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To Avoid Tear Gas, Danger, Louisville Protesters Take To The Suburbs

J. Tyler Franklin

On the night of the first protest in Louisville on May 28, Kayla Meisner and her boyfriend watched everything unfold downtown on the news. She said, for a long time, they talked about taking to the streets to demand change. But it’s also been scary. 

“Then we go [to the protests] Friday with the same mentality, this is something we’re fighting for, but we’re scared of this,” said Meisner, who is Black and works at the University of Louisville. 

Meisner thought the protests felt peaceful on Friday, but said things had “a totally different energy” when it got dark. 

“We ended up getting hurt and tear gassed,” she said. “I had a pepper [ball] blow up on my leg.” 

She said that was the impetus for working with some friends to organize protests in St. Matthews, an affluent eastern suburb of Louisville. 

Credit J. Tyler Franklin

“That was the whole point of coming here, is where’s somewhere police probably won’t tear gas, and it’s probably in the suburban white neighborhood,” Meisner said. 

They’ve been coming to the intersection of Breckenridge Lane and Shelbyville Road since Sunday, and try to get everyone to leave at 8 p.m. each night to give them plenty of time to get home before the mayor’s 9 p.m. curfew. The plan is to return to this spot every night from 4 – 8 p.m., taking Saturdays off, she said.

Wednesday night, people packed each street corner of the intersection, holding up signs, chanting the names of “Breonna Taylor” and “David McAtee,” two Louisvillians shot and killed by law enforcement, or “Black Lives Matter,” all against the backdrop of people honking their horns as they drive by.

At each protest, they pass out pamphlets with a list of demands and actions. The demands include abolishing no-knock warrants, that the mayor and Metro Council address police use of force, more transparency with law enforcement and firing and revoking the pensions of the officers who killed Taylor and McAtee. 

“Some people love the idea, some people hate it,” she said. “I’m not a professional activist, but I feel like we’re doing something really good out here. It feels good.”

Feels good, she explained, because the turnout has been good, in her opinion. 

Elizabeth Walker Burns lives nearby and decided to check the area out after having participated in protests downtown. She said she’s been coming out each night to simply ask for justice.

“Just trying to make sure that we get the word out that it’s not just about ‘all lives matter,’” she said. “We get that all lives do matter, but really what it is, in order for all lives to matter… our government and our law enforcement need to understand this is a systemic issue.”

She too wanted to go to a protest without the fear of tear gas and stinging pepper balls. 

“Just looking for us to peacefully protest so that individuals are aware that this is a bigger issue than just what has happened in our community,” she said.

At one point, the protesters left the street corners to walk down Shelbyville Road. Police cars followed behind with their sirens blaring and, over their PAs, telling people to get out of the road and onto the sidewalk. St. Matthews Police Chief Barry Wilkenson said one officer fired off some pepper balls “into the asphalt” when this happened. 

“We’re trying to set the tone that you can’t do anything unlawful,” he said, and at that time they were blocking the road. 

Wilkenson said there was one other incident where an officer “displayed” a non-lethal weapon. 

As this happened, Ashton Warrington pulled himself up onto the base of a street light, waving everyone back to their original spot.

Warrington believes it’s important to protest in St. Matthews.

“We feel like if there’s going to be change and there’s going to be reform it needs to be out amongst the people who have some sort of push or money or power to say that this is what needs to change,” he said.

He says seeing so many faces out tonight, of different ages and different skin tones, is a beautiful thing. 

“We need this multitude of life, race, color and age, like whether you’re 8 years old or 65 years old, you should be able to see that what is happening to Black Americans is not right,” Warrington said.

Warrington added that they really want to keep things “chill.”

Much of the crowd did leave at 8 p.m. One protester called out to them as they departed: “Same time, same place tomorrow.” 

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