David McAtee had a running joke with a group of young men that would frequent his small barbecue stand.
When the police would show up for a meal, the men would retreat inside the shop to avoid the officers. McAtee, though, would laugh and cut up with the officers, sneaking glances at the men taking cover inside.
Afterwards, McAtee would step into the shop, beaming with a big smile on his face, asking the men why they didn’t like good friends.
“I’d tell him, ‘What you mean, why I don’t like your friends?’” said one of the young men, who goes by Snow. “I don’t like the police.”
But McAtee did.
On Monday, McAtee was killed in a barrage of bullets fired by the Louisville Metro Police and the National Guard. Law enforcement came to the intersection of 26th Street and Broadway to disperse a crowd that was gathered there after curfew. Police officials say McAtee stepped out of his small barbecue shop and fired a gun; the officers and Guard members returned fire and killed McAtee.
“He thought they were his friends, and they killed him,” said Snow.
He was one of thousands who went to the 26th and Broadway intersection over the past two nights to pay respects to McAtee, the man everyone knew as Yaya and the purveyor of Yaya’s BBQ.
His death was initially discussed as an unfortunate tragedy by police and Mayor Greg Fischer. But on Tuesday, the officials released surveillance footage from inside Yaya’s shop that they say shows that McAtee was the person who fired a gun, leading officers to shoot back.
The video shows a crowd of people running into the shop as the police and National Guard were moving through the area. McAtee heads to the door and appears at one point to grip a pistol he keeps on his hip. He briefly steps outside the door and then returns to the shop and collapses on the floor. The video does not clearly show McAtee firing rounds at police. A gun is on the floor near the doorway, and a woman standing nearby points at it as he lay on the ground.
The video, however, and the implication that McAtee contributed to his own death, didn’t change their opinions or affect their grief.
“Oh my god, I’m going to miss him, I’m going to really miss him,” said Frances McAtee, his cousin, as she worked the grill outside the shop Tuesday evening.
Frances said she and her cousin were the cooks of the family. They always gravitated to the kitchen or the grill and they bonded while preparing feasts for the annual family reunion.
This year, though, Frances said she’ll be on her own, and it won’t be the same.
“You’ll see me with a sad face,” she said.
Though McAtee is gone from the corner barbecue shop, his nephew Marvin McAtee intends to keep the shop operating.
He’s worked the shop with McAtee, running the books and keeping the music playing. And said that’s how he will keep his brother’s legacy alive.
On Tuesday he was running around the shop, shaking hands and embracing loved ones, prepping for a celebration of McAtee’s life. Marvin was in the shop with McAtee the night he died.
Marvin dismisses police’s claim that uncle was the aggressor. He said a crowd of people were flooding into the shop after the National Guard and police pulled up to the intersection around midnight Monday morning. McAtee was trying to get people out of the shop, keep them away, and protect his business. Marvin believes his uncle was unaware that police and Guard members were on the street with guns at the ready, and when he stepped back out the door, he took a bullet in the chest.
“His thing was, nobody can run up in here,” Marvin said. “He has to protect his shit. If they can’t understand that, that’s on them.”
Marvin, like many who came to remember McAtee, still wonders why the police came with such aggression, and why the National Guard was there, at all.
It’s unclear which agency fired the bullet that killed McAtee. J. Michael Brown, the secretary of the governor’s Executive Cabinet, said the shooting is under investigation. Preliminary finds show at least 18 shots were fired by four law enforcement officers.
Marvin said the 26th and Broadway intersection is one of the city’s most dangerous, and he’s seen some crazy incidents over the years. But rarely does he see more than half a dozen or so police respond.
“You’re going to bring the National Guard, for a curfew?” he said, shaking his head. “What was the point of making a demonstration for a curfew?”
Like Snow, Marvin said McAtee was close to the local police. He respected the police, and cared for the officers that patrolled the streets around his shop.
And now, Marvin intends to carry that theme at the shop, and if the police show up looking for a meal, he will shake their hand and give them a burger, just like his uncle would.
Jared Bennett contributed reporting.