On a warm Sunday near the end of August, members of Black Lives Matter Louisville and supporters gathered around long tables in a church meeting room. On the agenda: the #Lville2Cville rally and march Aug. 13 — and the actions of Louisville Metro Police. Specifically, they were upset that officers brandished long, wooden batons and bumped protesters with moving police vehicles. Their complaints have prompted an investigation by the department’s Professional Standards Unit.
Even the mayor claims to be disturbed by what happened.
Among those at the rally was Julie Sullivan, accompanying the group in her car because she could not walk with the marchers. She said that, as she got close to Shelby Street and Broadway, she saw the officers arm themselves with batons.
“I see one of the officers get the baton out, and he’s dancing around with this stick. Then, he goes, ‘Let’s do this’ or ‘Let’s go.’ It was very aggressive. Then, I see all the batons coming out, and I start videotaping,” she told the group at the church.
For their part, the police have denied culpability, saying in a statement that they had used regular procedure “to form a physical and visual barrier of police cars and officers in order to safely guide this routing, including the use of officers carrying long sticks.”
They claimed the sticks were not meant to intimidate, although Sullivan’s claim about officer behavior and the documented historical evidence and racial implications of these weapons, suggest otherwise.
Mayor Greg Fischer followed up later in a statement that complimented both the “behavior” of the protesters and the officers, and said he asked for a review of how police handle future marches.
He repeated the police assertion that the batons were meant to be used as barriers, to keep the marchers on the sidewalk, but he also said what he saw was troubling.
“I appreciate, though, that the batons prompted feelings of fear and mistrust among many of the marchers, their families and friends, as well as some who saw the images later. That’s a reality we cannot ignore,” he said in a statement. “I also ask our marchers to maximize effective communication and cooperation with LMPD, with peace, safety and constitutional rights for all being the guiding values.”
“Peace, safety and constitutional rights.” These are the very problems with LMPD’s behavior at this march and in interactions with communities of color on a regular basis.
The overall experience of the march was positive. The problems were not with the crowd. The problem was Louisville police.
LEO Weekly’s own Barkeep Confessions columnist Kelsey Westbrook described how a police cruiser was used to harass a woman as she marched.
“Things kind of escalated — especially when one girl, in particular, kept getting bumped by a patrol car. It was really disturbing. She was actually walking down the street with her hands up. She had no fear whatsoever,” Westbrook said. One of Westbrook’s friends motioned to the officer that he had hit someone. “The cop just shrugged his shoulders and smiled.”
Jessi Wiggers added that she saw the police bump the young woman with the car. “I don’t know, I guess there’s something in me that’s like, ‘This is going to get worse before it gets better,’” she said. “It is so important that we don’t escalate things [as white allies] because it’s not us that is going to be injured. We’re supposed to put our bodies in between violence against black and brown bodies.”
The actions of these officers — and others nationwide involved in documented violence against black and brown people — highlight a greater issue. The police in America are not here to help. Their role is one of control and intimidation, particularly of black and brown bodies. This will not change anytime soon, but will be exacerbated by Donald Trump’s decision to renew their access to military equipment.
This particular march reinforces that officers are agents of state control, not “law” enforcement.
The LMPD officers felt this march was an appropriate place to compensate for their egos with the size of their batons and to weaponize their vehicles to corral a peaceful crowd that included young children.
It’s a shame that marchers needed to look over their shoulders to feel safe — not from criminals but from cops.
State Rep. Attica Scott was among those marching that day. When I asked her about the investigation into how the police handled themselves, she was not optimistic.
“It’s not like I have any hope that there will be any real disciplinary action taken against the officers in charge for deciding to have a violent stance against peaceful protesters,” Scott said. “At the least, the very minimum, if the chief hasn’t already verbally reprimanded the officers in charge, that should happen and there should also be a written reprimand.”
When asked about the charges that the cops used vehicles as weapons against the crowd, Scott mentioned how Heather Heyer was killed by a neo-Nazi’s car in Charlottesville.
“If law enforcement and community are truly to work together, that’s not the way it happens. It doesn’t happen with police using violent imagery against peaceful protesters,” said Scott. “… And not against protesters who experienced the collective trauma of Heather Heyer getting mowed down by a white supremacist.”
Scott said the police were given video taken during the Aug. 13 march that shows the woman being bumped by the police cruiser.
“I encourage people who were at the march to file their complaint with LMPD. We cannot let this go without responding. Part of our responsibility is to file those complaints,” she said.
“LMPD should be prepared for the fact that this is not where it began and it’s not where it ends — especially in this political climate we have locally, across the Commonwealth and across the country. There will continue to be peaceful protesters; there will continue to be marches; there will continue to be rallies, as we have the right to do,” said Scott.
“LMPD needs to be prepared for that and they need to look at their tactics and question and change the way in which they respond.”
For this type of police aggression to continue without official reproach and revision is inexcusable and destroys chances for the civility that Fischer claims to want. That a police officer would use his car to tap protesters one day after a woman was killed by a car in a protest tells me the investigation should extend deep into the members of the force and their connections.
What will happen to the officers, chief and Mayor Fischer, who are responsible for police protocols in Louisville? Perhaps voter and public pressure can implore Fischer and his police to live up to their compassionate claim and truly fix a broken system. •