Commentary

Louisville won’t see meaningful change until the city quits defending police use of force

May 16, 2023 5:00 am

Protesters and volunteers prepare a Breonna Taylor art installation by laying posters and flowers before the "Praise in the Park" event at the Big Four Lawn on June 5, 2021 in Louisville, Kentucky. The event commemorated what would have been Breonna Taylor’s 28th birthday. Taylor was a Black woman killed by police during a botched drug raid on her apartment on March 13, 2020, which sparked nationwide protests. (Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

Mayor Greenberg, when will you listen to us?

In May 2020, my city came alive in unity and in pain asking, once again, to be heard. Sparked by the unjust murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, hundreds of Louisville residents gathered in peaceful demonstrations to protest police violence against Black people. In our collective frustration, we banded together on streets and sidewalks for months to demand change. Instead, we were met with the very violence we were protesting.

I attended many of the demonstrations that summer to protect and support my community. I thought of my daughters and their generation’s futures. I wanted to be there to make sure that everyone was safe. Each day, the Louisville Metro Police Department responded with military-type force and intimidation, terrorizing peaceful protestors.

As a board member of the Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, I worked with other members to bring in supplies to help treat pain and injuries from tear gas, pepper balls, and chemical munitions. But I found myself, and other board members, becoming victims of that same violence.

One night, I watched from a parking lot as folks of all ages, including children, gathered near Injustice Square Park. Two friends joined me, one in a wheelchair, as the group marched and chanted. I felt the tear gas before I saw it. I squeezed my eyes shut as the chemicals burned but quickly fell to the ground, unable to see, unable to breathe. I crawled on my hands and knees, the sounds of screams, cries, and chaos in the distance. Earlier that day, officers were caught on cell phone cameras destroying jugs of water and milk, essential first aid items for protesters exposed to tear gas. Instances like this played out on repeat night after night. These recurrent scenes still haunt me.

Over the last two years, the Alliance has attempted to make calls for reform to the City of Louisville to no avail. Nearly two years later, many of us are still feeling the physical and emotional effects of the violence we encountered that summer and very little has been done to address our concerns.

We relived these painful memories once again, when the U.S. Department of Justice issued a scathing report outlining the many, varied ways that LMPD violates our rights. Citing the 2020 protests, the DOJ’s investigation revealed that LMPD has shown a “pattern or practice” of excessive and indiscriminate force against peaceful protestors, violating the First and Fourth Amendments. The DOJ found that LMPD repeatedly used unlawful and excessive force against peaceful protestors — often not only failing to de-escalate situations, but actually engaging in behavior that escalated these interactions and using indiscriminate force “without individualized and adequate justifications.”

The report also raises deeply troubling findings of racial discrimination and bias by LMPD officers that echo the racial discrimination that Black people in Louisville experienced at the hands of the LMPD throughout the 2020 Uprising and continue to experience each day.

The DOJ’s findings, while infuriating, were not surprising for those of us who live in Louisville. These findings echoed what our communities live with and witness every day, and confirm what we have been saying for years: Despite all that we have suffered to make our voices heard, the City of Louisville still isn’t listening. In fact, Louisville ignored our calls for reform for so long that we sued: The Alliance joined as an organizational plaintiff in a lawsuit, Scott v. Louisville.

Our demand is simple: End LMPD’s use of indiscriminate force at protests so that the people of Louisville can safely make themselves heard as we continue to fight for change within and without LMPD and begin the difficult work of healing.

After the DOJ came to town to report its findings, Mayor Craig Greenberg announced his intent to listen and to work with Washington to bring about change. He acknowledged that the DOJ’s report “paints a very painful picture of our past.” We tried to be optimistic about his goals, and were open to settling our lawsuit. But so far, Mayor Greenberg has chosen instead to join his predecessor in fighting to keep tear gas in LMPD’s hands. The City has spent nearly a million dollars defending their ability to use force against crowds of peaceful protesters just for exercising their right to speak out — the exact use of force that the Department of Justice found violated the First and Fourth Amendments and for which a jury in Colorado awarded 12 protesters $14 million for their suffering.

If Mayor Greenberg wants us to move forward as a community empty words are not enough. We cannot continue to wait for meaningful change. Mayor Greenberg must meet us at the negotiating table and start centering the demands of the people of Louisville.

Mayor Greenberg, when will you listen to us?

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Tia Edison
Tia Edison

Petia Edison is the academic instructional coach at Waller-Williams Environmental and chair of the Jefferson County Teachers Association (JCTA) Black Caucus. She also serves as the treasurer of the Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (KAAPRP).

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