LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Democrat Amy McGrath called for fundamental change to combat “systemic racism" as the Senate candidate met Thursday with some of the Kentucky protesters seething over a grand jury's decision not to charge officers in the killing of Breonna Taylor.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, her Republican opponent, said peaceful protests offer a way to honor Taylor's memory. He defended the investigation by his political ally, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, into the Black woman's death
The senator condemned incidents of property damage and gunfire that broke out during demonstrations in his hometown of Louisville. Two police officers were shot and wounded during the protests Wednesday evening.
Nationwide protests over the deaths of Blacks by police have been a simmering issue with just weeks left in the bitter, big-spending Kentucky Senate campaign. McConnell, who is seeking a seventh term in November, has at times focused on acts of violence at protests, as has his political ally, President Donald Trump.
On Thursday, McConnell and McGrath weighed in on fallout from the decision not to charge officers for killing Taylor — a case that garnered global attention.
Taylor, a Black emergency medical worker, was shot multiple times by white officers after one of them was fired upon and wounded while conducting a raid in a narcotics investigation in March. No drugs were found inside. One officer was charged by a grand jury Wednesday in the Taylor case with wanton endangerment for shooting into a neighbor’s apartment but no direct charges where filed in the death itself, touching off angry protests.
The day after the grand jury's decision, McGrath brought her change message to downtown Louisville where protesters kept up their call for justice.
“I am here today, and I’ve been all around this state trying to campaign for change in this country," McGrath said. “A change for health care — affordable, accessible health care for everyone. For change to tackle the systemic racism that we’ve been seeing for far too long.”
McGrath has called for banning no-knock search warrants in federal drug cases and prohibiting police chokeholds.
McGrath, a retired Marine combat pilot, said the country “can’t go back to normal” but instead must “do better” to combat racial inequities, adding: “Normal is what got us this.”
The Democrat's appearance drew a mixed response from protesters. Rose Henderson, who has been a fixture at demonstrations, complained that McGrath hasn't spent time getting to know the protesters.
“You can’t walk up in the park and think we’re going to have open arms for you," Henderson said of McGrath. “We don’t know you. It’s about cameras, it’s about politics, and this is our life that we’re out here fighting for."
Meanwhile, McConnell used a Senate speech to comment on the unrest.
“Peaceful protests honor the memory of Breonna Taylor," he said. “Peaceful protests move us toward justice. Smashing windows does not. Setting fires does not. Rioting in the streets does not. And trying to gun down law enforcement officers who are bravely serving their community is the kind of despicable cowardice that must be met with the full force of the law."
McConnell has defended peaceful protests, but his campaign has aired TV ads showing footage of protests turning destructive while the senator denounces the actions.
The vast majority of protests around the country have been peaceful. Protesters in Louisville have occupied a downtown square peacefully for 120 days with few acts of violence since the beginning of the movement in the spring.
McGrath tweeted that the shooting of the Louisville officers was “unacceptable" and said the focus “needs to be on tearing down systemic injustices, not tearing down our communities or harming each other."
Meanwhile, McConnell said Cameron had done “the kind of thorough, impartial investigation that justice demands" in the Taylor case. Cameron, the state's first Black attorney general, once served as legal counsel for the senator.
But McGrath said Cameron should release the evidence presented to the grand jury.
“Part of what we are as a nation is making sure that we have transparency," she said. “And to me, that’s a really important piece of this. Let’s have a transparent investigation. Let’s release it to everybody.”