Louisville residents held a social justice fair at Jefferson Square Park on Friday, the one-year anniversary of the first day of mass demonstrations protesting the police killing of Breonna Taylor.
A few dozen people gathered in the park Friday afternoon to commemorate the anniversary with expressions of joy, hope and art. Residents passed out boxed lunches and barbecue, and gave free haircuts. Folks blew bubbles and drew chalk art on the sidewalks as Louisville poet Hannah Drake recited a poem for the crowd.
Fair organizer and mayoral candidate Shameka Parrish-Wright says one year ago, people weren’t ready for a fair. Louisville Metro Police officers killed Taylor months earlier, and all the officers involved were still on the payroll.
“A year ago it was all about our anger, people putting their bodies on the line, people were willing to die to show LMPD we weren’t taking it anymore,” Parrish-Wright said.
Following a year of demonstrations, speeches, memorials, arrests and deaths, three officers involved in the raid that killed Taylor have been fired. A fourth has since left the department. But only one has been criminally charged: Brett Hankison faces charges of wanton endangerment for shooting into an apartment next to Taylor’s.
The lack of accountability has left Louisville’s racial justice community wanting, especially after watching former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin convicted for killing George Floyd.
Friday’s event was about connecting new people with the ongoing social justice work in the community, including food assistance, housing and police reform, Parrish-Wright said. And for the first time since the anniversary of Taylor’s death in March, a memorial with flowers, posters and a painting of Taylor was restored at the center of the square.
Parrish-Wright is the co-chair of the Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, and one of the core organizers of last year’s protests at Jefferson Square Park. She was there most nights for months, organizing food, helping arrested protesters post bail, keeping calm and occupying the square — until the night protest photographer Tyler Gerth was shot and killed there. That night, police cleared the square of tents and city officials threw them in a dumpster.
Parrish-Wright said Friday was the first time she’d actually applied for a permit to hold an event at the square, marking a change in the way she wants to participate with the city and the community.
Over the last year, Parrish-Wright said she’s seen gains and she’s seen losses, but the city has yet to do away with police violence.
“So I think what people are saying is enough is enough, we have to deal with the police violence,” Parrish-Wright said.
Reflecting back on policy changes made in the wake of last year’s protests, Keturah Herron, a policy strategist with the ACLU of Kentucky, said Metro Council’s passage of Breonna’s Law as the largest policy gain made as the result of racial justice demonstrations. That ordinance banned no-knock warrants in Jefferson County.
“And I think that since then we have seen other changes; however, what we were able to do here locally in Louisville was the biggest change we’ve seen in the last year,” Herron said.
Protest organizer Amber Brown says that for her, the largest gain made in Louisville’s justice movement was the community that has formed in response to the challenges facing the city’s black, brown and impoverished communities.
“So you know what? Big bet, we’re going to show you how to do it, and how to do it effectively and sustainably so then when it’s time to abolish the system to create new ones, we already know how to do it,” Brown said.