Louisville, Weekend of May 28–30

An eyewitness account from protests in Louisville against the police murder of George Floyd.


I was at the protests in Louisville, Kentucky on May 28, 29, and 30. Obviously not in all places at once, but here is what I saw and what I know to be true.

Thursday, May 28

Minneapolis was burning. Louisville’s mayor released the 911 tapes from the night of Breonna Taylor’s murder at the hands of the Louisville police (LMPD), who were executing a no-knock warrant on the wrong person for suspicion of receiving drugs. There was nothing planned for this night. The first I heard of it was a Facebook Live video of people in the street in front of the courthouse, less than 50.

I hopped on my bike and headed down there. The crowd was blocking traffic at 6th St. and Jefferson St., including a Megabus and a local TARC bus. Local activists were speaking, people were lying down and kneeling in the street at times, there were many children there. At one point, a large group broke off and started marching towards the 2nd St. bridge while local Black Lives Matter leaders told people to stay and hold the intersection. Riot cops assembled at the bridge intersection but did not engage and eventually everyone headed back to the courthouse. By this point, a paddy wagon and riot cops were at the courthouse, intimidating protesters.

Some protesters, enraged at the extreme police response to a peaceful protest, began rocking the paddy wagon. This is when the police started using flash-bang grenades, and in this chaos seven civilians were shot in the crowd, one of whom tragically died the next day. The police claim they did not shoot, but remarkably failed to apprehend a suspect in a crowd of law enforcement. Many protesters including myself were unaware of the shootings as the riot cops forced us back into the intersection. Protesters linked arms. Black activists encouraged white folks to move to the front, which we did. The police gave an order to disperse, and out came the tear gas canisters. Eyes burning and gagging, protesters retreated under pepper ball fire. The police continued with flash grenades, tear gas, and pepper balls until the last of us were forced to leave around 1 a.m. There were a couple government vehicles with broken windows, some spray paint, and a statue of King Louis lost his hand.

Friday, May 29

Protesters gathered in Jefferson Square Park. We marched seven times around the courthouse for the seven protesters shot the day before. At this point, a group broke off and headed to Broadway and eventually went all the way to Bardstown and Eastern Pkwy. with no police violence.

At the courthouse, the group was peaceful and full of children, including my own. A couple of folks spraypainted the courthouse, and a flag was burned. A line of riot cops came out on Liberty St. and began antagonizing protesters. There were state police as well as local police. They also pulled paddy wagons onto Jefferson St. I left the crowd on Liberty St., but moments later the riot cops advanced on the crowd with tear gas apparently attacking the medic tent.

Folks ran to Jefferson St. where they continued gassing us. They shot directly at a news crew, which was captured on live television. This is where the crowd was dispersed, and some people began breaking windows and looting, mostly on Fourth Street Live, which is a tourist attraction for rich people. I walked through Fourth Street several times and never saw a single cop. It seemed like they were intentionally leaving it to be looted. The cops attacked at multiple intersections nearby with flash-bang grenades, tear gas, pepper balls, and rubber bullets. There were 10 arrests total Thursday and Friday, including a comrade who was knocked unconscious when the medic tent was attacked.

Saturday, May 30

Protesters attempted to gather downtown, but by the time I arrived at 7:30 p.m. downtown was a police state. LMPD, Kentucky State Police, and the National Guard were out in full force. They were already using pepper balls and tear gas on small groups well before the 9 p.m. curfew without provocation. They also stole and destroyed all the medic supplies, including cases of water and milk, later claiming they were explosives.

Saturday night was disorganized from the start, but there was a large group in the Highlands and a large group as well as small groups downtown. Whenever we encountered the police, we were met with flash-bang grenades, pepper balls, and tear gas without warning nor provocation. I didn’t see a window broken until later, and by that time folks had been under fire for hours.

The Highlands group was heavily gassed, shot with rubber bullets, and beaten by batons. There were 37 arrests, and from what I saw they were just grabbing people who got close enough, especially folks who were aiding the injured. At no point in three days did I see any provocation for these attacks other than a few angry kids throwing half-empty small water bottles at riot cops. For this thousands of people, including children, were attacked with chemical weapons and shot.

Mandy Bell is a member of Louisville DSA.