A lieutenant for the Lexington Police Department defended the department’s reaction to a crowd burning several couches in the street after UK football’s win against the University of Florida on Saturday.
“If you only have a few dozen officers and you have a couple of thousand people, you can’t, you know, you kind of have to play strategically and intervene when you can and how you can,” said Lt. Daniel Burnett. “And what largely drives that, too, is what public safety threat is posing at the time, right? So if there’s an imminent danger of injury, then we’ll react faster. But typically we react as quick as we could.”
A young crowd flooded State Street, a residential side street near campus, after UK’s win on Saturday night. A WKYT reporter said on Twitter that they saw at least three couches burning, as well as an SUV driving through the crowd “knocking over people.” CNN reported that at least two people sustained non life threatening injuries and Lexington Fire Department trucks were hit with debris.
— Kentucky Kernel (@KyKernel) October 3, 2021
Lexington Police responded in riot gear, but only one person was arrested for public intoxication. Some on social media including a few Louisville activists, publicly questioned how law enforcement would have reacted if the crowd was protesting racial injustice and if it wasn’t primarily made up of white people, as videos from the scene indicated.
We’ve seen about 3 couches on fire. Police now in riot gear. Crowds seem to be breaking up a little, but still a lot of people out here. Have seen one suv drive through the crowd, knocking over people. @WKYT pic.twitter.com/jYavzlOseA
— Grason Passmore WKYT (@GrasonWkyt) October 3, 2021
UK fans have burned couches on State Street in the past after sports wins, and the police department typically clears the area of debris beforehand and has its officers stand on the periphery and monitor the crowd for safety concerns, according to Burnett. When officers react to the crowd, they want to minimize their risk, said Burnett — and they usually do so to clear the area for the fire department to work. He also said that the police department had to be strategic with its response on Saturday due to a lack of staffing.
On Twitter, Louisville activist Hannah Drake responded to a video from Saturday’s scene, saying, “It’s ALWAYS okay in Kentucky when White people wanna burn things. Always. But march against injustice they call in the National Guard.”
Drake was referencing when Gov. Andy Beshear called in the National Guard to respond to protests in Louisville.
Lexington had its own racial justice protests in 2020, during which there were several nights of arrests. Demonstrators were arrested at different times for blocking traffic, using megaphones and assault.
Burnett said comparing Lexington’s response Saturday night to its response during the city’s racial justice protests was unfairly correlating two different situations.
On Saturday, the crowd was blocking a campus side street, not a major downtown thoroughfare, Burnett pointed out. It was also a one-night situation, whereas the racial justice protests in Lexington lasted for months, he said.
“It’s not a fair comparison because every arrest for any incident the circumstances are different and dictate the response,” he said. “So I think that’s really an over-simplistic way of looking at things. So, it’s a valid question, and I get it; we’re gonna get those kinds of questions. But I don’t think it’s — it’s not that simple.”
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