The fifth consecutive day of protests against police violence in Louisville featured two gatherings: one, a demonstration at Jefferson Square Downtown, and another at 26th and Broadway, where a barbecue chef was shot and killed early Monday morning.
More than a thousand protesters gathered at Jefferson Square Park to demonstrate in the wake of the deaths of Breonna Taylor, who was killed by Louisville Metro Police in March, and David McAtee, who died at the hands of LMPD and the National Guard early Monday morning.
Protesters knelt in a moment of solidarity before marching down Sixth Street to Broadway, where they turned west and headed for Yaya’s BBQ, the site where he was gunned down by authorities less than 24 hours earlier.
Cynthia Ganote, a white woman, says she was marching to show solidarity with people of color. She said she feels her place is to show up, listen and act.
“It is not up to those who are constantly being oppressed to figure out how to end systemic oppression,” Ganote said.
Verona Hardimon, a Black woman whose family lives in the West End, says she heard the commotion and decided to see the protests for herself, with her granddaughter and her son. She commented on the many white faces joining in the march.
“I think that’s what it’s going to take — white people standing up for what’s wrong and how we’ve been treated for years. I really do, I love it,” Hardimon said.
Once the march reached the site where McAtee died, most demonstrators turned around and walked back toward downtown. There were already hundreds more gathered there.
After the march, a few hundred of the protesters returned to downtown. Up until this point, the police presence had been much less noticeable than in recent days. But around 10 p.m., things changed.
Mayor Greg Fischer said police broke up the protest because shots were fired. WFPL’s Ryan Van Velzer did not hear gunshots, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t happen. It was a chaotic scene. Police began firing teargas, flash bangs and pepper balls.
Two police lines formed and marched on protesters, at one point firing tear gas behind them, forcing them to run through it. Officers also appeared on rooftops and fired non-lethal deterrents down on small clusters of protesters after clearing Jefferson Square Park. Here’s what one protester, Christina, saw:
“When we got here there were people running down the streets crying because they got shot with teargas, one girl was running down the street screaming I can’t see, I can’t see, I can’t see.”
Within a half hour, police seem to have retaken downtown.
Twenty blocks west — police were nowhere to be seen for much of the evening.
Shortly after 8 p.m., more than a thousand people were crowded at the intersection of 26th and Broadway. They carried signs and honked horns, they embraced and shared tales of McAtee.
The night was less protest and more celebration of sorts for McAtee — known around here as Yaya.
“Ain’t nobody else can barbecue better than him, no chef can tear up in the kitchen better than him. None of that, this block isn’t going to be nothing without Yaya, they done destroyed a legend, for nothing,” said a young man who goes by Snow.
Snow spent lots of time in McAtee’s shop — and like many other here had never ending stories about McAtee’s generosity, his presence and the gaping hole his death leaves.
“No lie, there is no 26 without YaYa,” he said.
McAtee was known for his barbecue. He owned a small restaurant here at this intersection and fed passersby, police and anyone who needed a bite to eat — he would leave meat on the grill at night for homeless, he’d happily hand over a hotdog even if you were short on cash. He was killed in a barrage of bullets fired by police and the National Guard.
His brother, Marvin McAtee, said when the police and soldiers arrived they began firing non-lethal pepper balls, and Yaya was reaching out the door of the shop to grab a cousin and pull him inside when he caught a bullet in his chest — a real bullet.
“It’s the most terrible loss I’ve ever had in my life, and I’ve had losses. He was my mentor, my rock, didn’t nobody ride for me in my family like he did. It’s a terrible loss,” he said.
Marvin is co-owner of the barbecue shop and says he plans to honor his brother’s legacy — cooking food and playing music.
“Old school music, their young music, all the way the people like. He’s a good man, he’s a good man,” Marvin said.
As the night wore on and the imposed curfew of 9 p.m. came and went, no police had shown up — but people wondered constantly if they would. And if they did… what would happen.
The night was incredibly peaceful — but just before 11 p.m., a fire broke out atop Dino’s Food Mart, a convenience store right at the intersection. Firefighters showed up; police and the National Guard were right behind them.
For less than an hour, the police and soldiers monitored the scene, some with rifles, some without. People stood on the sidewalks filming, wondering how the night would end.
They got their answer shortly after the flames were extinguished. The Humvees pulled away and police were soon to follow.
Cheers erupted from the crowd and the night carried on.
The only thing missing was Yaya’s barbecue.