On Monday night, Louisville Metro Police declared the racial justice protests in Louisville an unlawful assembly, and ordered the crowd to disperse. During a tense standoff between police and protesters outside LMPD headquarters, one woman emerged from the crowd.
She was a protester, but not an organizer. She had no authority at all, but took it upon herself to try to negotiate a truce.
Lubbrea Carter is 30 years old. She works six days a week as a chef running her own business from her home in Old Louisville. On Monday, her one day off, she decided to spend the day downtown protesting for racial justice. The next night, in Jefferson Square Park, she told me her story.
“So, when God puts it on my heart to say go down there, I come down here. And on the days I’m blessed to come down here, on the days where things are a little wild, I’m much more pushing for safety. But protest as you please, do as you like because we have the freedom of speech,” Carter said.
For two weeks, the daily protests in Louisville had been relatively calm. But the tone changed Monday evening, as officers resumed firing pepper balls to disperse crowds. They arrested several people.
“It was a way different shift in the whole atmosphere. The wind was blowing different, the sun was beaming different. Even nature itself, everything was off …,” Carter said.
A line of riot police pushed protesters back to 7th and Jefferson in downtown, right beside police headquarters. Hundreds of protesters on one side; riot police on the other. A standoff ensued.
“I’m not going to lie, the spirit told me to go upfront and I went upfront and with me going upfront it does feel good to know that some of the police officers who do recognize my face know I’m not about drama or tearing up or anything like that. They know I’m about, ‘what can I do to get you to leave?’” she said.
Carter empties her pockets, holds up her hands and walks up to Interim Police Chief Robert Schroeder.
“I got introduced to Schroeder down on 26th,” Carter said. “Through the neighborhood. Sometimes I see him and now, since everything has gone crazy he’s like, ‘Hey’.”
Carter wants to know, “why are the police here?” and what can she do to make them leave.
“There’s no reason for you all to be here because you all bring anger. Y’all bring tension. When people see the police car, it’s not protect and serve. All they see is police, that’s alarm. That’s a fright … because you don’t know what’s going to happen, you don’t know if they are with you, or against you,” she said.
But at the same, Carter empathizes with Schroeder, the acting chief.
“I’m just saying he has to do his job, but there are feelings. Everybody has feelings on the inside. He’s not a bad person, but the things that he wants to take action on, there’s a process, there’s a role. When you have to sign a law, everybody has to agree on that law, not just one person,” Carter said.
The two begin to negotiate. Carter says Schroeder tells her police are there because some people have been targeting businesses, and hassling people who had nothing to do with the protest. Schroeder by the way, declined our interview request.
“And so I ask him, how do I get you to leave, that was the next question. So how can I get you to leave. And he said just let it simmer down and as long as they no longer advance us, we’ll leave, fair deal?”
The police start to back up. Protesters cheer, but then a commotion breaks out in an adjacent corner of the intersection. Officers start firing pepper balls and detaining people. Shortly after, they begin to fire a sound cannon, also known as an LRAD (Long Range Acoustic Device.”
“They were shooting the sound cannons off of the buildings, ricocheting and hitting the ground. You know how big those things are, if someone was to really get hit with that, that’s not going to be pretty,” she said.
To Carter, that was a sign the officers hearts were not in it.
“For them to physically tell me, ‘we’re not trying to shoot anybody with this, we don’t want to shoot nobody with this.’ That’s calm in my heart because that tells me they are ready to go home. They don’t even want to do it,” she said. “And this police unit believes that I can get calm. I’m able to calm them down, and I ask him to let me see if I can do it before anything else, and he’s like ‘go ahead’,” she said.
Carter steps back to talk with protesters. Her voice is powerful. In Facebook live footage, you can hear her yelling to protesters to let the police leave. She tells protesters to form a line to keep people from advancing toward police, but also to protect those behind. And she starts a chant: Leave, leave, leave, leave, leave, leave.
And sure enough, the police fall back.
Protesters applaud and trickle back into Jefferson Square Park.
“I asked God to move these people, touch each and every last one of these people, remove this anger, bring this tension down. There is love out here, there is grace out here, there is mercy out here,” Carter said.
For one night, Carter negotiated peace and reconciliation in the streets of Louisville.