Hundreds of people gathered in Jefferson Square Park in Louisville, Kentucky, on Tuesday, many wearing masks, some bearing signs with messages like “No More Excuses, No More Fear.”
They were there, like thousands around the country, to protest police violence in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May. But in Louisville, protesters are also mourning deaths closer to home. In March, Breonna Taylor, an EMT, was fatally shot in her apartment by police who were looking for someone else. And late on Sunday night, David McAtee, the owner of a local barbecue restaurant, was killed when law enforcement opened fire on a crowd.
“All he did on that barbecue corner is try to make a dollar for himself and his family,” McAtee’s mother, Odessa Riley, told the Louisville Courier-Journal. “And they come along and they killed my son.”
After McAtee’s death, Louisville Police Chief Steve Conrad was fired, and the FBI is investigating both McAtee’s and Taylor’s killings. And Louisville residents and others have continued to memorialize both. On Tuesday, they held a vigil at the corner where McAtee cooked, and his nephew has pledged to keep his business going. Meanwhile, some are planning to commemorate Taylor’s birthday on Friday by sending cards to the attorney general of Kentucky, demanding that he file charges against the officers who shot her.
Campaign organizer Cate Young is also asking supporters to post art, music, or poetry in Taylor’s honor on social media — “anything that will remind people that she lived and her life mattered,” Young writes. “Let’s make June 5th Breonna Taylor Day.”
Breonna Taylor was an essential worker when she was killed in her home by police
An EMT who wanted to be a nurse, the 26-year-old Taylor was an essential worker providing health care as the coronavirus pandemic worsened earlier this year.
Her mother, Tamika Palmer, told her, “make sure you wash your hands,” Palmer recalled to the 19th, which partnered with the Washington Post to cover the story of Taylor’s death.
Palmer didn’t think Taylor would be at risk in her own home. But late at night on March 13, Taylor was fatally shot by police in her Louisville apartment. The officers were investigating two people suspected of selling drugs, neither of whom was Taylor.
Police said the officers knocked on the door to announce themselves. But multiple neighbors say the officers neither knocked nor identified themselves, according to the family’s lawsuit. They also weren’t wearing body cams.
When police arrived, Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, says he woke up and believed someone was trying to break into the apartment. He fired a shot, hitting an officer in the leg. Police then fired more than 20 rounds into the apartment. Taylor was hit eight times and died at the scene.
Taylor’s family members, who are alleging excessive force and gross negligence in her death, filed suit on April 27 against the three officers involved in the shooting. Taylor’s family has retained Benjamin Crump, an attorney also working with the family of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed black man killed while jogging in February.
“If you ran for Ahmaud, you need to stand for Bre,” Crump told the 19th in early May.
Since then, Taylor’s death has gotten increasingly widespread national attention — especially after Floyd was also killed by police. As protests against police brutality spread around the country, demonstrators in Louisville have been remembering Taylor, as well as Floyd and others.
Louisville “community pillar” David McAtee shot after protest curfew
But authorities in Louisville, as in other cities, have also imposed curfews in response to protests in recent days. And on Sunday night, police and the National Guard were sent to a parking lot at 26th and Broadway in downtown Louisville on Sunday at about 12:15 am, according to NBC, to break up a crowd that had gathered after the 9 pm curfew.
Police say they began shooting after being fired on by the crowd. “Officers and soldiers began to clear the lot and at some point were shot at,” Conrad said in his statement on Monday. “Both LMPD and national guard members returned fire.”
McAtee, 53, was fatally shot. He owned a barbecue restaurant on the corner where the crowd had gathered. Riley, his mother, says he was a “community pillar,” known for giving free meals to police officers. “He left a great legend behind,” Riley told the Louisville Courier-Journal. “He was a good person.”
Several sources say the crowd in the parking lot was not actually protesting when police arrived. One bystander told reporters they were merely out past the city’s curfew. And McAtee’s sister told WAVE 3 News that McAtee and others meet in the area every Sunday night for food and music, and that her brother was serving food.
It is not yet clear who shot McAtee. In the wake of his death, his family called for officers’ body camera footage of the shooting to be released and for the National Guard to be pulled out of Louisville. But on Monday, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer announced that the officers had not recorded any footage. He also announced the firing of Conrad from his role as police chief. Conrad had already announced his upcoming retirement as attention to Taylor’s killing grew.
In addition to the FBI investigation, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear has ordered an independent investigation by state police. And protesters in Louisville and around the country are honoring both McAtee’s memory and Taylor’s. On Tuesday, demonstrators marched on the University of Louisville to demand it cut ties with the police.
On Monday, according to the Washington Post, people marched from the spot where McAtee was killed to Jefferson Square Park, with cars lined up honking in support — until police dispersed the crowd with tear gas.
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