Metro Louisville

The city of Louisville is again cleaning out Jefferson Square Park, the hub of the racial justice movement that sprang up in response to the police killing of Breonna Taylor in 2020.

Protesters haven’t been filling the park, nicknamed “Breonna’s Square” or “Injustice Square” lately. But a small group of people without permanent homes had an encampment there until they were cleared out Monday.

Vincent James, Louisville’s Chief of Community Building, said during the first meeting of the city’s new Downtown Revitalization Team there were 13 people who had been camping in the park. The city worked with homeless outreach workers to relocate the campers, officials said in a press release.

James said the city would begin removing tents and “sanitizing” the park.

“We’ve had a plan in place and we’ve executed the plan to engage with the folks and provide them necessary resources for them to be able to make healthy transitions in their lives at a difficult point in their lives,” James said.

This isn’t the first time the city has cleaned out the downtown park since protesters began occupying it last summer.

Following a cleanup last year that involved removing protesters’ possessions with a backhoe, the city issued an apology for dumping items at a waste center.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer formed the Downtown Revitalization Team earlier this year, announcing during his State of the City address that the group would “identify and prioritize actions to speed the recovery of downtown” following the pandemic. Many office buildings in the Central Business District emptied out last year as employees shifted to telework, and industries such as hospitality and dining suffered losses due to public health restrictions.

In a statement on Monday, Fischer said the conditions of Jefferson Square had “become increasingly unsanitary” and that city was responding by removing tents, firewood and other materials.

He wrote that “conversations continue on how to appropriately address memorials in the park.”

“Our goal overall is for Jefferson Square Park to once again be safe and accessible for all residents, as well as a sacred space for people to grieve the lives lost,” Fischer said.

During the Downtown Revitalization Team meeting, Louisville Metro Council member Anthony Piagentini (R-19) voiced support for the cleanup, saying the city needs to “enforce the law and keep the park open and clean.”

“Jefferson Square Park is a metaphor for projecting our ability to maintain a clean downtown area, and enforce existing laws, not just new ones,” Piagentini said.

Louisville Metro Police Chief Erika Shields said the city is still trying to come up with a solution that “is sensitive to what the square stands for.”

“We recognize the existing model is not representative of what the park has stood for this past summer, so how can we get to a space that is reflective of that?,” Shields said.

In November, memorials for Breonna Taylor, David McAtee and Tyler Gerth were moved from Jefferson Square to Louisville’s Roots 101 African American History Museum.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.