Building the movement: What has been done, what activists say is left to do

[Ed. note: After this story was published, a grand jury indicted Brett Hankison on Wednesday on three counts of wanton endangerment for allegedly endangering Breonna Taylor’s neighbors with reckless gunfire. No charges were brought for two other officers who fired their guns when Taylor was killed.]

In anticipation of whether protesters will get what they have long asked for — charges in Breonna Taylor’s death — Sadiqa Reynolds went Monday night to Jefferson Square Park, where the protests have been concentrated. 

Reynolds, president and CEO of the Louisville Urban League, said she visited the Square and reminded people there that they already had achieved many significant changes during the more than 100 days of protest: 

Policing reforms.

A fired police chief and the first Black woman chief.

Philanthropic gifts from corporations to build up Louisville’s Black community… and more. 

“So, if the city burns down it won’t be on us, we are the ones who’ve been fighting to save it,” she wrote in a Facebook post.

Earlier, Reynolds told LEO that any charges brought against the officers involved in Taylor’s death and all of the other accomplishments are just a start. Taylor’s killing has brought attention to the racial disparities in policing in Louisville, but it also has highlighted continuing inequities in housing, employment, access to food, and on and on.

“That’s what I want people to pay more attention to,” said Reynolds in the interview. “If we can do the hard work, long term we’ll be much better off.”

Three other Black leaders interviewed for this story also said the protests have brought change, but it won’t be enough to just arrest and charge the officers who fired their weapons in the Taylor apartment raid. The ultimate prize would be reconstruction of a system they say keeps Black Louisvillians poorer and less healthy than their white neighbors. 

In this piece, they talk about responses from the city and corporations that have meant the most to them, and they discuss what reforms they think would make the biggest difference moving forward.

BREONNA’S LAW WAS PASSED

In June, Louisville Metro City Council passed Breonna’s Law, banning no-knock search warrants in the city. The law was created in response to the search warrant that led to Taylor’s death.

The ordinance also requires Louisville police officers to activate their body cameras while carrying out warrants.

The Rev. Timothy Findley, an organizer of the Louisville Justice and Freedom Coalition, called the ordinance “a monumental step in the right direction” for policing in Louisville.

“Just at its root, you talk about policing as problematic in so many different ways,” he said. “In terms of the way that communities of color and especially Black communities are policed, you’re never going to in one fell swoop change everything.”

What makes this ordinance even more significant is that it’s being used as a model for police reform throughout Kentucky and the rest of the country, said Findley. State Rep. Attica Scott has introduced a version for the next state legislative session, and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul has proposed his own bill, the Justice for Breonna Taylor Act, that would stop the use of no-knock warrants throughout the United States.

THE SETTLEMENT, POLICE REFORMS

Last week, Metro government and Taylor’s family reached a $12 million settlement agreement (the largest Louisville Metro Police Department payout ever), featuring several police reforms requested by the family, including:

• Social workers to assist on dispatched runs

• Body camera activation required throughout the money seizure process

• An early warning system that tracks all use of force incidents, citizen complaints, investigations and “other key factors”

• Expanded, random drug testing for officers every year (to be included in union contract negotiations)

• Working with the police union on expanding the kinds of records maintained in officer personnel files

• Commanding officer review and approval of search warrants, affidavits in support of search warrants and risk matrixes before judicial approval

• During the simultaneous execution of multiple search warrants, the commanding officer will act as an Incident Commander with a separate on-scene Commanding Officer for each warrant location

• EMS and/or paramedics on-scene for forced entry search warrants

• Housing credits for officers to live in low-income areas of Louisville

• Encouragement for officers to volunteer two hours during their shift for every pay period

• A letter in a police officers’ file if they “separate” from LMPD during a Professional Standards Unit investigation. If the officer could have been suspended, the PSU will continue gathering evidence for possible further investigation. 

These reforms add onto others that the city is working on. A working group formed by the mayor and Council President David James has created a draft ordinance for a civilian review board and inspector general to oversee police investigations, complete with subpoena power (if the state General Assembly allows it.) And, this year’s council-approved budget contained funding for behavioral health co-responders to work alongside police, as well as use of force, de-escalation and implicit bias training for officers. 

One of Taylor’s family lawyers, Lonita Baker, said that while the civil settlement was important, it was “non-negotiable” without police reforms.

“It’s important for the family that they minimize the risk of what happened to Breonna Taylor happening to any other family in Louisville, Kentucky,” she said. “And we are going to continue that fight beyond the city of Louisville, Kentucky and throughout this country to protect and reform police departments across America.”

Councilman-elect Jecorey Arthur said that Taylor’s family deserves the settlement money. 

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“I’m hoping that Breonna’s mother never has to work a day in her life,” he said. 

The police reforms that the city has committed to are monumental for Louisville, as well, he said, although not necessarily the ones contained within the settlement. The most important ones, to him, are subpoena power for the civilian review board and Breonna’s Law. Still, he said he is skeptical that they will change the department’s culture, which he said has always been about protecting white people at Black people’s expense.

Reynolds, the Louisville Urban League president and CEO is most enthused about social workers helping police. 

“The more we can invest in things like that, the better off our community will be,” she said.

POLICE CHIEF TURNOVER

In June, the mayor fired Louisville police Chief Steve Conrad after the National Guard killed restaurant owner David McAtee while members tried to break up a gathering at a West End convenience store with Louisville police. The local officers weren’t wearing body cameras as required.

Findley said Conrad’s firing should have happened long ago as a result of other misconduct under his watch, specifically the Explorer Scout sexual abuse case and overtime theft by officers. 

“It showed a lack of leadership in LMPD,” he said. 

He is also happy about the incoming interim police chief. Yvette Gentry will be Louisville’s first Black, woman police chief when she starts in October. 

“Obviously, there will never be a perfect candidate, there will never be a perfect person,” he said. “But, I think for the times that we’re in now and what is most needed in this city in this very moment, I think that Yvette Gentry is the best person for the job, male or female.”

CORPORATE DONATIONS

Reynolds is looking outside the city budget for funding of things she wants to accomplish. So far, some of that money has already been flowing in, she said. 

Humana announced in June that it would commit $11.5 million to “rebuilding, relief, equity, and inclusion efforts in Louisville.” 

Norton Healthcare followed soon after with an investment of $20 million over five years for permanent facilities and equipment in under-served areas. 

And, earlier this month Yum Brands and KFC U.S. announced that they would devote $6 million over five years to “tackle inequality and uplift Black students, educators, entrepreneurs, and social change agents.”

Both Humana and Norton Healthcare have also given millions of dollars to Simmons College of Kentucky recently. Arthur is a professor at the historically Black college. 

“People are being more generous towards Black institutions and making sure that they are aware of the pain, acknowledging the pain, helping them by sharing resources,” he said. “And this is so important because our HBCU shouldn’t have to beg for philanthropic dollars.”

THE LOT THAT’S LEFT, IN THEIR OWN WORDS

Comparing Louisville’s recent reckoning with racial inequality to his favorite Malcolm X quote, Arthur said that the city residents have realized that a knife has been thrust into the back of Black citizens. But, they haven’t begun to pull it out or heal the wound for the Black community. 

“What I need people to realize in this moment, that even though people are writing grants and people are talking about equity more than they’ve ever talked about it and they’re seeing it and realizing the pain, we will never truly have liberation without reparations,” he said.

Here are what the Black leaders we talked to want to see the city address moving forward:

Metro Councilman-elect Jecorey Arthur

Councilman-elect Jecorey Arthur

Police reform: “There’s plenty of reform ideas that weren’t included in what was just announced that I’ve actually talked with Breonna’s legal team about. And, I’m hoping that those can get pushed through, if not now, especially when I take office and beyond… So, they included zero tolerance policies that were going to be baked into the FOP, LMPD contract. And those policies, there was a long list of them: They involved zero tolerance for racism or racist posts online, zero tolerance for destruction of evidence, zero tolerance for perjury, zero tolerance for failure to report a fellow officer. I know, this isn’t actually on the list they sent me, but there’s a law up in Buffalo, New York, called Cariol’s Law, that’s currently being lobbied that makes it a requirement for officers to intervene if their partners or another officer on the scene is using an illegal chokehold, similar to the one that killed Eric Garner… Something else very important that we need to make sure is a zero tolerance policy is sexual activity while on duty. Because, as we know, one of these officers, at least one involved in the killing of Breonna Taylor, has been accused of sexual misconduct before. And, if that was addressed, if he was already disciplined or removed from the force preferably, he wouldn’t be there shooting recklessly into Breonna’s apartment that night.”

Improving the Black caucus: “One starts with the council itself and our Black caucus meeting on a regular basis and being proactive instead of reactive to the issues in our community. We are a quarter of the city’s population, but over three-quarters of homelessness, almost three-quarters of incarceration, almost three-quarters of school suspensions, have less than a tenth of the city’s wealth. So, instead of us meeting when something quote, unquote, happens, we need to be meeting frequently, because we can’t serve the Black community, we can’t meet the Black community’s needs, unless we meet as a Black caucus.” [Arthur said he also wants to take a leadership position within the caucus.]

Passing a Black agenda: “No. 2, as a caucus, adopting and passing a Black agenda that is microscopically, laser beamed-focused on Black needs, Black descendants of slavery, what has been broken within us and what needs to be fixed within us, from housing to education to healthcare, to employment and otherwise. And making sure that we use these tools of measurement like the disparities I just shared with you about the three-quarters, making sure we use those as a tool of measurement to track our success. Because the Urban League created this Path Forward document that so many people from Black organizations signed onto, but the city hasn’t adopted it yet.”

Evaluating current ordinances and council practices: “And then [No. 3], not thinking so much, I know you mentioned policy, I’m not super focused on writing policy, with a W, as I am righting policy, with an R… And looking at every single ordinance that we have passed and every single ordinance we will pass and putting it through what JCPS calls a racial equity [analysis] protocol, REAP, and what that will do is ensure that we won’t redline or gentrify this place, bottom caste any group of people in this city. And that they won’t be impacted negatively by anything happening… And on the same note as far as righting policy, with the R, you can look at our non-discretionary fund. We get the same amount of money across all 26 districts. That doesn’t make any sense. We don’t need to be equal, we need to be equitable. So the districts that are the most impoverished and lack the most resources, they need to be weighed and have more NDS than the other districts.”

Sadiqa Reynolds, CEO of the Louisville Urban League | Photo by Kathryn Harrington.

Louisville Urban League President and CEO, Sadiqa Reynolds

Beyond police reform: “We put together a document called The Path Forward. And it was more than 50 organizations that came together to work, to talk about what we think this community needs in order to be successful…I mean, part of it is, we’re marching and stuff about police reform, but it’s beyond that. Real justice will require affordable housing, real justice will require our real attention to the school system and closing the achievement gap.”

Affordable housing: “In my perfect world, and obviously I’m not in charge of the world, but I’d love to see us within 24 months, create 100 new pathways to homeownership and maybe use those vacant and abandoned properties. So, we’re working on that. It is moving forward. What we also need to do is create more units across the city for very low, affordable housing. Because the housing authority wait is too long for section 8 housing; the wait is just too long. People are, we have people who are homeless because they’re just poor. We’ve got to fix that. So, there’s motion. But there’s not enough motion yet. And there’s not enough money behind the work yet either.”

Mental health: “I think this is the real time for us to ensure that JCPS and all others in the city, that we have really, we’re able to respond to mental health needs. Because there’s a lot of trauma in our city. There’s a lot of trauma. People are suffering. And, we need to make sure we’re in a position to address that. It’s in the Path Forward, but it’s worth highlighting. Because I think sometimes we take it for granted and there’s so much stigma. And so I think it’s really in our interest to try to, and this is where organizations like Wellspring … and Bridgehaven do those wraparound services for folks who are having mental health challenges. … I’d love to see them get funding. I’d love to see culturally competent mental health counselors working in our community. And I want JCPS to make sure that every child that needs it is getting some regular check-ins.”

The Rev. Tim Findley. | Photo by Kathryn Harrington.

Justice and Freedom Coalition organizer, The Rev. Timothy Findley

Police union reform: “I think there’s going to have to be some legislation, there’s going to have to be some pressure put on the FOP. Because they continue to be an impediment to progress and healing in this community. I believe that they are one of, if not the most, obstructionist organizations in the country… The fact that the FOP has negotiated with the mayor, these kinds of stipulations and contracts and now he’s afraid to fire people that he knows he should fire, is a major issue, and it’s absolutely evidence that the FOP is too powerful, that they’re not interested in justice, and they are protecting bad officers. And until somebody has the courage to take them on, we’re going to see these kinds of issues continue to happen even with these incremental changes in progress that we have.”

More resources: “…No. 1, more resources in these distressed communities, more initiatives that are powered by finances in these communities that are distressed. And we’ve got to remove all the red tape and all the blockage that hinders those things from happening. Any time you’ve got to fight so hard just to have a fresh food grocery in The West End, that’s a problem, that is a problem. When there’s that much red tape, when there’s that much city resistance — those are the kind of things that we can’t simply concentrate on police reform and even defunding police and yet continue to allow these obstacles that won’t allow resources to come into The West End, or in my home neighborhood, Newburg. Where, it’s almost as if we’re starved out of the kind of justice, economic benefits that other communities benefit from. … I think there’s several different things from inadequate healthcare and healthcare facilities. I think that there’s a reason why that’s not in many of these distressed communities. … But I think one of the obstacles for Black people, again, has to do with bank [lending practices]. But even when you talk about the ZIP code in which you live, that affects what kind of loan you can get. The ZIP code in which you live, it affects how long you live. And it’s not just violence, it’s just in terms of just your overall health. All of these things, I view as obstacles. Just even when it comes to the way in which, when Muhammad Ali passed away, who is Louisville’s hero, it was interesting to me that when he died and it was known that NBC and CBS were all coming to — it seemed that the city put this major push to clean up the West End and to patch up holes on the road and to do all these different things because they knew that guests were coming to town. And to me, that just shows that they know what to do, and they have the ability and the resources to do it, but they don’t do anything unless they’re pushed to do it.”

A good, permanent police chief: “I think the permanent police chief, that’s going to be very, very critical. I’m excited about the next six months with Yvette Gentry, but I’m fearful because she’s only doing it for six months. So I would hate for her to do a fantastic job of laying a foundation that we can build on and someone come in and not be the person for the job. And I think that if there’s going to be a police chief, the mayor and all other decision-makers need to bring in people who can represent different voices and different places and have input on this very, very important decision on this position.”

Chanelle Helm, a core organizer of Black Lives Matter Louisville | Photo by Kathryn Harrington.

Black Lives Matter Louisville core organizer Chanelle Helm: 

Defunding the police: “I think, what needs to be addressed is the demands that we set down. When we say that we are demanding for cities and administrations, elected officials to acknowledge, to acknowledge that police violence includes gun violence. It is to stop that funding for police communities in receiving more weapons and more tools of destruction against our communities. That has to stop. They’re willing to give more money to the police than actually take that money and give it to where it is actually needed in the community: more housing, more food, more healthcare. 

Fire the officers, revoke their pensions: “The other thing is we’re asking for the firing of officers and to pull their pensions, nowhere else in any other business are you allowed to do a really fucked up, piss poor job… and then reap benefits from it.”

Citizen control of the civilian review board: “And then we’re also demanding that citizens have control of the review board. I think it is a really shitty observation that the city decided to open up the citizens review board under them when that is something that collectively the citizens should have. And the city does this every time communities decide to create something, they want to take it. The land bank, the fucking affordable housing trust fund, all those things that they do not intend to automatically motherfucking fix. And then we also have open and transparent investigations. Like, all of those things need to sit with that citizens review board, and that’s where it takes place. But, we’re not only talking about the police, we’re talking about all these hos in government.” •

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