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Louisville Prepares For Kentucky Derby Day Protests

louisville protest
Dylan Lovan
In late May, protesters gathered near Jefferson Square Park to call for justice in the police shooting of Breonna Taylor in Louisville. Protesters have demonstrated at the square for months, calling for officers to be charged in her death on March 13.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer says it feels odd to announce the Kentucky Derby in September, but it's the reality of 2020 — a year when the "most exciting two minutes in sports" will go forward without spectators in the stands due the coronavirus pandemic, but crowds will gather outside the track to amplify calls to arrest and charge the officers who shot and killed Breonna Taylor.

Fischer's comments came during a Wednesday afternoon press conference where the city announced travel restrictions and law enforcement plans for managing protests at the Derby.

"Part of that reality is we are expecting continued demonstrations for racial justice at the track," Fischer said. "Racial justice is a cause we can all believe in and support just as supporting everybody's First Amendment right to protest."

City officials said they are unsure how many protesters will show up, but Louisville Metro Police nonetheless declared an "all work day," requiring officers to be available for work because of the planned demonstrations.

LMPD said it will close down Central Avenue outside the track along with other travel restrictions in the area. There will also be an increased police presence in downtown.

The Kentucky National Guard will be in town to assist police for the first time since guard members shot and killed David McAtee.

Fischer said officers will protect First Amendment rights, but also warned police will arrest anyone for unlawful behavior, including blocking streets, trespassing, property destruction and violence.

LMPD Special Operations Commander Major Aubrey Gregory said they have been in contact with multiple protest groups—some with competing interests—who might be at the Derby, and are prepared to "funnel" the factions into different areas on Central Avenue to try to prevent confrontations.

"This all comes back to safety and that's the number one priority of the police department — public safety," Gregory said.

The social justice group, Until Freedom, the Black militia NFAC, and groups associated with right-wing militias are among those who have announced plans to protest Saturday.

At a separate press conference held for Louisville live streamers, local Pastor Timothy Findley said he will join Until Freedom Saturday afternoon in South Central Park as part boycott and protest of the Kentucky Derby.

Findley said he and other protesters are still waiting for Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron and the FBI to announce the conclusion of their investigation into Taylor's death. He said the last five months have highlighted the lack of leadership and corruption within LMPD and city government.

"We can no longer allow injustice to occur in our community, for that to be slid under the rug and it not to be rectified through the law," Findley said. "The Louisville Metro Police Department has not been held accountable for the egregious injustices against Black residents of this city."

Last Tuesday, the Louisville Metro Police Department arrested 64 protesters — including Findley. The march, called "Good Trouble Tuesday," concluded with a sit-in on an overpass beside Churchill Downs. Police charged them with obstructing the roadway and disorderly conduct.

LMPD has arrested hundreds of protesters since demonstrations over racial justice began in late May following the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Taylor.

This article first appeared on WFPL. For more stories like this, visit now.

Ryan Van Velzer has told stories of people surviving floods in Thailand, record-breaking heat in Arizona and Hurricane Irma in South Florida. He has worked for The Arizona Republic, The Associated Press and The South Florida Sun Sentinel in addition to working as a travel reporter in Central America and Southeast Asia. Born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, Ryan is happy to finally live in a city that has four seasons.