Protesters in Louisville, Kentucky, demanded justice for Breonna Taylor as Derby day, the most famous day in American horse-racing, takes place in the city Saturday.
Derby day is typically held the first Saturday of May but was postponed due to the pandemic. The race will be held without spectators after Churchill Downs, the racing track, said the spread of Covid-19 in the region made an audience too dangerous.
Despite the race not having spectators, the last few weeks have seen calls to amp up protests highlighting the killing of Taylor around the big event, with the social justice organization Until Freedom calling for the cancellation of the event entirely as the city continues to grapple with Taylor’s death.
While some protesters for Taylor were seen in downtown Louisville earlier Saturday afternoon, armed counter-protesters, some holding Trump 2020 flags, have congregated in the city. A brief confrontation between the two groups occurred downtown in the city, but remained mostly peaceful, according to the Louisville Courier Journal.
After that confrontation members of the Atlanta-based Not Fucking Around Coalition, known as NFAC, which describes itself as a group of armed Black military veterans demanding racial justice, marched on the race track in a tight formation of black-clad protestors.
A different group rallied at another city park. Sadiqa Reynolds, the president and CEO of the Louisville Urban League, told the crowd there not to be distracted by any armed protesters opposed to them. “You must stay focused,” she said. “We are not here for violence. We are not here to do damage. We are here for justice.”
Counter-protesters said they do not oppose the protests for Taylor, rather they were looking to counter the appearance of the NFAC. The group said it also had plans to appear at protests outside the Derby.
Taylor, a 26-year-old Black emergency room technician, was killed by police 13 March. Three white police officers entered the home she shared with her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, on a no-knock warrant in the middle of the night. Walker, thinking the police were intruders since they did not announce themselves, fired a shot. Taylor, who was standing in the hallway, was killed by the hail of gunfire the officers returned in response.
One of the police officers involved in the shooting was fired from the police department for “wantonly and blindly” firing his weapon into the home, though no charges have been filed against him or the other officers.
The case has become a cause celebre during a summer of mass protest and civic unrest around the issue of racial justice and police killings of Black people. The Taylor case in particular has struck a chord with celebrities and the world of sports due to the lack of action taken against police.
Last weekend, nearly 70 protesters with Until Freedom were arrested near Churchill Downs after they sat down at a major avenue, blocking traffic near the track.
Over the last few days, chants of “no justice, no peace” have turned into calls of “no justice, no derby” as local protesters demanded the cancellation of the event in the wake of protests, which have been going on in Louisville for nearly 15 weeks.
“What I don’t understand is how the city think we just go to some celebratory event while this city is hurting,” Hannah Drake, a Black poet and activist based in Louisville, told the Washington Post. “To just go on like that didn’t happen, to me is a slap in the face.”
In response to calls for cancellation of Derby day, Churchill Downs said in a statement that the Derby “binds us together as Americans, even as we seek to acknowledge and repair the pain that takes us apart”.
Louisville’s police department said a large presence of police near Churchill Downs is typical on Derby day, saying that police will not disrupt “lawful protests that are not violent”.