LOUISVILLE—After a four-month postponement of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs because of the coronavirus, the 146-year-old classic horse race finally happened. The Derby is one of the biggest events among the rich and famous that gather annually to gamble and mingle with friends, family and colleagues. It’s also where men and women dress up in their fancy pastel-colored bowties, hats, dresses and outfits. But this year’s race held Sept. 5 was overshadowed with approximately 2,000 protestors who marched outside the temporary erected fence surrounding the gigantic white stone structure.
The mass protest was in response to continued pressure to meet demands for justice in the case of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor, the Emergency Medical Technician that was gunned down in her apartment the night of March 13, by Louisville police officers.
Support from activists, celebrities, athletes, and grassroot organizations for Ms. Taylor’s family have increased in the continued call for a resolution in her case. It has been months since her brutal death and none of the officers have been arrested.
Grandmaster Jay Johnson, the leader of the Black militia called NFAC (Not F***ing Around Coalition) were among those that were on hand during the latest round of protests at the Kentucky Derby. The group previously came to Louisville in late July and vowed to apply more pressure and to “burn the city down” if Kentucky’s Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a Black man, did not act favorably in the case in one month.
Ms. Taylor’s family are demanding that all the officers responsible for her death are arrested and convicted for killing her. They also are pushing that the ‘No-Knock warrant’ procedure be banned in the state of Kentucky and eventually in every state.
Approximately 200 heavily armed White militia members waving American and Trump-Pence flags stood in front of Louisville’s City Hall in military gear. The group was anticipating the arrival of the NFAC, but instead were met by angry protestors chanting Breonna Taylor’s name. As the group called ‘The Angry Vikings’ chanted “U-S-A, U-S-A and Back the Blue” their leader, Dylan Stevens told The Final Call they came downtown because of Mr. Johnson’s threat.
“We didn’t come here to fight with anyone, we didn’t know all these people would be here and we are not against the Black Lives Matter protestors. At some point in time there has to be that clarity, where you just say let’s have a conversation,” said Mr. Stevens.
“We will leave when asked to and we are here to stand for our rights and, our country. …” he added.
There were instances when protestors and White militia members shouted, cursed, pushed and shoved each other, but overall, it remained peaceful. There was no police presence for the hour and a half yelling match between protestors and the militias. Moments after the White militia walked away from City Hall steps down the street, the crowd of protestors cheered. Then about 75 Louisville police came from behind the building and stood between the two groups, allowing the Angry Vikings to walk away. This caused some protestors to react angrily, throwing bottles and confronting the police. A woman in the crowd yelled “Y’all protecting them and letting them leave but harassing us now.”
Later that evening an hour before the Kentucky Derby race, civil rights activist and freedom fighter, Tamika Mallory of Until Freedom led a peaceful protest march around Churchill Downs, while the Kentucky National Guard and Louisville Police stood in ranks on opposite sides of the fences. The New York-based organization has been in Louisville as part of a 30-day campaign to continue fighting for justice for Breonna.
Towards the end of the march the NFAC arrived at a cross street with the oncoming group but did not stay. Instead they walked in the middle of the street in formation dressed in all black military gear, with assault rifles and handguns. They kneeled down in the middle of the street a brief moment, then stood up and continued to walk down the street. Two months earlier, the Black armed group was met with support for their strong presence. The group was well received and welcomed by the community when they arrived two months ago. Tarcia Parker, a resident in the suburbs of Louisville said, she was happy to see the NFAC in July. “I was happy to see the brothers showing up like an army ready to defend us. It was refreshing to get the support from so many groups standing for us, it’s time,” said Ms. Parker.
However, the reception this time around was starkly different. Some were critical that the group was not present earlier in the day when the White militia was on the scene outside the Derby.
Many of the protestors angrily yelled at the militant group and questioned why they were there. Ferguson, Missouri front line activist Tory Russell yelled at the group as they walked away.
“When the White people showed up, N***a, y’all was ghost!” he yelled. Someone else can be heard saying, “Y’all couldn’t be found nowhere this morning, and you aren’t going to do nothing.”
After being rejected by protestors, the NFAC walked back to a nearby park to load up their vehicles and leave the area. The Final Call attempted to speak with Grandmaster Jay at the park but was refused by members of his group. One gentleman said, “I’m sorry brother, but this is not a good time to speak with Grandmaster, as you can see the people don’t want us here and so it’s best that we leave. Because we don’t want any problems, there’s children out here and we are going to leave.”
According to WLKY news, Grandmaster Jay said the reason why his group left Churchill Downs as soon as the other group of protesters arrived is because if things went array he did not want his group getting blamed for it. He told the news outlet that prior to the Sept. 5 protest, there was a mutual agreement with the Louisville Metropolitan Police Department about his armed members being in the same area as other protesters.
“They were never supposed to be where we were so when I saw that happening, somebody changed the game plan, so I pulled my coalition out,” he said, referring to protestors.
“All of y’all thought we would show up with torches and burn this joint down. That was figurative, it meant we would burn down something, and we burnt down the wallets,” he said later via Twitter.
Janeen Noah, a marriage and family therapist said the support of other groups is needed to be heard by Louisville mayor Greg Fischer and Kentucky’s attorney general. “We need numbers, they don’t hear us. We have been trying to get justice for Breonna Taylor for months and we can’t do it without numbers. This needed to go viral, it needed to go public because we have a mayor that is basically spinning the story.” she added “We have an attorney general who is new on-the-job and this is not an on-the-job training type job,” said Ms. Noah.
Despite much anticipation from the family of Breonna Taylor and supporters, Attorney General Cameron said in an official statement on his Twitter page Sept. 9 that there have been false rumors of an imminent announcement in the case of Ms. Taylor and that his office remains without a specific timeline. Several media outlets reported a grand jury on the case is soon to be empaneled. “My office has endeavored since day one to find the truth and pursue justice, wherever that may take us and however long that may take,” Attorney General Cameron’s statement noted.
“When the investigation concludes and a decision is made, we will provide an update about an announcement. The news will come from our office and not unnamed sources. Until that time, the investigation remains ongoing.”
Kaitlyn Kowalski, a White woman and Black Lives Matter advocate, responded to Mr. Cameron’s statement stating, “I feel this tactic of dragging it out is an effort to ride out the outrage. People will never forget this. We want Breonna’s murderers arrested … .”
In efforts to ease tensions between law enforcement and an unwavering community that is determined to get results, Mayor Fischer appointed a new interim police chief on Sept. 7. Yvette Gentry, a Black woman, will replace Robert Schroeder, who is retiring. Gentry will assume the position on October 1.