Kentucky Republican leaders followed the lead of their national party last Tuesday by accusing Democrats of responding inappropriately to civil unrest and, in Louisville’s case, a rise in some violent crimes.
State Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, wrote a letter signed by Senate Majority Leadership to Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, asking him to help quell “violence and unrest” in the city.
She cited an increase in homicides and carjackings in the city, as well as racial tensions and what she characterized as “chaos” in Louisville neighborhoods and streets, specifically downtown. Downtown is where the majority of protests in Louisville have taken place, calling for justice for Breonna Taylor, who was killed by Louisville police in a botched raid on March 13.
“Louisville was once a high energy city,” Raque Adams wrote. “Now, it’s a boarded-up mess, and people who live here are so afraid to go downtown that economic recovery cannot even begin.”
At a press conference, Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, blamed Mayor Greg Fischer. “It is clear to many of us that the mayor has failed to do his job, and we are looking to the governor now,” he said.
Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, criticized Beshear for not speaking out against violence in Louisville. “It’s almost as if by his silence that he’s condoning this type of behavior,” Thayer said.
On the national stage, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell has accused elected leaders of major cities for failing to enforce the law against protesters, and President Donald Trump has targeted “far-left politicians” for encouraging violence by criticizing law enforcement.
At last Tuesday’s press conference in Kentucky, Raque Adams called for a special legislative session to address policing reform. Stivers suggested that the governor call the National Guard to Louisville again.
But later, Raque Adams said on Twitter that she is working on a “new narrative” about justice in Louisville after meeting with Louisville activist-poet Hannah L. Drake and walking around downtown.
“And I encourage everyone to find their Hannah,” wrote Raque Adams. “Opening your mind, opens your heart and opens the door to change.”
We talked to state Rep. Attica Scott, D-Louisville, about what she thought of the Senate majority’s characterization of what’s happening in Louisville, as well as what she would do to change policing and violent crime in the city and across the state.
“We’ve been crying out for Frankfort to address common sense gun reform,” she said. “We’ve been crying out for Frankfort to raise the minimum wage. We’ve been crying out. So now, just weeks before an election, all of a sudden you want to have something to say?”
Read the rest of her interview below. (Raque Adams and Stivers both declined a request for an interview through a Kentucky Senate Majority Caucus communications employee).
LEO: I wanted to ask you what you thought of the letter and the press conference from Kentucky Republicans saying Louisville is this hot spot of violence and unrest, and they’re asking the governor to step in and help.
Attica Scott: Well, you know, it’s very clear to me that they don’t actually have any interest in racial justice. I’ve not spoken to any of the people in Republican leadership about the actual protest, and I’m on the front lines. And all the leadership is white, and so there was absolutely no representation of people who are being deeply impacted by police violence. And it also was very disrespectful on so many levels, including wanting the National Guard to come back after they murdered David McAtee. … It was clear to me that there was absolutely no intent to involve members of the Kentucky Legislative Black caucus in this press conference. There was no attempt to the best of my knowledge at least to the members of the House, to reach out to any of us to engage in conversation about the protests that are happening, and that was brought up repeatedly. And so that was just very clear to me.
So, I think there’s been a narrative from National Republicans: Democratic-run cities and states are experiencing unrest because of poor leadership. But what do you think the unrest is really stemming from?
The unrest is stemming from us being sick and tired of police murdering us. With impunity. Literally, we’ve got, it just seems like every week there’s another atrocious murder of a Black person by police, and we’re not going to sit back and twiddle our thumbs and wait for the next person that we love to be murdered. Of course, we’re going to rise up.
Do you think that the state Republicans are following the national narrative at all?
I have no idea what they’re following, but what I do know is that from everything that they have shown me, their narrative is disingenuous, because they’re trying to connect the movement for Black lives and the protests for racial justice and police accountability to all of the other kinds of violence we’ve seen in Louisville — it’s misdirected and inappropriate.
I wanted to ask you about the other violence in Louisville, because they did bring up in the letter, it mentioned that Louisville’s on track to break a homicide record and I know there are some violent crimes, like carjackings that are up. But what do you think is the cause of that, of those?
Well, I definitely don’t know all the causes because, you know, I haven’t spoken to anyone who’s been involved, and so, you know I would be out of line to try to speak for people. But what I do know from people who either I’ve known personally or because of my role, is that people are hungry, people need affordable housing, people don’t have jobs right now, they’re not getting their unemployment insurance benefits. Folks are stressed out and terrified that allergies might actually be COVID. So, you know, folks are just all over the place his year. And you know, what’s so interesting to me is, that I served on Louisville Metro Council. And every year for the past several years, we’ve heard this language about Louisville being on track for a record-breaking year of shootings or homicides or criminal activity. This is every year, and so now, why does Republican leadership want to say something about it or do something about it? We’ve been crying out for Frankfort to address common-sense gun reform, we’ve been crying out for Frankfort to raise the minimum wage. We’ve been crying out. So now, just weeks before an election, all of a sudden you want to have something to say?
… What do you think of what the mayor and council are doing currently to address violent crime? Is it enough or are they addressing it all really?
I’m not sure exactly what the council is doing. I haven’t seen a lot of public language from the council and the mayor around what they’re doing. I’m sure that they are working on something, that they probably have some plans that they’re working on that they just haven’t shared publicly yet.
Well, going back to the message that Senate leadership has been putting out there. Raque Adams’ letter characterized policing in Louisville as in disarray, she mentioned officers resigning and retiring, and she said this could harm public safety. But I was wondering, how would you characterize policing in Louisville currently?
Well, officers who are retiring — if you’re leaving because people are demanding justice from your department, if you’re leaving because people are demanding accountability, then you’re the problem, then you should go. The people who stay may very well be the people who actually want to do a much better job, who actually want a different kind of community to live in, who actually welcome accountability. As an elected official, I welcome accountability, so why shouldn’t other people who are serving in these public spaces?
And, you know, looking at policing as a whole in Louisville and Kentucky, how should that change at this moment? Or how should it be changing, if at all?
Well, we definitely have to start asking ourselves the questions around, do we want to continue to maintain a system that grew out of slave patrols, and why would you think that many of us who are Black people, would want us to maintain that system? Why shouldn’t we be visionary and look at what community safety looks like when people in the community are focusing on restorative justice, are looking out for one another more increasingly, that we’re supporting and strengthening and building up neighborhood associations. We need to do all of those things while we’re talking about how policing can look differently.
Do you think that police in Louisville should still exist at all?
I truly want to see us be visionary. I don’t see where this system is working; I just don’t. And if we do like some other communities have done… And employers have done this oftentimes over decades — we need everyone to reapply for their position because this is not going to be the same organization moving forward. So some of you will not want to be part of what we’re building moving forward, and that’s fine. But for those of you who do want to be a part of building something different, then you need to reapply and will go through the vetting process. And that vetting process needs to change, it needs to have some added layers to it, like, you know, checking people’s bodies for tattoos that show they are part of white nationalist groups.
So, what are the roles of the legislature in that process? Should that just be happening on the city level, or is there anything you can do to help that along as a legislator?
Well, as legislators, we can also look at our responsibility as it relates to state police, because the state police are not innocent of violence either. We know because they came into Louisville during the early days of the protest. But, I do believe that the legislature, we do have some policy responsibility, and that’s why I filed Breonna’s Law for Kentucky, and I’m actually the only legislator who has actually filed a bill related to Breonna’ Law. So ending no-knock warrants, that keeps police and communities safe. Officers are safer when they announce themselves if they don’t face injury or harm. And making sure that officers have alcohol and drug testing done after a shooting or a deadly incident, that all makes sense. And demanding that body cameras are used, that they are worn, and that they are turned on before and after serving a warrant, that all makes sense. And it’s all also protecting officers. They should want to have evidence to share with the police if they were not involved in any wrongdoing.
Would you be supportive of calling a special legislative session to discuss matters of criminal justice reform like your Breonna’s Law?
I’m in conversations with the chair of the Kentucky Legislative Black Caucus. And I want our caucus to have a conversation about that first, because we also know that we’re part of a legislative body that will use that special session for whatever their supermajority in the Senate want to do and have happen. And I know good and well that it will not be about centering Black voices in racial justice. So I want to have a conversation with my colleagues who are a part of the Black caucus, so that we can be really honest in our feedback about whether or not we truly believe that a special session is going to get justice for Breonna Taylor for example.
As far as you know, do you think that Republican leadership would support Breonna’s Law? I know they’ve talked about ending no-knock warrants, but what do you think — as written, your law, do you think they would support that?
Well, I would hope that they would support the law, because it’s what the people are demanding. I mean, if you want the protests to end, then answer the call for justice. Locally, they’ve been calling for the officers involved in her murder to be fired, arrested and charged, and at the state level, they’re calling for Breonna’s Law. Answer those calls for justice. Stop treating us as if our voices don’t matter, as if our lives don’t matter. As if we don’t have agency to speak up for ourselves.
What do you think of the way the governor has been handling what’s happening in Louisville?
Well, I have been very clear from the beginning that I was horrified that he sent in the state troopers and the National Guard and the fact that they went to West Louisville and murdered David McAtee. That was unbelievable and unnecessary. They never should have been called in… They definitely weren’t in Frankfort when I was in the session and gun toting white people were taking over the Capitol grounds and inside the Capitol building. There was no National Guard presence.
I also saw that Julie Raque Adams has posted to social media, saying she has talked to the local activist Hannah Drake. And she [implied] that her opinion has changed from what was in the letter. What do you think of this claim of a new outlook and can you see it leading to anything?
Well, I certainly have not heard from Senator Raque Adams. She has not reached out to me as someone who’s been on the lines of protests, someone who’s filed Breonna’s Law in response to the people. So I don’t, I don’t know. I don’t know what she’s thinking or where she’s going with her narrative.
And, you know, as someone who’s been at the protests, what have you seen at the protests? It seems like there’s maybe some insinuation that they’ve been violent in some way. But what have you seen as someone who’s been involved at the protests?
My experience has been that LMPD has incited violence every single time from tear gassing us, to shooting people in the face with pepper balls, we’ve seen LRADs [long-range acoustic device]. They have been assaulting the people. They have been harassing the people. That’s where the violence has come from. But I’m at Injustice Square Park [formally, Jefferson Square Park]. What I see are people feeding one another. What I see are people befriending one another. What I see are people who are homeless getting a warm meal, giving them clothing, getting water. What I see is love and community and support for one another. I see people contributing to the memorial for Breonna. People from all around the state and the country and around the globe come to Injustice Square Park and leave tributes in honor of Breonna’s memory at the memorial. So, that’s what I see. I see mental health professionals who set up tables to provide mental health support for folks who are about to come up on 100 days of protests at Injustice Square Park. I see marches from people who are LGBTQIA-plus are marching. There’s kids marches, there are moms marches… All these folks are showing up to say we want justice for Breonna Taylor. That’s what I see.
And what do you think of what the mayor has been doing in reaction to the protests in Louisville — what do you think of the job that he’s done?
Well, I have not seen or heard much from him in the past month. In the early days, he would come out to the square and actually talk to people, he hasn’t done that in months. He hasn’t fired, arrested or charged all of the officers who were involved with Breonna Taylor’s murder. So I can’t say that I see much from him by way of action.