In a fourth consecutive night of protests in Louisville, hundreds filled Jefferson Square Park downtown shortly before the city’s temporary 9 p.m. curfew went into effect. The demonstrators were protesting the killing of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor in March by Louisville police, as well as other police killings of Black people like George Floyd in Minneapolis.
In the early evening Sunday, protesters moved between Broadway and Jefferson Square Park, occasionally blocking traffic. They chanted “hands up, don’t shoot,” while surrounded by about a hundred Kentucky State Police troopers in riot gear. Kentucky National Guard Humvees were present as well, and helicopters hovered overhead.
Around 8 p.m., protesters on bullhorns urged people with children under 12 to leave before the city’s curfew. Others appeared prepared to stay. The police declared the gathering an “unlawful assembly,” and around 8:20 p.m. tear gas filled the air.
At a briefing around 10:45 p.m., Mayor Greg Fischer accompanied by LMPD assistant chief of police LaVita Chavous addressed the question of why law enforcement began pushing back protesters with smoke and tear gas before the 9 p.m. curfew.
According to Chavous, law enforcement could deem the demonstration an “unlawful assembly” prior to curfew because the demonstrators didn’t have a permit and were blocking street access. She claimed that “people that were infiltrating the crowd for their own agenda.”
“We have allowed the no-street access simply to be accommodating to people and allow them to voice their opinions and views in a positive and peaceful way,” she said. “But I want you to know that LMPD could have legally taken those steps a lot earlier than we did. And it wasn’t until we became concerned for the safety of the community and the safety of our officers that we declared it to be an unlawful gathering.”
She said police witnessed people in the crowd with weapons, specifically leaf blowers and umbrellas that she said, “are oftentimes used to blow back chemicals into the police face, or to blow back the gas chemicals that we may use in an effort so that they can continue to be out there protesting and causing problems.”
On Twitter, Louisville Metro Council member Bill Hollander pushed back on some of Chavous’ comments.
“We can’t tell people to protest peacefully and, after the fact, say we can gas you anytime if you don’t have a permit,” Hollander tweeted. “The public deserves an investigation and report from an independent oversight system it can trust.”
During the 10:45 p.m. briefing Chavous said they had, at that point, made more than 40 arrests.