Kentucky state Rep. Lisa Willner (D-Louisville) is proposing changes to the state’s definition of “rioting” after Louisville Metro Police charged Attica Scott–the state’s only Black woman representative–with the Class D felony while she was participating in protests for racial justice.
“Tomorrow I will be filing a new bill request for us to define ‘rioting’ so that what happened to Attica Scott, what happened to Ashanti Scott, what happened to Shameka Parrish-Wright, while they were seeking sanctuary, cannot happen again,” Willner told reporters during a Sunday press conference in Jefferson Square Park.
Instagram video Scott recorded in the minutes leading up to her arrest shows police detaining her, her daughter Ashanti Scott, and protest organizer Parrish-Wright Thursday night as they were trying to reach First Unitarian Church of Louisville just before the 9 p.m. curfew.
The three were charged with first-degree rioting. The arrest citation says Scott was part of a group that “caused extensive damage at multiple locations including setting fire to the Louisville Public Library.”
Scott continues to deny the charges, noting that she has been a fervent advocate for library funding in the state legislature.
“How dare the LMPD say that I was trying to burn down our library!” she said Sunday. “Absurd! Give me a break! Come up with some better lies!”
There is no indication in Scott’s video that she or the members of her group participated in the attack on the library, or were even aware of it.
Under Kentucky state statute, “A person is guilty of riot in the first degree when (a) he knowingly participates in a riot; and (b) in the course of and as a result of such riot a person other than one of the participants suffers physical injury or substantial property damage occurs.”
First-degree rioting is a Class D felony, which is punishable by up to five years in prison. It’s the same level of offense Brett Hankison faces for wanton endangerment of Breonna Taylor’s neighbors. Those convicted of rioting can lose their right to vote.
Facing criticism over the police response on Thursday, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer appeared to double down on the charging decision Friday afternoon, saying peaceful protesters in a group where some people are engaging in violent or destructive behavior should “separate from that group or you will be subject to arrest.”
Police have brought at least 64 rioting charges against protesters since May 29, according to LMPD records. The most rioting charges brought in one night was on Thursday, when Scott was among 15 charged with the offense.
Louisville-based state lawmakers also urged Mayor Fischer to lift the 9:00 p.m. to 6:30am county-wide curfew that is set to expire Monday morning.
“Lift this arbitrary curfew,” Rep. Nima Kulkarni (D-Louisville) said, calling on Fischer. “It’s being used as a pretense by law enforcement to arrest protesters exercising their constitutional rights.”
Willner, who is a member of First Unitarian Church, said the curfew order is creating the standoff scenario between protesters seeking refuge in the church, and police who have surrounded it for the past three nights.
Some protesters say they have been arrested for breaking curfew after leaving the church to return home, or retrieve their belongings from Jefferson Square Park.
Protester Aundrea Anderson said she was arrested Thursday while she was trying to collect her belongings at Jefferson Square Park. This was after a two-hour stand-off at First Unitarian Church that ended when protest organizers told protesters they had reached an agreement with police that they would not be arrested for breaking curfew if they went back to collect their belongings and then went home.
“I got locked up because of the curfew, even though we were told we could come back here to get my stuff,” she said. “The things that we are doing, it’s not unlawful. We are out here in the streets trying to get justice.”
Court records show police arrested Anderson for an “unspecified misdemeanor,” which the state defines as “any misdemeanor not covered by” other existing codes for misdemeanors.
Police say they arrested 25 people Saturday night. Of those, 14 had “breaking curfew” listed as their only charge.