With downtown Louisville battered and boarded following two days of protests, Gov. Andy Beshear called in the National Guard Saturday and Mayor Greg Fischer instituted a citywide curfew beginning at sundown in advance of another night of demonstrations.
As the evening unfolded, protesters massed and dispersed in skirmishes with police around the city. At various moments groups blocked the Second Street Bridge, Bardstown Road in the Highlands and several blocks of downtown.
Unlike previous nights, Louisville Metro Police, Kentucky State Police and Kentucky National Guard used Jefferson Square Park as a staging area, setting up a perimeter around Metro Hall and City Hall.
With the sun setting, police shot tear gas and green smoke at protesters on Liberty and Sixth streets in downtown. As police moved forward they also shot tear gas behind the protesters forcing them to move through the fog.
Jay Dotta was there in a black mask holding a cell phone. He’s from Louisville and has been downtown for each night of action against the police killing of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor in March.
“They will have no choice but to change. If we force their hand they have to change because unforced they will not change,” Dotta said.
He says the police who killed Taylor should have been arrested — and if they were…
“This wouldn’t be going on. If they weren’t at home on paid administrative leave, this wouldn’t be going on,” he said.
It was just minutes later when officers launched tear gas and fired non-lethal pellets at the protesters. The crowd quickly left. But the night was far from over.
From that point on, downtown became a whirlwind of small standoffs between police and protesters. State police, local police and the National Guard patrolled the streets on foot, on horseback and in humvees. Many wore riot gear. Drones and helicopters buzzed overhead.
Jorden Ward, 21, said the cops were more forceful than in previous nights, firing pepper balls and tear gas without warning. Ward said he was struck by pepper balls at least three times while trying to help a friend who was arrested in the scramble.
“They were throwing riot shields in our faces, they had the sticks out and were literally hitting us with the stick, backing us up,” Ward said. “Like, we literally weren’t being mean at all. We were taking steps back slowly.
Cara Ryan of Louisville says she had successfully broken up a fight between protesters in front of a line of police at the corner of 6th and Liberty when an officer pushed her to the ground. She fell, cutting both her legs at the shin. Ryan’s legs were bandaged but still bleeding.
“And I’m still in shock, my bone is actually exposed right now under my bandage,” Ryan said.
She had a long, thin bruise striped across her back where she says she was hit three times with a baton.
In the Bardstown Road corridor, police mostly gave protesters a wide berth as they walked up and down Bardstown Road. But the relative calm was shattered around 11 p.m., when a stand-off at Highland Avenue reached a tipping point.
Protesters said someone threw a water bottle. An officer at the scene said there was gunfire, but an LMPD spokesperson said they haven’t confirmed that. Either way, LMPD and the National Guard took swift action, declaring an unlawful assembly.
Authorities released tear gas and fired flash bangs repeatedly, and advanced across Bardstown Road firing pepper balls at individual protesters. They then drove several police vehicles down Highland Avenue.
When law enforcement was satisfied that the scene had been neutralized, they marched away — the only remnant of their presence the spent pepper balls and tear gas canisters the protesters came back to reclaim as souvenirs.
Shortly before 11 p.m., Mayor Fischer held a virtual press conference and commended protesters for what he described as a noticeable difference in the tone — there was less destruction of property — and he thanked protesters for their relatively peaceful assemblies.
As the night wore on in downtown, multiple skirmishes coalesced into a roving march of several hundred young people roaming through streets of downtown. The protest appeared largely peaceful, although there were fireworks shot off as well as allegations of gunshots. It is unclear if anyone was injured, but WFPL reporters did not see anyone injured.
Eventually, police formed a line following the protesters through downtown and appeared to guide the protesters without directly confronting them.
At one point, even police had to laugh at the sight of a pair of riding lawn mower owners riding along with a group of protesters.
After midnight, the protest headed west on Broadway. Five shots rang out. People ran back toward the police, but police pushed forward.
As WFPL reporters rounded the corner of a business on Ninth Street, police fired tear gas and pepper balls. Reporters dropped to the ground, but the police behind told reporters to stand up and keep moving. At the same time another line of police yelled at reporters to get on the ground. In the chaos, police arrested at least two protesters. No reporters were arrested.
Sometime after 1 a.m. the protests began to wane, though a heavy police presence remained in downtown.
As of 2 a.m., a police spokesperson said at least 33 arrests had been made and sirens continued to sound through the streets of downtown Louisville. During a Sunday morning news conference, Mayor Fischer said about 40 people had been arrested.