Anticipating the “potential for civil unrest,” Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer barricaded downtown, amped up law enforcement and implemented a dusk to dawn curfew ahead of a big announcement in the Breonna Taylor investigation.
In the days that followed, police arrested more than 200 protesters, including the state’s only Black female legislator, Rep. Attica Scott; her 19-year-old daughter, Ashanti Scott; and organizer Shameka Parrish-Wright with the Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression.
The curfew ended Monday night, though the increased police presence and traffic restrictions downtown continued through Wednesday. Fischer said the curfew served its purpose to help keep people safe.
But civil rights advocates and protesters say the city’s actions served another purpose: they suppressed speech, and appeared to target protesters not for what they did, but for what they had to say about the Mayor’s office and LMPD’s handling of the Breonna Taylor case and subsequent protests.
“I truly believe that the curfew was a setup,” said Attica Scott. “It was a way to try and harass and incarcerate as many people as they could.”
In response to questions about the fairness of the curfew and arrests, a spokeswoman for the mayor said the curfew applied to all of Jefferson County — “and most businesses and residents complied with the order.”
“LMPD practice has been to give warnings on curfew violations and ask people to head home,” said city spokesperson said Jessica Wethington. “Arrests come when multiple warnings are ignored.”
Protesting Police Brutality
Ashanti Scott assumed when she was arrested last week that the charge was a curfew violation.
It wasn’t until she was sitting inside a holding cell with her mother and Parrish-Wright that she learned she and the others in her group were charged with rioting, a class D felony punishable by up to five years in prison, she said.
Minutes before curfew on Thursday, Scott, her mother and Parrish-Wright left their car and walked about three blocks toward the First Unitarian Church, which offered protesters sanctuary.
They were stopped by a line of police on Fourth Street who prevented them from entering the church and told them to turn around. They did, then police encircled and arrested them.
Louisville Metro Police said officers arrived on the scene to arrest people who had smashed a window and thrown a flare into the Louisville Free Public Library. LMPD said in an arrest report Scott and others were part of a large group that caused damage to the library and did not follow orders to disperse.
“Subjects caused extensive damage at multiple locations including setting fire to the Louisville Public Library,” the report states.
However, Scott’s own livestream shows she was on the opposite side of the library from where the damage occurred. The livestream shows her walking with a group, getting surrounded and then told to sit on a curb.
“To try to accuse me of setting fire to the downtown library in the district that I serve, District 41, that I fought for funding for, just goes to show they were grasping at straws,” Scott said.
Police charged them rioting, unlawful assembly and failure to disperse.
Lmpd have arrested Rep. Attica Scott, author of Breonna’s law pic.twitter.com/Gla14x8Es6
— Ryan Van Velzer (@RyanVanVelzer) September 25, 2020
Ashanti Scott, Attica Scott and Parrish-Wright all say they were not read their rights or questioned in regards to their alleged crimes.
Following her release, Attica Scott received a call from Fischer. He said he’d heard some disturbing things about her arrest, she said.
Shortly after, Fischer held a press conference warning that protesters who are too close to people who commit acts of vandalism could also be arrested, and should “separate” themselves.
“He did try to double down on the police narrative that if I didn’t do it myself, then I was in the vicinity of someone who did,” Scott said. “[Officers] Cosgrove and Mattingly were in the vicinity of Breonna Taylor’s murder, but they haven’t been arrested.”
Scott and Parrish-Wright said they believe police knowingly and purposely targeted them for arrest because they’ve been critics of policing in Louisville.
Targeting Protesters For Speech
Parrish-Wright is a longtime Louisville political organizer and co-chair of the Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression. She was one of the first organizers to call for an occupation of Jefferson Square Park in the early days of the protests. She’s also the operational manager for the Bail Project, a non-profit that pays cash bail for people who cannot afford it ahead of a trial date. The organization has helped to bail out protesters.
“With the way that they stacked these charges on us and the way that it looks and how we were cornered, yes, I believe we were targeted,” Parrish-Wright said. “In acts of war, you take out the resources… you take out the leaders because usually, if you take out the leaders, you neutralize everyone else.”
Attica Scott represents a section of Louisville that includes parts of the West End and downtown, where police arrested her. Throughout the protests, she’s been a critic of both LMPD and Fischer’s administration. She’s currently a plaintiff in an ACLU lawsuit suing police for excessive use of force, she’s called for Fischer’s resignation and has authored a bill known as Breonna’s Law that would end no-knock warrants statewide amid other policing reforms.
“It’s retaliation against me being an outspoken critic of both administration and law enforcement and I truly believe their message is we are going to squash your dissent, quell your dissent, shut up the loudest critics,” she said.
In response to specific questions about the arrests, LMPD spokesperson Jessie Halladay directed WFPL News to the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office, which is reviewing the charges.
“We can say that no charges were made in retaliation for anything,” she said.
Parrish-Wright and Rep. Scott says they plan to fight the charges, but County Attorney Mike O’Connell could also choose to drop them. A spokesperson with O’Connell’s office said they will give deliberate and thoughtful review to Scott’s case and others.
Jon Fleischaker, an attorney who practices First Amendment law, said Scott’s arrest is a prime example of the constitutional concerns he has surrounding the protests. (Fleischaker represents Louisville Public Media.)
If you are implementing the curfew to arrest people who are leaders in the protest movement, political figures, reporters and other people recording, then that raises serious questions, he said.
“What that leads me to is… they are not acting for a legitimate reason, they are acting to stop the protest,” Fleischaker said. “And if they are acting to stop the protest that is constitutionally protected.”
In response to Thursday’s night police response near the church, The ACLU of Kentucky wrote the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office to say the curfew order likely violated First Amendment protections, including prohibiting protesters from gathering and journalists from observing those protests.
Ashanti Scott said she believes the curfew was designed to suppress the voices of protesters in downtown and parts of the West End. The curfew gave police the opportunity to arrest peaceful protesters who were exercising their First Amendment rights, she said.
“It’s an awful decision to make. I think especially after David McAtee was killed by the National Guard — that was due to the curfew. I think that the mayor should have consulted the community and found a better way to deal with the results of the Breonna Taylor case,” Ashanti Scott said.
Curfew inequitably applied?
Social media posts show life continued without much interruption on Saturday night in many of the city’s more affluent areas, including St. Matthews.
Nate Kramer said he lives around the corner from the nightlife on Frankfort Avenue in St. Matthews and took a lap around the area in his car after curfew.
“I saw majority white folks on the patio drinking beers and having their normal Saturday night fun,” Kramer said.
In an email, city spokesperson Jean Porter said customers are allowed on private property after curfew with the owner’s permission, but need to travel directly home when they leave.
Kate Miller, advocacy director for the ACLU of Kentucky, said that despite Fischer’s claims of public safety, the curfew order had the effect of criminalizing protesters’ behavior. Miller said she’s yet to see evidence curfews improve public safety.
Instead, she said the curfews increase tension, interactions with police and the potential for excessive use of force.
“I know plenty of parents I talk to who are fearful of going downtown to engage in protests, even though they want to, because they are frightened that they could be arrested and that that could impact the safety of their children,” Miller said.
In response to questions about unequal enforcement, Halladay said officers give multiple warnings before arresting people for violating curfew and fairly applied it across the county.
“Most of LMPD’s resources have been centered in the downtown business area, so that has been where most of the curfew enforcement has occurred,” Halladay said. “While we may not have been able to catch every person or business that violated curfew, we did fairly apply the order.”