| Louisville Courier Journal
LMPD sets up blockades downtown ahead of Breonna Taylor case decision
Louisville is bracing for a decision in the Breonna Taylor case and blockades have been set up around downtown limiting traffic and access.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Police put up concrete barriers and fencing. The mayor declared a state of emergency. More businesses nailed plywood to their storefront windows.
Downtown Louisville’s preparations and closures seemed more reminiscent of an approaching hurricane than a grand jury decision.
Louisville is bracing for an anxiously awaited decision on whether any police officers will be charged in the March 13 shooting death of Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old unarmed Black woman fatally shot by police who has become a national symbol of racial injustice.
Downtown streets were eerily empty after police erected barricades Tuesday in a 25-block perimeter to limit car traffic, including around a park that’s been home to nearly four months of protests over the fatal shooting.
Protests in the city, since they began the last weekend in May, have remained largely peaceful, occasionally marred by violence, tear gas and pepper balls.
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Louisville Metro Police interim Chief Robert Schroeder said the restrictions, long planned amid “unprecedented times,” were meant to protect public safety, property, protesters and avoid conflicts between drivers and demonstrators.
Protesters will still be able to access downtown on foot to demonstrate, he said.
“In the community, we’ve all heard the rumors. We all know something is coming. We don’t know what it is,” said Schroeder, whose spokesman said Tuesday there had been no viable threats of violence.
“I hope all of this is not needed.”
Mayor Greg Fischer issued two executive orders Tuesday. One declared a state of emergency due to the potential for civil unrest, which allows him to exercise such emergency powers as enacting a curfew, and a second one restricts access to five downtown parking garages and on-street parking.
If large protests do erupt, police won’t use tear gas unless approved by the chief or deputy chief, or if gunfire erupts, police said — among several policy reforms enacted since the March 13 shooting of Taylor.
Federal security personnel have also reportedly been dispatched to protect Broadway’s federal courthouse, which closed for the week. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said the National Guard and Kentucky State Police could serve limited roles in a response.
“Our goal with these steps is ensuring space and opportunity for potential protesters to gather and express their First Amendment rights, & to prepare for any eventuality to keep everyone safe,” Fischer wrote on Twitter. He later called it a “difficult, tense time for all of us.”
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Additional restaurants, offices and retail businesses were scrambling to board up windows on Tuesday. A downtown school was closed, bus routes altered and a Ruth Bader Ginsburg vigil postponed.
The historic Seelbach Hilton said in an email to guests it was closed until further notice after the city “barricaded the downtown central business district.” The nearby Brown Hotel was open but some guests were canceling and checking out early.
“No matter what the decision is, large crowds are expected and we anticipate positive and strong police response,” the nonprofit Louisville Downtown Partnership wrote to members in an email. “Make plans to accommodate working remotely. … This is not only for the safety of your team but also to make LMPD’s job to manage any potential unrest much more manageable.”
Some protesters who have frequented Jefferson Square Park for nearly 120 days, where they’ve served food, played music and come together in prayer while demanding justice for Taylor, said the city seemed to be preparing for confrontation, not justice.
“I don’t believe you cage in any section of a city. That’s possibly one of the worst decisions they could make,” said Hannah Drake, a writer and activist.
“At some point, you need to be honest with why you’re putting these things up and what that says to a community that’s already facing so much trauma.”
Sadiqa Reynolds, president and CEO of the Louisville Urban League, said she lives downtown and thinks city officials must be “responding to some outside threat that the local protesters are unaware of.”
“There’s nothing in the planning of local protesters that would warrant this kind of response,” she said.
Fueling tensions Tuesday was news that Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly, one of the officers at the center of the Taylor shooting, had emailed fellow officers criticizing Fischer, the FBI and others while defending police actions the night Taylor died as “legal, moral and ethical.”
“You DO NOT DESERVE to be in this position,” he wrote of his fellow officers. “The position that allows thugs to get in your face and yell, curse and degrade you. Throw bricks bottles and urine on you and expect you to do nothing.”
Three officers — Mattingly, Myles Cosgrove and Brett Hankison — each fired their weapons while executing a search warrant on Taylor’s apartment in the early hours of March 13. Taylor’s boyfriend has said he didn’t know it was police when the door was rammed open, and fired his gun.
Taylor was killed by police during the raid, while Mattingly, a 20-year veteran of the force, was shot in the leg. Mattingly and Cosgrove are on administrative leave. Hankison was fired in June.
The city announced Sept. 15 a settlement to pay her estate $12 million and enact a range of policing reforms.
On Tuesday, the sounds of saws cutting plywood and nail guns could be heard along Fourth Street and elsewhere downtown, where officials have said the coronavirus pandemic has been blamed as the main driver of downtown’s economic woes.
Yet the first weekend of demonstrations in late May, which resulted in some smashed windows and looted stores, have left lingering worries.
Olivia Griffin, who owns The Limbo bar and The Mysterious Rack clothing store at the corner of Fourth and Chestnut streets, said she supports the protests — and is working to do more to “help the Black and brown marginalized community,” she said.
But she also supports the boarding up of buildings because damage or theft could put her out of business.
“I’m ready for it to end,” she continued. “I know however it ends, some bad stuff will happen, but there will be a relief to just have a conclusion. It’s been over 100 days of protests. She was murdered in March and we still don’t have a result. This is crazy.”
Tom Owen, a University of Louisville historian and former Metro Council president, said he couldn’t think of “anything comparable” to the duration of racial justice protests and this week’s preparations — in part because of their downtown focus.
He noted civil rights unrest in 1968 and the 1970s busing debate were centered outside of downtown.
“There has never been any (protests) as long and as intense in the city center — the recognizable heart of the city,” he said.
Some criminal defense lawyers have said it’s unlikely that the officers will be charged with murder, as protesters have demanded for months, and activists have asked Fischer to fire them if they aren’t indicted.
Reporters Sarah Ladd, Jonathan Bullington, Bailey Loosemore, Ben Tobin, Dahlia Ghabour, and Lucas Aulbach contributed to this report. Follow Chris Kenning on Twitter: @chris_kenning.