A coalition of activist groups is renewing their calls against the Kentucky Derby, a day before the 146th running at Churchill Downs.
Groups including Until Freedom and the Justice and Freedom Coalition are planning to protest near the track during Saturday’s races, which will be held without fans because of the coronavirus pandemic. Standing on Central Avenue Friday, organizers criticized what they called a provocative response from the city.
“Our reality is that it seems like nobody cares,” said Pastor Mario Martin of the Justice and Freedom Coalition. “How? Because they say ‘We’re going to allow peaceful protest.’ But then if you turn around and look, you see tanks. You see soldiers to stand in opposition to that.”
Martin pointed to large military-style vehicles behind the group, as well as fencing.
“This is a dramatic response to nothing,” said Pastor Timothy Findley of the Justice and Freedom Coalition. “This is a ridiculous response. And I want to say this on the record. It does not matter to me how many times people get on television and say ‘we respect your right to protest.’ This is not respecting our right to protest.”
In a media briefing Friday afternoon, Louisville Metro Police Department Assistant Chief LaVita Chavous said the department was using the same crowd control measures it does every year.
“We install fences every year,” she said. “And part of the reason we install fences is for crowd control and management. We have vehicle traffic going up and down Central Avenue, so that is a mechanism to be able to control the crowd so they don’t get hurt or accidentally step into the roadway.”
Chavous also said LMPD did not have tanks near the racetrack, but was using armored vehicles.
Gov. Andy Beshear has also authorized the Kentucky National Guard to be in Louisville for the first time since June, when National Guard members shot and killed local restaurant owner David McAtee. The National Guard is typically in the city for Derby; this year, Beshear said there will be a smaller presence than usual. 130 guard members will be assigned to traffic control and access control points.
The groups are calling for the Derby to be canceled out of respect for the family of Breonna Taylor, who is still waiting for answers from Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s investigation of the March 13 police shooting that killed her. But they’re also calling for a greater examination of how Louisville has failed Black communities — and for action to follow.
“This is not stopping. We want justice. We want development. We want resources,” Findley said. “And if this is going to be the compassionate city that we’ve called it, then we’ve got to put some action behind those words.”