Metro Louisville

Protesters who have been livestreaming protests over racism and police violence in Louisville say they are being targeted by law enforcement after recent arrests of prominent livestreamers.

In separate incidents this week, Louisville Metro Police Department arrested Steph Townsell, known as MilkyMessTV, and Jason Downey, both of whom have been frequently livestreaming the events surrounding protests in Louisville over recent weeks. Both were released after a night in jail.

Antonio Taylor, the owner of WaveFM Online, says that livestreamers are being targeted while “mainstream” journalists aren’t.

“They know who we are, they do. They’re just targeting us because they don’t want the real truth to be out there. Because they have to re-track and recant all the lies that they tell,” Taylor said.

Livestreams by independent citizens have drawn thousands of viewers since they began in late May when people began taking to the street to protest the death of Breonna Taylor, an emergency room worker who was killed by police serving a no-knock warrant at her apartment in March.

LMPD officials held a meeting with a group of livestreamers on Friday, according to a video posted by Maxwell Mitchell.

During the meeting, Interim Louisville Police Chief Robert Schroeder denied that police are targeting livestreamers.

“We don’t know who the livestreamers are. You know, a lot of folks out there have their cameras up or their phones up and it’s hard for us to tell who is who,” Schroeder said.

Jason Downey said in a Facebook post on Thursday that “LMPD knows they are being live-streamed all over.”

“Officers point at me and call me out by name, they wave, hell when I was getting booked into Metro Corrections they said they knew I was coming because they saw me getting tackled while on live,” Downey wrote.

Now the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky is raising concerns about the arrests.

Kate Miller, advocacy director for the ACLU of Kentucky, says that citizen journalists are necessary to document police activity.

“LMPD recently having engaged in some pretty serious misconduct and certainly allegations of misconduct and did not have on their body cameras,” Miller said.

“So the fact that citizens are livestreaming the actions of law enforcement and they’re being removed or taken into custody is particularly alarming.”

Law enforcement did not have body cameras on when they raided Breonna Taylor’s apartment in March.

Nor did they have body cameras on early in the morning of June 1, when members of Louisville Metro Police Department and the Kentucky National Guard opened fire on a barbecue stand owned by David McAtee, ultimately killing him. State and local officials say McAtee fired at them first; the incident is still under investigation.

Mayor Greg Fischer fired Police Chief Steve Conrad after finding out that body cameras were not on.

Taylor, with WaveFM online, says independent livestreamers need to be “treated with the same respect that mainstream media is treated.”

“Let us do our job,” Taylor said.

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