By Bruce Schreiner, AP
Staging their own protest, some Louisville police officers walked out on the mayor to express their frustration amid demonstrations in the Kentucky city over police interactions with blacks.
Video showed dozens of officers quietly filing out as Mayor Greg Fischer arrived at a roll call Wednesday. The walkout was an unplanned response to Fischer’s appearance, said Ryan Nichols, the local Fraternal Order of Police president. Nichols was not present at the walkout.
“They feel completely unsupported and disrespected by this administration,” Nichols told the Courier Journal. “They feel whatever he was going to say would have been nothing more than lip service, and he does not care about them at all.”
Fischer responded with a conciliatory statement recognizing officers for working long hours while “suffering insults and assaults” in dealing with protests. Some officers have been shot at during the unrest, showing the “extraordinary difficulty” they face, the mayor said Thursday.
“They are frustrated, and some of them expressed that frustration today,” Fischer said in his statement about the walkout. “I absolutely respect that. That doesn’t change my appreciation of the work they are doing, as I’ve expressed time and again. They have a very difficult job.”
The Democratic mayor has said he views police as “guardians of the community, not warriors.”
The walkout came amid a tumultuous stretch for Louisville police since the death of Breonna Taylor, a black woman shot in her home by police detectives in March. Police have faced waves of demonstrations challenging their law enforcement tactics in the past week. Protesters are demanding justice for Taylor and George Floyd, a black man who died after an encounter with police in Minneapolis.
Amid the unrest in Louisville, some people brought Molotov cocktails and bricks to demonstrations, police have said. An armored police vehicle was shot but no officers were hurt, interim police Chief Robert Schroeder said Wednesday. Police found “incendiary liquids and devices” in a downtown park where protesters gathered, police Lt. Col. Josh Judah said Thursday.
Police have used tear gas and fired pepper balls to clear demonstrators. The unrest turned deadly when a black man, David McAtee, was shot to death early Monday during an encounter with police and National Guard soldiers trying to clear a crowd from a parking lot to enforce a curfew. Witnesses said the crowd was not protesting.
Video released by police appears to show McAtee opening fire as officers approached his business, the interim police chief said. McAtee’s family said he was protecting his restaurant after officers began pelting people with pepper balls. Video of the confrontation appears to show a beverage can being shot off a table near the door of the restaurant moments before McAtee returned fire.
On Wednesday, Fischer announced plans to hire an outside group to perform a “top-to-bottom” review of the city’s police department. Louisville’s police chief was fired after it came to light that officers involved in McAtee’s shooting failed to activate their body cameras.
On Thursday, the mayor lifted the city’s dusk-to-dawn curfew, saying protests were “largely peaceful” the past couple of nights.
But the mayor warned that “criminal elements” were “hijacking” the protests, dishonoring the memories of Taylor and Floyd. Overnight, once demonstrators dispersed, officers have come under gunfire several times when protecting businesses in the city, Judah said.
Authorities made 176 protest-related arrests in the city as of Thursday morning, Judah said.
While urging peace in the city, the mayor called for mutual understanding between protesters and police, saying: “I just ask everybody to put yourself in each other’s shoes.”
Fischer also has faced pressure from protesters calling for the firing of the officers involved in the raid leading to Taylor’s death. He said he can’t legally fire police officers, pointing to state law and the collective bargaining agreement with the police union, which lays out a process to fire officers.
“If an officer is fired outside of that process, the officer can appeal, will appeal, to get their job back immediately, with back pay and even damages and have a platform then to sue the city for wrongful termination,” he said recently.
Taylor, a 26-year-old EMT, was shot eight times by narcotics detectives who knocked down her front door while attempting to enforce a search warrant. No drugs were found in the home.
Elsewhere, two men accused of trying to disrupt a peaceful protest this week in Murray, Kentucky, were arrested by local police – one for allegedly pulling up to the crowd in a car and pointing a gun at protesters, the other for allegedly pepper-spraying protesters, media outlets reported.