Louisville, June, 1–3

A firsthand account of recent protests against police violence in Louisville.


Monday, June 1

In the morning, a crowd gathered at 26th Street and Broadway, the site of David McAtee’s murder the night before. Mr. McAtee owned a barbecue restaurant where folks gathered every Sunday, and surveillance footage shows him going in and out with tongs to the smokers shortly before his death. The police later claimed he shot first, but video does not appear to support this. There was not a protest in this part of town, but the riot cops and National Guard used tear gas and other “non-lethal” weapons unprovoked on the people gathered at the barbecue.

Louisville’s police chief, who had already tendered his resignation, was fired, with full pension, and the curfew was extended for another week. The police left Mr. McAtee’s body on the ground for over 10 hours, and a crowd gathered chanting “get him up,” among other things. My son and I were there bearing witness when the police agreed to allow his mother to view his body and take him away. There was a profound moment of silence and a strong voice began to sing “Amazing Grace.”

Words cannot describe the grief and rage of the gathered community. Tensions were high, and armed riot cops lined the street. Once they had moved the body, the police left and the atmosphere changed to one of a joyous memorial with food appearing from all sides, music, and camaraderie. Throughout this time there was a crowd gathered at Jefferson Square Park for a rally to End White Silence with mostly white folks, peaceful, and low police presence. I joined this rally in the late afternoon. Young people and even two police officers led a march back to the site of the murder, despite black activists having asked for there not to be protesters or police in the West End.

The march turned around at 26th Street and Jefferson and returned to Jefferson Square Park where the police showed up in force, blocking off all the surrounding streets and attacking unprovoked with flash bangs, tear gas, and pepper balls after dark. In trying to leave the area, I was hit twice with pepper balls on my bike, nowhere near a crowd. There were dozens of arrests downtown. This same day, a protest in the affluent St. Matthews neighborhood saw a Black reverend arrested and forcefully restrained with a taser held to his head.

Tuesday, June 2

The occupation of Jefferson Square Park returned for a second day from noon until 7 p.m. After that, a large crowd left downtown and marched to the Highlands, a white hipster neighborhood until well after curfew, and later returned downtown. There was a heavy riot cop and National Guard presence, but they kept their distance and protesters were unmolested. Perhaps the restraint was due to the new acting police chief ordering the cops to leave their body cameras on. At one point, the police and protesters were seen exchanging fist bumps. A number of known and clearly tattooed white supremacists were spotted and photographed at this march and driving around town. There were reports of scattered police violence late at night.

Wednesday, June 3

Jefferson Square Park was peacefully occupied from noon until 7 p.m., with some people remaining after curfew, while the majority again marched to and around the Highlands. There were unconfirmed reports of police shooting pepper balls and rubber bullets at small groups and individual stragglers. My coworker, a nurse who was not an activist until now, reports witnessing a man on a bike shot with a rubber bullet, “He literally was just riding his bike… He was bleeding everywhere.”

Mandy Bell is a member of Louisville DSA.