Metro Louisville
J. Tyler Franklin | wfpl.org

Shameka Parrish-Wright is one of eight candidates in the Democratic primary for Louisville mayor. She is a community organizer and nonprofit leader.

Learn about the rest of the candidates here.

This interview was edited for clarity and length.

Over the last two years, Louisville has seen a record-breaking spike in homicides and gun violence. What do you think of the Fischer administration’s programs to combat violent crime, like the Group Violence Intervention initiative, and what would you bring to the table?

I’m a gun violence victim and a gun violence survivor, so this is very important to me. I’ve also lived in neighborhoods where gun violence was prevalent every day. 

The violence has come from a lack of resources. When we tie it back to equity, regardless of someone’s race, everybody wants something tangible, and that’s even the people who are committing this type of violence. We also have very lax gun laws. A mayor can make some provisions and use their influence in some ways, but it has to happen at the state level. So making sure our lobbyists from Jefferson County have that in their tool bag to deal with in Frankfort, is how we can deal with these gun laws. The Second Amendment is something that we’re gonna have to fight for a long time to make a huge difference in a gun-toting state like ours. 

Maybe Louisville Metro Government can confiscate guns and have them destroyed, instead of sending them upstate and having them recommissioned. We have to stop that process. I’m all for recycling, reuse and reduce, but not when it comes to our guns

As far as the violence we see everyday, what we’ve noticed is things like what Dr. Eddie Woods of No More Red Dots is doing works. Things that the Office of Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods is doing work. I will not try to gut any of those programs, I will try to support them. Open up 24-hour community centers across the county. Different ones will have translation services, have transportation services, and have mobile trauma response units that expand upon what they’ve already set up. These units will come in even when nothing is going on and talk to the youth about conflict resolution.

The last thing is reopening The Living Rooms, having at least four Living Rooms across the city. The concept is bringing someone who is in a distraught moment and might be having a bad night. There’s a therapist there, there’s a medical professional, there’s somebody to help them with trauma. Maybe they just need to relax, they just need to cool off. Maybe they need to get their own place. So someone can help with housing, temporary shelter if needed. 

What’s different between the gun violence that happens in the West End and gun violence that happens on River Road? There’s more resources. They have a way to immediately deal with that situation, or they’re connected enough that they can get that person the services they need. If we bring all the communities up to that level, we will see gun violence go down.

In 2020, Louisville Metro Council approved a new civilian review board and inspector general to provide more police oversight. What do you think of the police accountability reforms that are already in the works, and what would you propose to increase accountability and community trust?

Accountability is why I was out there with the justice for Breonna Taylor movement. I think that the civilian review board needs more teeth, it needs more governing power. I will work to make sure of that. 

Now, I am a union person. I support unions. I’ve been a union dues-paying member. So I understand that opening up police contract negotiations is on the line of what’s feasible or not. But the police chief is paid more than anybody else in Metro Government. So, to me, that comes with a great deal of responsibility. That means I would work to make sure that those negotiations are open as much as possible. When it comes down to health benefits and things like that, I agree that that should be a little more closed off. But as far as what they’re getting, how they’re held accountable, their contract, that has to be open. We are not in a time where we make deals behind closed doors and in smoke-filled room. We cannot move forward in that way.

As mayor, the police are part of my staff. I will do my part for transparency and make sure that any police chief that plans to stay understands that. Our actions have to match our words.

Many Louisvillians have taken note of the rapid increase in the number of residents living on the streets or in encampments throughout the city. What is your plan ensuring these folks have access to housing?

I have been houseless, on the streets. I lived at Wayside Christian Mission on Jefferson Street. So I’ve always seen the houseless and I’ve seen the encampments multiply. There’s never been a time where there weren’t any encampments, but I think they’ve been moved around a lot. 

I’m glad Hope Village is opening and I want it to be able to take off like it needs to without any red tape from the city. (Note: Parrish-Wright’s comments preceded the news that The Hope Village’s opening is delayed.)

I want to make sure we have some place for people with mental health issues who can’t go to traditional shelters because of all the rules and regulations. It’s not easy living in a shelter. I remember all the financial literacy and programming they make you do. It was fine for me, because I’m a jump-through-the-hoops kind of person. But if you’re not, you’re gonna choose not to go into shelter. So increasing access to resources for houseless folks, making sure that we rehab homes and reducing the amount of people who are on the streets by putting people in housing with less red tape are all important to me. So is having a case manager. Having case management makes a difference, because what it takes for me to get there and what it takes for you to get there might be different.

Having a directly impacted person be in an executive role means that I’m going to listen and I’m going to have a team that listens in a way that we haven’t had before. I know what it’s like to go sign up for housing to wait outside the doors. And so making sure that we’re meeting people and those needs where they are at will make a difference. 

In that same vein, working residents across the city, and particularly in the West End, are concerned about gentrification. As mayor, how would you balance new development and redevelopment with the needs of residents who want to stay in their homes and not be priced out of their neighborhoods?

The numbers say we need over 30,000 affordable housing units in this city. So for me, it’s about repurposing and rehabbing. We have a lot of homes that just need some tender love and care. I will first make sure that we have a full assessment of properties that the city owns, properties that other folks own that can be fixed up and people can move in. Yes, I want to build affordable housing, but I want affordable housing in every ZIP code. And so we have to make sure that we’re assessing every part of the county.

Growth and development is definitely a positive. It’s just that when it’s done overtop of poor people or marginalized people, that’s when it hurts. Everybody wants something shiny and new, but they want to know they had a part in it, they want to know that you considered them. I believe in community benefits agreements. If you’re going to build or bring something to a community, let the community know, give them a chance to weigh in, hire people from the community and hire them in a real way. Local businesses, local developers, local builders, unionized businesses, those have to be first priority. 

Everybody in every community wants something new, but they don’t want it done on their backs. And that’s the way a lot of our developers have moved. Take a place like Smoketown. I went to their community meeting and they’re talking about how these new developments and redevelopments have made their housing go up. A house that was $60,000, maybe $80,000, is now $150,000. The same thing is happening in the West End. I should still be able to afford whatever you’re building in my neighborhood if I’m already living in that neighborhood. So maybe if I’m somebody that’s originally from that neighborhood, then maybe you need to give a price that is less. I think developers will be willing and should be willing to work with community leaders. I think as mayor, it’s my job to bring those folks together to make sure that that’s actually happening and to check in on it regularly.

In response to our audience survey, many people voiced concerns about Louisville’s dirty streets. They wrote about litter in public parks, in bike lanes and in neighborhoods. How would you address the need to literally clean up the streets?

I want to do the things that a mayor can do, which are tangible things around garbage pickup, making sure that the streets are clean. I will have a light up the alleyways initiative, where I want to make sure that the alleyways have solar power and they’re clean. People don’t want to do their dirt in a well-lit, clean place. And they will have motion-activated cameras, too. We want to make sure we can see, because there’s a big illegal dumping problem. Those are things a mayor can do that I’m excited to do and I’m excited to focus on.

I want to be a mayor that listens to communities. I will have monthly neighborhood meetings, which will be a place where we can say, “Hey, this is working, but this isn’t working,” and we can make those adjustments. We make promises, but people don’t know where they stand and so they think their issues aren’t being addressed. But we will update you and say, “In the next month or two, we’ll be working on improving your parks, making sure there’s trash cans for people to put the litter in.” Those are things where we have resources to start addressing them, they just haven’t been the priority.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently released a report saying it is “now or never” to avoid a climate catastrophe. What will you do to protect Louisville and its residents from the impacts of climate change, including the threat of increased flooding from severe weather events?

I think that we need a climate change plan that produces green jobs and is yearly. I don’t think we have time to wait until 2040, like the current plan. I think that we have to have incremental action steps and plans. 

I know that there’s some big folks that say recycling doesn’t make a difference, but it does for a lot of people and it makes them want to do something about climate change. So, I want to improve recycling. Somebody told me it took them two months to get an extra recycle receptacle. It shouldn’t be like that. You should be able to get those kinds of things easily. 

The most successful cities have figured out public transportation, and we will do that. Like I live in Shively and there’s no bus near me. But what can we do to improve that, so folks in Shively can catch the bus more? I think TARC can be improved. TARC has its own budget, but we can work to offset that to make sure there’s connections to child care centers and things like that. We need more walkable options, more unified places where people can use multiple transit services, and that way that they’re not all driving. If I want to tell people to get out of their cars and to ride the bus more, then we have to create more viable options for them to do that. 

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL.