice for Black lives is not supposed to be unrealistic.”

Like Wilson, many of the roughly 40 people who rallied Saturday were saddened and outraged by the grand jury’s ruling, believing that justice has been denied to the young woman who lost her life. While Taylor’s killing happened more than 1,200 miles away, ralliers said it was important to speak out and bring to light the racial injustices that persist in Boulder County.

Darren O’Conner, of Lafayette, rallied Saturday because he said he was frustrated that the Kentucky officers will “walk free” and that the justice system is “allowing police to pose a clear and present danger to anyone with Black skin.”

“I’m just one of the many voices not OK with the status quo anymore,” said O’Conner, who is the criminal justice chair for the NAACP Boulder County. “I feel like the justice system is doing exactly what it’s meant to do, which is give a veneer of civil society.”

O’Conner, who graduated with a law degree from the University of Denver, was outraged when he heard about the grand jury ruling.

“The only cop who is going to get any time whatsoever was the cop who missed when he shot at her,” O’Conner said. “That’s not justice.”

O’Conner said he hopes Saturday’s rally communicates there’s work to be done in Boulder County, pointing to a case involving former Boulder Police Officer John Smyly, who resigned from his role after he pointed a gun at a black Naropa student. This week it was announced that Smyly had accepted a temporary civilian position with the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office. O’Conner added that another former Boulder police officer, Waylon Lolotai, who was the subject of several excessive force complaints and left the department in September following an internal investigation into his Instagram account, is free to get another job in law enforcement. The city said earlier this week that Lolotai would not have been terminated, had he decided to stay with the department.

“I would hope these continued gatherings of people saying, ‘Enough is enough,’ send a message that it’s not OK in Boulder, just like it’s not OK in Kentucky,” O’Conner said.

The rally continued peacefully Saturday afternoon, with the mask-clad ralliers standing in a circle to take turns speaking. In the background a man yelled, “All lives matter!” The group ignored him.

Rachel Amaru, of Boulder, helped to publicize Saturday’s event by sending out emails and sharing the information on Facebook. Across the country, people have rallied in response to the grand jury ruling from Denver to Louisville, Ky. Amaru said she wanted to see her community take its own stand.

“I was utterly disgusted, but not surprised,” Amaru said when she learned of the grand jury ruling. “This happens over and over again.”

After several people spoke, the group marched through downtown Boulder, Wilson’s message likely resounding in their ears:

“Breonna, I might be here for you in this moment, but I’m standing up for myself and the next generation, too,” Wilson said. “I promise to keep shouting and marching and demanding that we matter, until a consistent pattern of indictments and guilty verdicts demonstrate that we actually do.”

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