There’s still time for Mayor Greg Fischer to do right by Louisville’s Black citizens, according to some former Metro officials.
Fischer has been a target of criticism from several factions over his handling of the police killing of Breonna Taylor, subsequent protests and demands related to police reform and funding. Now, more than four months after Taylor’s death with investigations ongoing and no timeline for closure, some Black leaders who worked with Fischer say he needs to act.
And they want him to listen less to his current advisors, and more to people like them.
Sadiqa Reynolds, CEO and president of the Louisville Urban League, appealed directly to the mayor in a candid open letter last week. She previously served as the chief of community building for Louisville Metro government.
“I have considered the Mayor my friend. I honestly have love for him. But a Black woman, who could’ve been a young me, is dead and I am not satisfied with his response,” she wrote.
Taylor was killed by police during a middle-of-the-night raid related to a broader drug investigation focused on her ex-boyfriend. No drugs were found in her apartment. Police officers fired into her apartment in response to a single gunshot from Taylor’s boyfriend Kenneth Walker, which hit an officer. Walker later said he was trying to protect the couple from intruders and didn’t know it was police breaking down the door.
One of the officers, Brett Hankison, was fired last month and is appealing that decision. The others — Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly and officer Myles Cosgrove — remain on paid leave. Fischer has argued that firing them would conflict with the police union contract and lead to expensive lawsuits for the city. Police have turned over files from their internal investigation to the state Attorney General, who is investigating the officers for potential criminal charges. The FBI is conducting a separate investigation as well.
In June, Fischer fired police chief Steve Conrad, after it was determined that there was no body camera footage from police officers who fired their guns in an altercation that killed David McAtee, a Black chef whose restaurant was the site of a large gathering that violated the citywide curfew in place at that time due to protests. Conrad had previously announced his intention to retire at the end of June following national outcry over the Taylor case.
In the open letter, Reynolds said Fischer had rejected her advice, yet urged him to push for justice.
“I know you — and the man that sat with me in the church bombed by hateful men in Birmingham is no longer the guy I see. That guy deserves to lead the Conference of Mayors. This guy lately, deserves to have his political career ended with an asterisk*,” she wrote. “Show us that Black lives matter in Louisville.”
This month, Fischer became president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, an organization that convenes leaders from cities across the country and lobbies for their interests.
In an emailed statement, Fischer spokeswoman Jean Porter listed past and recent actions by Fischer.
“Mayor Fischer has worked since the start of his administration to improve conditions for Black Louisvillians. And he said repeatedly that his goal in the Breonna Taylor case is to get to the truth. He’s as frustrated as anyone about the time it’s taking, and the fact that state law and a union contract limit transparency and swift accountability,” she said. “In the days since this tragedy, he has taken several bold steps toward reimagining public safety, including a leadership change at LMPD, the ban on no-knock warrants, expanded requirements on use of body cameras, and an immediate push to create a strong independent civilian review board. And he knows, as these former colleagues suggest, it isn’t enough. We must do more, and we will.”
Another former Metro employee, Rashaad Abdur-Rahman, described Fischer’s actions as “performative progressivism.”
He questioned whether protest — an American right Fischer has repeatedly stated support for since May — is truly welcome in Louisville, based on what he described as the police’s inappropriate and violent response to demonstrators.
“That’s the piece that allows us to say that we’re a progressive city while still pumping $190 million into our police department, right?” Abdur-Rahman said. “There are just like some really obvious ways that we’re not engaging in more progressive work while still being able to say that we’re progressive.”
While Louisville’s Metro Council has final say over the city’s budget, Fischer did not call for decreasing police funding even as protesters in the streets demanded it.
Abdur-Rahman was director of Louisville’s Office for Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods until this spring. He now runs a consultancy called the Racial Healing Project, which works with organizations to address systemic racism.
He said Louisville needs to work toward a more comprehensive “anti-racism” framework, which involves rethinking its significant investment in police. Meanwhile, he said departments like the Center for Health Equity and the Office for Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods are already doing some of that work.
He called on Fischer to walk the walk — now.
Abdur-Rahman said Fischer should demilitarize the police response to protesters and prove that Louisville is a city that welcomes democratic discourse.
Thinking today of John Lewis and his inspirational and courageous lifelong leadership in the fight for civil rights, justice and equity. May we all be willing to engage in “good trouble” to achieve his dream.
— Mayor Greg Fischer (@louisvillemayor) July 18, 2020
Yvette Gentry, a former deputy chief of police and former chief of community building under Fischer, said in a statement she is “frustrated” by some leadership decisions that widened divides among Louisvillians.
Gentry said it took protests and external pressure from groups including Black Lives Matter, Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression and others to set up a moment for change that internal pressure could not achieve. She is now executive director of the Rajon Rondo Foundation and project director for Black Male Achievement for Metro United Way.
“Now, it is time for action. Mayor Fischer has been provided a pathway towards better outcomes for black and poor communities from black activists, black community leaders and black police officers among others. The last two years of his term will define his legacy. He should take the advice of those of us who have the institutional knowledge and the lived experience to improve the living, working and health conditions for black people in this community. His legacy is tied directly to what he can accomplish for us, nothing else can or will right his ship,” Gentry wrote.
Gentry said she believed Fischer has the capacity to do what’s right, and that she looks forward to seeing him take bold steps to that end.
“The Mayor remains steadfast in his belief that the only way to improve our city and nation is by working together,” said Porter, Fischer’s spokeswoman, in a statement.
This story has been updated to include comment from a spokeswoman for Mayor Greg Fischer.