As a crowd gathered in front of a giant mural featuring Breonna Taylor’s face in the Portland neighborhood Saturday afternoon, another group of protesters was dumping furniture, spray painted with messages decrying evictions, in the heart of downtown.
The concurrent yet not affiliated actions encapsulated two major concerns held by many Louisville residents — particularly worrisome for Black people, who make up much of the population in areas of the city where a large proportion of evictions take place.
At 11th Street and Main Street, a crowd of more than 100 gathered to dance to hip hop, release black balloons, eat barbecue and demand justice for Taylor, a Black woman killed by police in her home in March.
Michael Brown, Sr., the father of another young Black person killed by police, joined the Louisville rally to condole with Taylor’s family. His son’s death sparked massive demonstrations in Ferguson, Mo., and remains a symbol for many of an unjust taking of a Black life by police.
Sunday will be the sixth anniversary of Brown’s killing.
Brown said he may look fine to others, but he is dying on the inside.
“When you go through something like that, traumatic, it’s hard to get balance. Only thing you want is justice,” he said. “Anything that goes on that you think is consciously right, you want to be on board with it, and then when it fails, it breaks you even more.”
Saturday’s event was lively, like a block party, yet a number of supporters openly carrying weapons patrolled the perimeter, keeping an eye on passers-by and a helicopter circling overhead.
A social justice group called Until Freedom organized the event to mark the occasion of a number of its activist members moving to Louisville “for the foreseeable future.”
Linda Sarsour, one of the group’s cofounders, said they had arrived in Louisville Saturday. She said she was glad to see members of the “Louisville 87,” referring to a group of protesters arrested for protesting on the front lawn of Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s home last month. His office is reviewing the police’s internal investigation, but Cameron has not said when that may be complete. The FBI is also independently investigating the shooting.
“We are here because we have seen you on these streets for over 75 days, every single day, every single night,” Sarsour said. “You have continued to do this work and we are here to do this work with you.”
She said the group hopes to alleviate exhaustion and inject energy in order to draw the eyes of the world because Louisville is at the center of the conversation around racial justice and police brutality.
“Louisville is going to be a story in the history books, and we are here to make history with you,” said Sarsour, who is of Palestinian descent. “We are also here to stand up for a Black woman, to defend a Black woman, because you can’t be marching around the country talking about racial justice and Black lives matter if you cannot even get justice for one Black woman in Louisville, Ky.”
Louisville Metro Police killed Taylor after they raided her apartment in the middle of the night in an operation connected to a larger drug investigation focused on her ex-boyfriend. As they broke down the door, her boyfriend Kenneth Walker fired one shot, which he said was because he thought they were intruders. Taylor died when officers returned fire, striking her with five bullets. No drugs were found in her home.
Sarsour said they hope to send their message to leaders from America’s police leaders and mayors all the way up to the President.
Since late May, protesters have taken to the streets, demanding justice for Taylor. As some landlords resumed evictions this month following a pandemic-induced moratorium, some demonstrators have added housing security to their list of demands
By early evening, some supporters milled about the park nicknamed “Injustice Square,” which shares an intersection with the offices of the mayor, the Metro Council and the Hall of Justice. Protesters chanted, and spoke with police in riot gear across the street. A short time earlier, anti-eviction protesters dumped items such as mattresses, shelves and a television in the street.
One of the messages sprayed onto a mattress: “Louisville’s eviction rate is 2X the national average.”
LMPD spokeswoman Jessie Halladay said in an email that Public Works responded to move the items, which were piled on the sidewalk near City Hall by about 5 p.m. She said three people were arrested and one SUV towed related to the incident. Information about the charges against the people arrested was not immediately available.
update: In a statement early Sunday morning, LMPD spokesman Lamont Washington said a dozen protesters were arrested after paintballs were shot at motorists, trash cans were set on fire and property damaged at 4th Street Live Saturday night.