Police in Lexington kneel, pray with protesters, Louisville man who sells barbecue dies as police try to clear crowd

[Ed. note: This story has been updated to reflect that authorities say David McAtee is shown on video firing a shot before he was killed.]

While Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer has pleaded for peaceful protest, he has allowed National Guard into the city and tacitly endorsed baton-wielding, tear gas-throwing, armored cops. 

For four days and nights, they have been shoving, gassing, corralling and arresting people who are protesting the police brutality against Black people that led to the shooting death of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor in her home in March.

Someone marching on the streets was going to get shot.

Instead, it was a man who sells barbecue.

On Monday morning, police and soldiers showed up at 26th Street and Broadway to disperse a group of people who not protesting but rather were hanging out, listening to music and eating food as they did routinely there. 

Their crime: They were out after curfew. 

Police say someone fired a shot at them, so, of course, the right thing to do was for officers and soldiers to shoot toward a crowd.

When the shooting ended, David McAtee, a well-known and liked West End purveyor of barbecue Yaya’s BBQ was found dead. And on Tuesday, police released a video that they say shows McAtee firing a gun before he was struck and killed.

The officers’ body cameras were not on, conveniently for them. The police chief (before the mayor fired him Monday) initially implied that law enforcement had killed McAtee, but later authorities clarified that they were still investigating.

In February, McAtee had told West of Ninth documentarians that he chose that spot on Broadway because it “is one of the busiest locations in West Louisville.” He said he focuses on his cooking: “I have always been blessed with the skills to cook. I didn’t need anything else. People have to eat every single day, and all I need is my skills.”

Reportedly, he would give meals to officers.

Meanwhile, in Lexington, protesters marched Sunday for the third night in a row, bring out the largest crowd yet, standing face-to-face with a line of police, The Lexington Herald-Leader reported.

And what did Lexington police do?

“The protesters chanted for police to kneel with them. After a number of officers kneeled, protesters moved forward to embrace them. Several protesters thanked the officers or fist-bumped them,” the paper wrote.

The Lexington protest began to break up by 10:45 p.m. Some protesters stayed and chanted at police past midnight. “But a group of protesters also prayed with Lexington officers. As of 1 a.m., Lexington police said they had made no arrests in relation to the protest.”

Two cities. Two outcomes.

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Louisville and Lexington are not the same in many ways.

How police conduct themselves should not be one of them.

What is so ingrained in the Louisville Metro Police Department that it felt it could use overwhelming force to beat back protest against overwhelming force by police. 

Don’t they see the irony?

They cannot abide by even their own rules. 

Since the first protest last Thursday, the police and Mayor Greg Fischer have urged protesters to express themselves peacefully.

Fischer thanked them for protesting peacefully.

Police Lt. Col. Lavita Chavous tried to sound empathetic.

“Our goal will be to allow for the peaceful expression of protest. We value the right to free speech and understand this community has a lot to say right now. We hear you. We will not tolerate violence that leads to people being hurt. We will not tolerate destruction of our beautiful city. We are prepared to take whatever action we must to try to ensure no one else is injured during this time of unrest,” she said.

Yet, before the dusk-to-dawn curfew was set to take place Sunday, police were deploying tear gas. When asked about this, Chavous said this action was taken so early because the protest was an “unlawful assembly” for lack of permits.

“We have allowed the no-street access simply to be accommodating to people and allow them to voice their opinions and views in a positive and peaceful way,” she said. “But I want you to know that LMPD could have legally taken those steps a lot earlier than we did. And it wasn’t until we became concerned for the safety of the community and the safety of our officers that we declared it to be an unlawful gathering.”

She talked about leaf blowers used to blow back tear gas. Problem solved: Don’t throw tear gas!

Metro Council member Bill Hollander questioned Chavous’ comments.

“We can’t tell people to protest peacefully and, after the fact, say we can gas you anytime if you don’t have a permit,” Hollander tweeted. “The public deserves an investigation and report from an independent oversight system it can trust.”

That is all fine.

But what Louisvillians really deserve are leaders who would not allow the police to overreact and would not allow armed weekend soldiers march on civilians (think: Kent State).

Lexington got it right.

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