After two weeks where Louisville Metro Police largely ditched the riot gear and stood watch over protests, the tone changed Monday evening and officers resumed firing pepper balls to disperse crowds.
Police declared an unlawful assembly shortly after 7 p.m. on Ninth Street, where a group of protesters was blocking the roadway. The actions came shortly after demonstrators blocked an entrance to Interstate 64, and after a news crew from WLKY shared video of a man throwing a brick through the windshield of the news vehicle.
Our crew just got attacked as we were trying to leave. We’re okay and I recorded the entire thing. I can tell you things are definitely not peaceful in the downtown area today @WLKY #Louisvilleprotests #DavidMcAtee #BreonnaTaylor pic.twitter.com/nnlv0lX34k
— Shaquille Lord (@ShaqWLKY) June 15, 2020
Police warned media and others to stay out of the area.
Due to aggressive behavior of demonstrators downtown, including road blocks, trapping vehicles, and violent behavior, please stay out of the area!
— LMPD (@LMPD) June 15, 2020
A live feed from the protest showed a line of roughly 50 LMPD officers advancing on a group of protesters, and an officer shoved and detained a woman before they began firing gas and pepper at the retreating crowd.
Sometime after 9 p.m., live streams on social media showed a protester encouraging crowds to stay calm. She got them to chant as she appeared to talk to the police. Identified in one feed as Lubbrea M. Carter, she told the crowd that the police officers would leave.
“Nobody follow them,” she said as the protesters began to applaud. “They gonna leave and they gonna let us do what we do.”
Police did back down and leave. Protest organizers then called for everyone to stay peaceful and safe. They chanted “our streets” as they returned to their march.
During a media briefing, Mayor Greg Fischer said he supports the First Amendment right to protest.
“But public safety must come first. We cannot have vehicles blocked from passing on the road safely, and we cannot have destruction and we cannot have violence,” he said. “Our citizens absolutely want that and I know the vast majority of the protesters also want these safe and peaceful conditions.”
Around 11:18 p.m., an LMPD spokesperson told WFPL at least seven people had been arrested so far.
Monday morning, protesters said they witnessed two incidents of vehicles hitting protesters, including one involving a police officer, in downtown Louisville at the intersection of Sixth and Jefferson.
Protester Michael Pyles said they had camped out at Jefferson Square Park overnight and were protesting peacefully when he got hit by an officer in his car.
“I watched him look at his back up cam and he ran right into me, literally,” Pyles said. “So I hit his car. He gets out like, don’t be touching my car and I’m like, dude you just hit us.”
Pyles said there was also a man in a car with a large gun threatening protesters. He said he doesn’t feel safe out there.
During a press briefing Monday afternoon, Louisville Metro Police Chief Robert Schroeder said he wasn’t aware of the incident involving a police car, but they have detectives looking into a few events from the morning protests.
Schroeder showed footage of protesters in the street, during which one car slows down, then drives into several protesters, pushing one up onto the hood. Schroeder said there was a disagreement with Metro employees and protesters, who had set up a camp in Jefferson Square Park. He believed the protesters were trying to block traffic.
“Eventually the protesters did open up the streets, which we appreciate,” Schroeder said. “Again, I want to say that we are fine with protesters using Jefferson Square Park for protest. But we need that space to stay safe for everyone.”
This story has been updated.
Correction: A previous version of this story said the police deployed tear gas Monday evening. An LMPD official said they only deployed pepper balls.