Hundreds of anti-racism protesters filled Jefferson Square Park on Saturday morning in anticipation of an armed demonstration organized by a member of the Kentucky National Guard.
But as of 1 p.m., the group calling themselves “American Freedom Fighters” had failed to show.
In Jefferson Square Park, peaceful protests featured chants against police brutality and speeches about personal experiences with racism in Louisville and across the country.
“I don’t think any white supremacist with a gun could deter me from protesting for Black lives, ever. I feel like it’s what I’m facing every day walking down the street,” said D.K., a Black Lives Matter protester from south Louisville. “I’m a Black woman in a hijab. I could die any second.”
The Louisville Metro Police Department set up barriers along Jefferson Street between Metro Hall and Jefferson Square Park to separate the protesters from counter-protesters. But the area reserved for the counter-protesters was mostly empty throughout the morning.
For weeks, Black Lives Matter protesters have been camped out at Jefferson Square Park, demanding accountability after the killing of Breonna Taylor by LMPD officers in March.
Several BLM protesters carried firearms on Saturday including rifles, shotguns and pistols. It was the first time WFPL reporters had seen protesters armed with long guns at Jefferson Square Park. One protester, who declined to be named, carried a loaded AR-15.
“I’m out here to help protect my community,” he said, “This is my city. I’m born and raised here. I’m going to die here, odds are.”
About five miles outside downtown, a group of a dozen people — some armed and dressed in tactical attire — gathered at Thurman Hutchins Park. Originally, the group calling themselves the “American Freedom Fighters” had intended to march downtown to Jefferson Square Park to “restore order,” said organizer Eli Eaton in a Facebook post. Eaton is also a member of the Kentucky National Guard.
However, on Saturday, Eaton said he called off his downtown demonstration to avoid escalating tensions. Members of the group said they were frustrated that police had viewed their demonstration as a protest. Eaton said he believes police had organized the protest area in such a way as to incite violence between racial justice demonstrators and his group.
Reporters Ryan Van Velzer and Jared Bennett contributed to this report.