Louisville Metro Police Department swept through protest encampments in the early hours of Friday morning after protesters threw bottles, lit fireworks, set fires and smashed windows.
Police used pepper balls and long-range acoustic devices (LRAD) against protesters, arrested 56 people for failure to disperse, disorderly conduct and other charges including charges stemming from the use of explosive devices, said Acting Police Chief Robert Schroeder.
“We continue to value the voices of protesters who continue to protest and demonstrate their feelings, but we simply cannot just cannot tolerate the destruction we saw last night,” Schroeder said.
Police, protester and video accounts show protesters setting off fireworks downtown around Jefferson Square Park after returning from a march. Police say windows were broken and fireworks were thrown at Metro Hall and the Louis D. Brandeis Hall of Justice.
Because of that, officers moved in to clear Jefferson Square Park temporarily. Later in the night, Schroeder said officers had bottles thrown at them and moved in to clear the park again.
Schroeder said officers found pipes and other evidence of “bomb-making materials” at the camp. The department has released footage showing protesters throwing fireworks, but has not released evidence of pipes or other alleged bomb-making materials.
“I believe you’ve been released some photos of what’s already released,” Schroeder said in response to a question about evidence of the materials.
A protester staying at the camp said he did see people setting off fireworks — including a powerful firecracker known as an M-80 — in the streets outside Jefferson Square Park. But he also said peaceful campers got caught up in the police sweep of the camp.
“They came over here with a purpose because of what other people was doing,” said Jaylen Hinkle, 19, “even though our protest over here was all peaceful.”
Hinkle said he was asleep when police rolled through the camp and woke him up with a handgun in his face.
“I’m in my tent sleeping. For y’all to come in there and I wake up and I got a Glock, I got a Glock 40 in my face, I was asleep,” Hinkle said.
Hinkle said police did not attempt to take down tents, but taped off the area for a period of time while conducting the sweep. The protest encampment was still in place this morning. As for the allegations of bomb-making materials, Hinkle said he did not see anything other than fireworks.
“They’re against us. You get what I’m saying? The law is against us right now. They knew it and we knew it so we’ve got to come together as a unit because what happened last night shouldn’t have happened,” Hinkle said.
Schroeder said LMPD officers went into the encampment in a “slow and methodical fashion” and gave peaceful protesters and bystanders time to disperse.
“We certainly saw that last night, definitely during the first interaction and most likely during the second interaction as well,” he said.
Schroeder also said there were also several fires set, including a large dumpster fire downtown and a tree in the Highlands that Schroeder said was set on fire by people participating in a caravan of protesters.
Thursday was the 22nd consecutive night of protests in Louisville related to the deaths of Breonna Taylor in Louisville and George Floyd in Minneapolis — both Black people killed by police officers.
Many of the nights have been peaceful, as protesters have gathered in Jefferson Square Park and sometimes marched around the city.
But there have also been instances of violence and destruction, and on several occasions police have used tear gas and pepper balls to control the crowds.
This story has been updated.