Louisville Metro Police Department officers met peaceful protesters with weapons of war and tear gas in downtown Louisville, KY, June 2020. Credit: Samuel Crankshaw, ACLU of Kentucky Foundation.

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Written by Shameka Parrish-Wright and Khalilah Collins

It’s been two and a half years since the height of the 2020 protests. For over 100 days in 2020, thousands of protestors took to the streets to demand justice for Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old woman murdered in her own home by the Louisville Metro Police Department—and countless others who have suffered at the hands of LMPD. Instead of seeing us as a community seeking accountability, LMPD treated us like a threat. They tear gassed us, exploded flash bangs in our faces and fired pepper balls into our chests, our heads. Night after night, officers surrounded us, assaulted us, and placed us in handcuffs. All to keep hiding the truth about Breonna Taylor: that LMPD killed her while executing a warrant based on a lie.

Mayor Fischer talked a lot about supporting the protestors, but when it came time for action, he was nowhere to be found. He knew we were getting tear gassed and shot at by LMPD officers in the streets.

We experienced LMPD's chemical weapons a few times during the protests at Jefferson Square Park, also known as Injustice Square, in response to Breonna Taylor’s murder. The Louisville Metro Police were dressed in riot gear and had sticks. They marched toward us, unprovoked and well before curfew or even dusk. One of them pushed Rep. Attica Scott down as we were standing there. As she went to get medical care, they started to fire chemical weapons directly at us.

We saw people hit in the face and upper body. Our fellow peaceful protesters fell to the ground, and as pepper balls hit us they burst to create more chemicals. We choked and our eyes watered. It was terrifying. It was like a war zone.

Our story is far from unique. In fact, a group of people sued the City of Louisville over LMPD’s use of tear gas in July 2020. The mayor even apologized for doing it. But then when it came time to do something about it, he refused. LMPD still has the same tear gas supplies that they used that summer. And despite a few changes to its Standard Operating Procedures, LMPD still has far too much freedom to use tear gas on whole crowds of people.

It’s not that Louisville needs these kinds of weapons to prevent violence at protests. Thousands of people protested during the Occupy movement in 2010. Countless people protested against ICE. The Women’s March drew many of us out into the streets. But those people were never tear-gassed. They were never beaten with batons, or shot with pepper balls.

Disregarding Louisville's Black and Brown Residents

We all know why that is, even if it’s uncomfortable to say: Black people, and allies of Black people, are always treated as more of a risk. This type of targeted violence shows a disregard for Louisville’s Black and brown residents, and a culture of animosity toward the communities LMPD has pledged to serve.

Louisville is increasingly out of step with other cities. Although numerous other jurisdictions – including Indianapolis, Indiana, St. Louis, Missouri, Charlotte, North Carolina and Columbus, Ohio – banned tear gas or other so-called “crowd-control” weapons following their use during the 2020 protests, Louisville continues to resist change.  And that’s even after Louisville has been sued multiple times—including in a class action lawsuit—for violating our constitutional rights by assaulting demonstrators with tear gas, flash bangs and pepper balls.

Mayor Greenberg's Promises

Louisville can be different. Mayor Craig Greenberg has promised that his administration shares our frustrations with some of LMPD’s operations and lack of transparency. And he’s acknowledged that we need to immediately address these long-standing problems, building trust with the community that LMPD serves and making sure that our voices are heard.

We have demanded, time and again, that the Louisville Metro Government respect our right to take to the streets in protest and that LMPD must be banned from using chemical munitions and military tactics against those they have pledged to protect.  

Mayor Greenberg, you say you want to improve our trust in LMPD and in your administration. Now is the time. You cannot say you value us but allow your police department to tear gas us for demanding justice. You cannot say you want us to trust the LMPD but allow them to shoot us, blind us, or terrorize us for no reason.

Mayor Greenberg, your administration stands at a precipice: you can make the right choice for the sake of public safety and accountability, and begin to fulfil your promise to address Louisvillians’ concerns about the indiscriminate and unchecked violence of LMPD.  Chemical munitions can be banned from use on community members, as they should always have been.

Or you can continue your predecessor’s shameful legacy and cement the fact that the City of Louisville refuses to hold LMPD accountable and refuses to account for the violence it inflicted on residents in 2020 and beyond.

One way or another, we will know where you stand.

Khalilah V. Collins is a Social Worker/Social Justice Practitioner and has over 20 years of experience in community organizing, program development, and education around economic and racial justice, mental health and violence prevention.

Shameka Parrish-Wright is a long-time community organizer, successful project and campaign manager and social justice activist. She is formerly homeless, formerly incarcerated, and was the child of an incarcerated person.