The shooting, the letter and the protest

The letter and its aftermath

Jun 24, 2015 at 5:15 pm
People fill the crosswalk to stop traffic during the FOP Action protest outside Louisville Metro Police Headquarters.
People fill the crosswalk to stop traffic during the FOP Action protest outside Louisville Metro Police Headquarters. Photo by Brian Bohannon

Former Metro Councilwoman Attica Scott and Sgt. Dave Mutchler, president of the River City FOP Lodge 614, have never seen eye to eye when it comes to the subject of police shootings. Following the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, last year, Scott penned an open letter in the Courier-Journal in which she warned about police officers’ “license to kill unarmed black teens.” In response, Mutchler wrote a column referring to Scott’s letter as “insulting, untrue and vile.”

“He attacked me both in the newspaper and an op-ed on one of the local television stations,” Scott said. “He also attacked councilwoman (Mary) Woolridge, another black woman, and now he’s attacking a movement that’s led mostly by black women.”

Now it is an open letter from Mutchler that finds the two on opposite sides. In a missive aimed at “the sensationalists, liars and race-baiters,” Mutchler warned that the police would no longer passively accept criticism from the activist community. One especially chilling section read: “At first it was good enough just to sit back and watch your ridiculous spectacle. No more. Now your rhetoric, lies and hate puts all of us, police officers and citizens alike, in danger. From now on we will call you out each and every time you tell a lie, twist the truth or otherwise engage in vile behavior meant to push your selfish agendas. If your behavior or untruths causes harm to us or the public, we will make every attempt to have you investigated, charged and prosecuted at the local, state or federal level. Your idiocy and lies are what caused the destruction in Ferguson and other cities around our country and we won’t be tolerating that here. We watched in shock most recently as some of you flat out lied to the media after a critical incident here in Louisville.”

Mutchler was responding to the questions arising from the June 13 shooting death of Sudanese immigrant Deng Manyoun by LMPD Officer Nathan Blanford. Surveillance video of the shooting shows Manyoun charging Blanford with a flagpole, but Scott said the civil rights community was concerned that the officer’s first response, before Manyoun even grabbed the flagpole, was to draw his gun. Manyoun had previously tried to kill himself on the day of Thunder Over Louisville, and the former councilwoman said his shooting raised issues of how police deal with the mentally ill and how officers are trained to defuse confrontations in a non-violent way. Ironically, Scott says she was satisfied with the responses of Mayor Greg Fischer and LMPD Chief Steve Conrad to the shooting. But the FOP response undermined that dialogue and exacerbated tensions between the police and the civil rights community.

“We were asking questions and the chief was responding to those questions and then this manifesto comes out from the FOP basically threatening us and calling our neighbors to take up arms and rally against us,” Scott explained.

Mutchler’s letter led to a public outcry and several events concerning the subject were scheduled for Monday, June 22. At noon, dozens of protesters stood outside police headquarters chanting “This is what democracy looks like.” The rally was organized by Louisville2Ferguson (L2F), a local group affiliated with the #Blacklivesmatters movement. Ashely Belcher, an L2F member and founder of the Louisville Women’s Alliance, said the negative reaction to Mutchler’s letter extends beyond the activist community. Even people who think the Manyoun shooting was justified don’t agree with a police officer threatening American citizens for practicing their First Amendment rights.

“This rally was hastily put together,” Belcher said. “We expected a small group of people to show up downtown to give Chief Conrad a letter asking for Mutchler’s dismissal. But so many people showed up that they were shutting down streets. There have been so many initiatives to work with the police and work with this community. We’ve sponsored forums. Then for this letter to come out that basically says everything some people always thought was true — they are targeting, profiling and investigating innocent citizens. That really incited a lot of people.”

The protesters had a list of 12 demands for Chief Conrad and Mayor Fischer. Number 11 on the list states, “Fire Mutchler by 5pm Friday (Pres of FOP and LMPD Sergeant).” However, neither Conrad or Fischer has the authority to “fire” Mutchler from the FOP presidency, as he was elected on post by rank and file police officers. Mutchler is currently serving his third consecutive two-year term, which will end in November of this year. A spokesperson within the River City FOP told LEO that the only process by which the office of an FOP president can be terminated prior to the end of a term is if that person resigns. Thus, the only action that can remove Mutchler from the FOP presidency against his will is firing him from the police force, which would disqualify him from holding an FOP office.

Activists also demanded a complete overhaul of the LMPD’s use-of-force policies and more engagement between the police and the community. Further, they asked for the top five ranking LMPD officers to denounce Mutchler’s letter. That is something Conrad and Fischer have already done themselves.

Following the rally at police headquarters, the Human Relations Commission had planned to hold a public forum about Mutchler’s letter at the Main Library. However, that event was cancelled because Mutchler never responded to an invitation. But Chief Conrad did attend Councilmember David James’ capacity-filled “Face to Face Forum” at the Fourth Street United Methodist Church later that day. The police chief sat on a panel that included representatives from a number of area social service organizations. Councilwoman Jessica Green, who was also on the panel, commended Conrad for being willing to face the public even in sometimes tense situations.

The panel took questions from the audience which ran the gamut from affordable housing, jobs, mental illness and homelessness. Longtime activist Tom Moffett received the biggest round of applause when he brought the discussion back around to the Manyoun shooting. He said, “Chief Conrad, you are doing a good job but I think you can do better. Yes, police officers have to make split-second decisions. I wouldn’t want to be a police officer and I am afraid we have a few that are not fit to be in that situation … I watched the video and I don’t think I would have been scared of that pole to be perfectly honest.”

After the forum was over Moffett said the public reaction to the shooting and Mutchler’s letter made him hopeful. “I’ve come to forums like this following some tragedy for more times than I can remember,” Moffett said. “Things are not good and change does not come easily, but I think the conversation is different now than it was 15 years ago. I’m optimistic that this community won’t keep making the same mistakes.”


Activists share their thoughts on Monday’s protest BY ETHAN SMITH

In response to the controversial open letter by Dave Mutchler, president of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), on Monday, June 22, a group of about a 150 protesters blocked off a street in front of Louisville Metro police headquarters and later taped to their door a list of demands, including the firing of Mutchler by the end of the week.

LEO spoke with activists at the rally about the need for the protest and their expectations.

“Reprehensible” is what protester David Wicks said of Mutchler’s letter. “There are a variety of things going on right now that drew us down here, which should be pretty unsurprising,” said Wicks. “Deng Manyoun was killed by the police, and then there was the open letter by good ol’ boy Mutchler who thinks that he needs to antagonize us further.”

Standing next to Wicks was Rebecca Fenton, holding a sign with “Louisvillians have rights and deserve respect” scrawled in red across a white poster board.

“We would like to see Mutchler fired, but I’m not really holding my breath,” said Fenton. “I appreciate that the mayor and the chief of police have responded to it, but I would like to see a more substantial response from them.”

Rev. Bruce Williams of the Bates Memorial Baptist Church said he would like to know how many members of the FOP actually support Mutchler’s open letter, and for those who disagree to voice their opinions and show the community that they are on their side.

“They [members of the FOP] are in the position to choose the president that represents their majority opinion,” said Rev. Williams. “And we don’t believe he represents the majority mindset of the FOP, but we really need them to speak up and tell us that. Because so far Mutchler is the only one publicly speaking, and if he is right and they do all agree, then we really have a serious issue.”

Protester Chad Golding was handing out sheets of paper with a list of chants like “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! These racist cops have got to go,” and “We want respect from the police!” Golding agreed that he didn’t believe Mutchler should be the president of the FOP, but that he didn’t know if having him fired would accomplish anything.

“Moving forward, would I like to see him resign? I don’t know,” said Golding. “Because in my mind he is the president of the FOP, which should mean he was the best man for the job, so who’s after him? Someone with similar views? So I don’t know if firing him is going to solve the problem.”

Some protesters like Ricky L. Jones, professor at UofL and chair of the Pan-African Studies Department, said that blocking traffic may have been the wrong way to achieve these demands, because penalizing regular citizens could be turning potential allies into enemies.

“The mayor has already stepped forward and denounced what he [Mutchler] said, the police chief has already stepped forward and denounced what he [Mutchler] said,” said Jones. “So there is no reason to turn them into enemies since they have already shown themselves to be friends in this instance, so we really need to think about greater policy issues.”

Jones pointed to an incident earlier in the protest where one man was yelling at protesters to move because he was trying to get his daughter to the hospital. Jones said moments like that can turn the public against the movement, and to successfully turn the protest into actual reforms they will need all the allies they can get.

Another point of frustration was voiced by Kris Philipp, member of the Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, who said, “We need more white people to get involved. I think a lot of [white] people feel like it doesn’t affect them, but it affects a lot of other people’s lives so they should be out here too.” •