When Sam Avery gets dressed before attending a march or protest, he always wears the same thing.
“It’s a bright, iridescent green vest and it says ‘peacekeeper’ on it,” Avery said.
And Avery isn’t the only one. There are about 30 trained volunteer “peacekeepers” in Louisville.
If you’ve attended a march or protest in Louisville recently — including the Women’s Rally on Sunday, which is where Avery was observing — you’ve probably seen at least one of the peacekeepers.
“There’s an organized group of peacekeepers in Louisville,” Avery said. “We are all trained to do this. We work with the police, often. We also direct traffic or just keep people safe who are in a march, let’s say. Keep them within bounds, so that people know what they are supposed to be doing.”
Lois Luckett was another peacekeeper standing by at the Women’s Rally. She said a big part of her work is keeping an eye out for people who look like they want to cause trouble.
“A lot of what we do is to make a distance if some counter-protesters come, to keep our folks from engaging,” Luckett said. “We have as little conflict as possible.”
She thought such a situation was about to happen earlier in the day.
“I was standing here and I was looking at a man who didn’t look like he fit in,” Luckett said. “He kept standing at the edges of the crowd. He kind of pulled his coat closer and I’m like ‘Uh oh, he looks like he has a gun.’”
Luckett decided to go stand next to him and strike up a conversation. She didn’t escalate the situation, but started asking him questions — then she found out more about who he was.
“He was the mayor’s bodyguard,” she said.
But Avery said Luckett’s instinct in the moment was right.
“If we see someone out of order, what we’ll do mostly is just go talk to them,” Luckett said. “We will try to remove them from the scene. We will try to avoid them becoming a point of focus of the group. The best thing to do is to talk to them, to see what is on their mind.”
Avery said this is how the peacekeepers ensure that whatever message protesters have rallied for is what gets heard.