This story originally appeared in print in the 2020 Vol. 5 issue of Louisville Magazine.
On June 16, Louisville Magazine opened its office to a handful of the city’s Black leaders for a socially distanced, intergenerational discussion about racism, the protests, Gen Z, police brutality, reparations and so much more. Including, of course, Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old Black woman and ER technician who was shot and killed by LMPD officers in her apartment on March 13, and whose death led to the Metro Council’s unanimous vote on June 11 to ban controversial no-knock warrants.
Cassia Herron, who writes for the magazine and chairs the nonprofit Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, and Ricky L. Jones, director of the Pan-African Studies Department at the University of Louisville and host of his namesake radio show, asked questions along with Louisville Magazine editor Josh Moss, though Herron and Jones became part of the dialogue as much as they helped guide it.
About halfway through, Charles Booker, the Kentucky state senator whose profile had been soaring during the protests and who hadn’t yet lost his Democratic primary race for U.S. Senate, had to leave to do an interview with CNN. The other participants were:
*Jecorey Arthur, a musician, Simmons College professor and, since this conversation happened, winner of the Democratic primary for the Metro Council seat that represents his home neighborhood, Russell. He’s running unopposed in the fall, meaning the 28-year-old will become the youngest person ever elected to Metro Council.
*Quintez Brown, raised in west Louisville, is a junior political science major at U of L. He writes for the Courier-Journal and plans to teach and continue writing upon graduation.
*Hannah Drake is a writer and poet. As a cultural strategist for IDEAS xLab, she is working on a piece of artwork titled “The (Un)Known Project,” which will include a bench along the Ohio River and footprints on the sidewalk. “For Black men, women and children — unknown names of the enslaved,” Drake says. “At the narrowest point of the river, which is in the West End, if the river was low you could walk across to Indiana. If they would catch Black people, they would kill them and put them in the river and cover their bodies with limestone as a deterrent. The bench will be made out of limestone to bring awareness to that fact.”
*Brianna Harlan, raised in west Louisville, is a mixed-media artist and community organizer, whom Jones referred to as “the quote machine.” Harlan created an augmented-reality monument for Breonna Taylor called “She Ascends,” and she is challenging inequities in Louisville’s arts institutions.
The discussion went on for more than two and a half hours. The following are non-chronological excerpts from the conversation, edited for length and clarity.
“I feel that Breonna Taylor would have been erased from history. Of course we all know there’s this hierarchy in America — and, really, the world — and Black women are at the bottom of that. So she has these two things fighting against her to even be known, ’cause she’s Black and she’s a woman. It was (Courier-Journal reporter) Phillip Bailey who called me and said, ‘The LMPD killed a Black woman.’ And I hadn’t heard it. He said, ‘I can’t get any traction around this story. Maybe you can.’ And even when I shared it back in March, maybe 50 people retweeted it. And it didn’t matter how provocative I made the tweet. It just wasn’t getting any attention. Nobody cared. I’m like, ‘She was on the front lines, fighting the coronavirus. Hello? Hello?’ And no one cared. It’s sad that it took a man, (activist) Shaun King, to tweet this information and make it national, and it’s sad that it also took George Floyd, I believe, dying to draw attention. It was like: Hold on, there’s this other person. There’s some noise here in Louisville about this woman named Breonna.
“And my daughter is named Brianna, and my daughter is two years younger than Breonna Taylor (who was 26 when she died). As a Black woman, I knew that could easily be my daughter. When we were saying, ‘Say her name,’ this man texted me and said, ‘Well, shouldn’t we say, ‘Say his or her name’? And I said no. I said, ‘If I asked you right now to give me four names of Black men who have been killed by the police, you can: Mike Brown, Tamir, Trayvon, Eric Garner, Sean Bell. It’ll just go on and on. And I said, ‘Now, tell me four names of Black women who have been killed by the police.’ And you can’t. At best you’re going to tell me Sandra Bland. And now you will say Breonna Taylor. And these are the two names. And the other women are just gone. They’re just erased as if it never happened.”
“One thing that’s fascinating to me about this moment is how intense it is. And it seems different, but I don’t know why. Some folks say it’s the convergence of the coronavirus and this Black death. But Black death, as we know, those of us who follow it, is all too frequent and normalized. And I think that’s why sometimes America doesn’t pay attention. Why is America paying attention right now?”
“The atmosphere is different. And I think that is also what is unavoidable for a lot of people. Like, the heat is present and it’s thick. Folks that have comfort zones can’t run away from it now. That is an opportunity. And I’m in a unique spot, being in elected office and having the lens that I have, knowing that these institutions are not designed for any type of structural change; it’s designed to protect itself. And so the end goal is not to be in that space and become it. You gotta be in there about, ‘Well, how do we disrupt enough to where the work on the ground can happen?’”
“During the pandemic, a lot of people have really started exposing the infrastructure of America, really started questioning our healthcare system. A lot of people feel more vulnerable right now. You also gotta think: We have Trump in office as well, so a lot of people are really doubting the legitimacy of this American project. It feels like a perfect moment to do something, a perfect moment to be outraged.”
“I think the coronavirus is making people face not only these larger systems and issues at a country level, but also on a personal level. So it is a perfect storm of information and time — time with the people we care about, time with the things we care about. Just a perfect storm of everything being very often obvious with the systemic issues and breakdowns in our government’s inability to care for most of us, but especially Black and brown people, especially indigenous and trans people.
“We are stuck at home. And before, we used the internet to cope with the fact that we were working ourselves to breaking points. We came back to our families on the weekend. We came back to our passions on the weekend. But now you’re stepping back and we’re at home and we’re having to think, ‘Well, what is my life, really? What is worth going back to? Why was I making the decisions I was making?’ And you had that time to think, ‘When the world opens back up, where do I want to be? How do I want to be? And what are the things that I want to be a part of?’
“I think this is a perfect storm, but storms pass. A storm shakes things up. It makes new ground, it turns over the ground so new things can grow. The storm is when things ignite, but the work comes after that.
“This moment is probably the smartest in all of the history of the human race, with the most access we’ve ever had to information and technology. In the 1820s, when the Louisville police department was created, we didn’t have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Google. You didn’t have news at the tip of your fingers. And we also have advanced past a moment where, in the ’80s, we had the Michael Jacksons and the Bill Cosbys of the world, the Whitney Houstons of the world. They were the forefront of what America thought life was like for Black people. But they really created a veil that we almost hid behind, and our struggles hid behind, our failures hid behind. We see Beyoncé and LeBron James and Michael Jordan and we think that’s what it means to be Black in America.
“We have this aspiration that has been created. But the rest of us don’t live like that. The rest of us live under a country that we built. And as we saw with the pandemic, and as we’re seeing with police terrorism being streamed live for everyone to see, our lives are essentially the fuel, our failures the fuel that this country runs on.
“James Baldwin said, ‘You cannot fix what you will not face,’ and everyone is facing it. We got the ears of the world right now. And when I told BBC News that Louisville is the capital of American racism, I truly meant that, because we have the overt racism that we all know and see, but we also have that covert racism that exists. That is why we don’t have a full-service grocery store in our area, why we have so much crime in our area. I live in Russell, the highest poverty rate in the city. The real N-word is neglect, and Black people have been facing that neglect for centuries.”
“What gives me hope in how organic the energy is right now is that it’s going to be harder for the power structure to contain it, bottle it up and put it back on the shelf. And it’s allowing for new creativity and new voices to find themselves and to find their space. I’m in parts of Kentucky where it’s like 99 percent white and they marching. I was in Prestonsburg, and they were like, ‘No lives matter ’til Black lives matter.’ They like, ‘Well, we’ve never protested before, Charles. How do we chant?’ And they get fired up!”
“They can’t find the beat!”
“Folks, they’re trying to figure out how to show up right now. I love the fact that the demands are not just about Breonna Taylor anymore, although she’s animating them. That gives me hope, because once they do fire these officers — and they should be arrested — that solves nothing. That solves nothing. That gives us justice in that moment, but it solves nothing. And we gotta remember that the work goes beyond it.”
“Any one of us at any of our jobs would have been fired.”
In June, the Louisville Metro Police Department initiated the termination of officer Brett Hankison, one of three officers involved in the shooting of Taylor. Interim LMPD chief Robert Schroeder wrote that Hankison showed “extreme indifference to the value of human life,” allegedly firing 10 rounds into Taylor’s apartment “blindly.” Two women have accused Hankison of past sexual assaults. As of this writing, Kentucky attorney general Daniel Cameron said his office was still investigating “the events surrounding the death of Ms. Breonna Taylor.”
“Louisville made its money off of slavery. There are people in this very city, well-known people, whose wealth comes from slavery. We can talk about many people in this city whose money is rooted in slavery and trying to pretend like it isn’t. Anything rooted in slavery is going to end bad because it started bad.
“I went to Goshen with Emily Bingham (historian, author and daughter of the late C-J publisher Barry Bingham Jr.) to her family’s farm.” (The farm belongs to Bingham’s aunt, Eleanor Bingham Miller.) “And she said, ‘I want to show you this place here.’ And on this farm, the Goshen farm, there’s a cemetery. And I said, ‘How did you realize this was a cemetery?’ And she said horses never wanted to come in this area, and (her aunt) couldn’t figure out why. So they called in some archeologists. And they started digging in this spot that the horse has just never wanted to go to. And underneath the ground, the surfaces of these headstones start coming up. Because the bodies will cry out. The earth has said: Enough. We are not going to keep receiving these bodies and this blood. We have received these bodies enough.
“When I went to Locust Grove, they wanted to — this is a damn shame too. And put this in this damn article. I went there, and they’re giving me all this history about the former servants. OK, let’s stop right there. If we going to have this talk, wasn’t nobody a servant. Were they getting a check? OK, they weren’t. So what are we talking about? They give me all this history. Pause. I said, ‘What are the names of the 53 slaves that lived here?’ ‘Well, we don’t know,’ the historian tells me, ‘because they were labeled as Negro gal, Negro wench. There’s no names.’ I said, ‘Where are their bodies?’ ‘Well, we believe they’re here somewhere on this property, but we don’t know where.’ You all have enough money to start digging and finding those bodies that are on your property, where people continue to go visit. And you can sit here casually and tell me there are bones on this property that you are not willing to take the time to excavate, to find. That’s shameful. Those people, they existed. They were here and they deserve to be heard and they will continue to cry out. Period. And the body and the earth is going to continue to make noise. And as long as they’re shouting, then I’m going to be shouting.
“Blood will cry out. The blood in Louisville is crying out.”
“I actually called my nana, who’s (civil-rights activist) Mattie Jones. And she said that people are angry and they really have had enough and they’re not going to compromise anymore.”
“I feel like this moment is forcing people in positions of power to come to terms. And I think the pandemic helped to create fertile ground, and I think the bottom is falling out for a lot of people who never thought it would. I’m doing donor calls, and folks that are millionaires are losing everything. Now they’re like, ‘What do I do?’ Welcome. Welcome to the struggle. They wanted this to go away, and they wanted this narrative to be silent. You can’t have an honest conversation about how we change things if you don’t accept the fact that we don’t have people in these positions that understand this stuff and see it and can speak to it.”
“There’s always been this idea, said by Louisvillians, about how a particular racial deal has been made between white and Black Louisvillians for a very long time to create a racial peace, almost — but not equality. And Black Louisvillians have participated in it just as much as white Louisvillians. Do you see that?”
“I think that’s very accurate. I’ve always felt like Louisville was like the frog in the pot, and the water’s slowly being heated up. And by the time it’s boiling, you just sitting there. That there has been a certain level of acceptance.
“The unique nature of what happened to Breonna — being at home. I know that’s happened before, that this is not the first time law enforcement has killed somebody at home. But throughout the course of history, you need someone to be the face of the story that gets told the right way — with her, the work that she had done, all the people that loved her. You shouldn’t have to be an essential worker, you shouldn’t have to have all these stories, but because she had all of this narrative behind her, it allowed the room for people to see it different.
“For Louisville to still be one of the most segregated cities, for us to continue to elect people that just have no clue on what to do about it — it’s not on the agenda. There’ve been a couple of moments where we snapped out of it. I think there have been a couple of incidents where we’ve let a lot of stuff go. Like what happened to my cousin TJ, who was part of what was called the Misidentified Four. Breonna was actually his girlfriend through high school. So I knew of Breonna. I’m older than them, but she was around. But with this situation that happened at the waterfront: They found four young Black men to make an example, because the city wanted to let the white folks know it was OK to come back down to their waterfront. Nobody can convince me otherwise. So they found four young Black men and got some witnesses to give some statements. And they were put in jail. They ended up (being exonerated of a robbery and) getting a settlement from the city. In 2016, TJ was murdered. When I talked to Breonna’s mom, Ms. Palmer, and I put the pieces together with her, it’s like: Man, she was at the funeral.
“I feel like we’re sort of snapping out of it now. The pot has been shattered, and we can put it back together in a different way and do something better, or we can try to piece it back together the way it was and go back home. And I think that’s the moment we’re in. And we got to answer that question: How are we going to put this back together?”
“I’m in my 40s. Traditionally in Louisville, the Black preacher is this voice. That’s gone. When we were protesting down on 26th and Broadway? Child, they start singing one of them Negro spirituals. And I don’t have nothing against Negro spirituals, but them kids was like, ‘We don’t wanna hear that! We been there, done that. Now put on some Kendrick.’ And I’m thinking, ‘Lord, y’all had ’em, now y’all done lost ’em, ’cause y’all singing “We Shall Overcome.”’ It’s just this whole new breed of these young people.
“Last night I was down behind the police line on Facebook Live. My daughter, watching on Facebook, she hears my voice and asks, ‘Where are you?’ And then the next thing, I look: Here she’s walking down the street. And I’m thinking: Just fearless. These young people are fearless now. They’re over it. They’re done. Young people are done.”
“These young people, they’ve been in the house. They’re not in a school right now.”
“My daughter is out here, and we’re getting teargassed. People are shooting things at us in a city where we pay taxes, in a city where we raise our children. Tear gas, physically, it burns, no lie. So one minute you’re doing nothing. And the burn kind of sneaks up on you. At first we were like, ‘What is that smell?’ It smells odd, it smells chemical-y. And then immediately your eyes, your nose, everything is running and dripping, and you can’t see. And you just flush it out with water.
“I’m not saying this because I think I deserve any special treatment, but this is a city where I’ve done a lot of work. And been in the homes of some of the wealthiest people. And shared stages — Jecorey, you too. And Brianna. All of us. And I was furious. And this is what the city did to me? It’s like, you owe me and everybody that was down there a fucking apology. It just shows me the lengths that this city and many cities and really this nation will go to uphold white supremacy and uphold systems. In a matter of days, you declared war on people. And when you reduce it down to its irreducible essence, you were fighting against people who are simply demanding: Stop killing Black people.”
“In my nana’s day, they did their movement and they were organized and they had the discipline. But they let things sit too long. And now in this movement, once we get our demands, that cannot be. Because they will continue to placate us. They change the discrimination, they change the way that the racism manifests — they don’t end it. Unless we keep the pressure on, and we do not go home and say, ‘Them white folks gon’ treat us better now.’ If this is a perfect storm, what comes after the storm?”
“The younger people have dealt with this for so much of their lives. My daughter is 24, and she said, ‘I’ve been protesting a long time.’ OK. A long time, Bri? OK. You know, she Rosa.”
“A good portion of her young life has been spent protesting and dealing with this. And she’s to the point where she says, ‘My kids will not be doing this.’”
“I was 14 during the Ferguson protests in 2014, and I really didn’t know too much about America’s history and racial structure back then. But that really opened my eyes to things.”
“Y’all wild. Y’all gonna tear it all down.”
“When people talk about the communication gap between older people and the young generation, I think there’s a communication gap between Gen Z and millennials. I feel like our generation don’t even listen to millennials sometimes. We grew up in the Obama era. We see their generation as kinda like having a break. Like, y’all had a chance to do something. And then y’all let Trayvon get killed. We tired. We’re not gonna let that happen. We want to change now. I feel like we’re honestly the generation that’s the last generation to be messed with.”
“And I see it in my students at Simmons, who are mostly Gen Z. They are growing up where — I need to go somewhere? I can hit Lyft or hit Uber. I need some food? They get everything, that immediate gratification. So their patience, I think, is a lot thinner than everybody else’s.”
“Y’all have been immersed in this constant state of overt war. Countries were at war with one another for centuries in Europe. You had whole generations that knew nothing but that war. And it created different types of human beings, psychologically. What has this done to people in your generation?”
“I was doing the scroll on social media, and it said, ‘Let this not lead you into despair; let it radicalize you.’ And I think that that is what it has done, because there’s only so long that you can just — you know, that breaking point happens. We’re having it as a city. But I think as young people, we have had to have it as individuals earlier, with that breaking point. Once you step into and claim your own power, you don’t have to answer to anybody else’s. They want us to continue to engage their power. Or my power has to have a seat at a table with their power. Fuck they table! I don’t need their seat. I’m building on my own in a way that I will never have to answer to anybody else. That is my plan.”
“I’m in a survival state. We don’t have time to sit back and wait for the next leader.”
“We’ve been surviving for a long time. We got to get out of that survival mentality. You deserve more, all of us deserve more. We not here just to survive anymore. We want to thrive.”
“I’m in a mindset of liberation now. A lot of people talk about equality. When Obama came in, the conversation was around equality and equity. But I really think it’s more about liberation, about thriving, about being free. They try to put us in this box — like, we gotta have a job, wear a suit and tie. What if I don’t want to? What if I don’t like a suit?”
“That’s survival. We don’t want that.”
“I want to be able to wear my hair as I like to. I want to be able to listen to what I want to, talk how I want to.”
“Anything that tries to make our Blackness smaller is the enemy, is a threat, and we have zero tolerance for that.”
“I got all of this recognition, all these awards, because I was performing with orchestras. But I was the only Black person onstage. Every single orchestra I performed with across the country. I got all this love because I got my master’s degree at age 22, but where I’m from the rate for master’s degrees is zero percent. It didn’t matter. Me being a teacher didn’t matter because Black men represent two percent of the teaching field. Your individual uplift does not equal collective uplift.
“Millennials are the generation of aspiration. We are the same age as the Migos, Lil Uzi Vert, all of these rappers that glorify a life that’s really fabricated. We come from the Black Panther generation, where there’s this sense of fantasticalism — I made that word up — where we look at these milestones that are really transactional, and they’re not transformational. And we get lost in the sauce, and we’re still not free. We are far from it. It don’t matter how many TARCs we get with murals of (the late Louisville civil-rights activist) Louis Coleman Jr. We don’t own Russell. And when they dumped that billion dollars into our community, it ain’t going into our pockets; it’s going into the property. And in a lot of cases, we are going to be moved out from that property. Over the course of time, I have learned as a millennial, as a 28-year-old, that all of this perceived progression is not progression whatsoever.
“And I’ll end with my favorite quote of all time by my spiritual brother, Malcolm X, who said, ‘We have not seen progress. If you stick a knife nine inches in my back, pull it out six, that’s not progress. Even if you pull the knife all the way out, that’s not progress. It’s only once you begin to heal the wound do we see progress.’ We haven’t pulled the knife out, we haven’t healed the wound. In a lot of cases, we won’t even acknowledge that the knife is there.”
David McAtee was killed by the National Guard at his barbecue stand in west Louisville on June 1 as law enforcement broke up a gathering at a nearby gas station at the intersection of 26th Street and Broadway. Officers involved either did not wear body cameras or failed to turn them on, violating LMPD policy and resulting in the firing of former chief Steve Conrad (who had already announced he’d be retiring). The mayor’s office released footage taken from the barbecue stand’s cameras. An interior shot shows McAtee from behind, standing in a doorway, his right arm obscured, before collapsing inside the building, dropping what appears to be a firearm. McAtee’s body was still on the scene the following day as protesters gathered.
“I was in New York when all the protests broke out. And I came home because I saw my community in pain. I saw streets that I passed every day, ’cause I grew up between my nana’s house and my mom’s house. Every day, passing 26th and Broadway, stopping to get McDonald’s, stopping to go grab some groceries so my mom could cook. I never imagined it being like how the people were in Ferguson. I never imagined seeing these things happen in the places I grew up, to the people I grew up with.”
“I told the mayor, ‘You brought that to David McAtee.’ The people down in the West End didn’t have anything to do with what was going on downtown. But in typical fashion, you brought that to them. And I told the governor before the National Guard arrived: ‘You are making the wrong move. Because undoubtedly they are going to kill somebody Black.’ And sure enough, that happened. And Black people always know. We can always smell the rain coming. We’re always going to sound the alarm. America just keeps hitting the snooze button over and over and over again. So I tell, essentially, white people, ‘Don’t ask for whom the bell tolls; it’s tolling for you. It’s been tolling for you, and you refuse to hear it.’ And now here we are. So fuck your Omni. Fuck your Target. Fuck your Oxmoor Mall. I don’t care about any of that. None of it. If they don’t arrest, charge and convict these officers and the whole bitch burns, I don’t care, as long as people stay out of the West End.”
“Hannah called me and was like, ‘They killed a brother last night.’ And we went down to 26th and Broadway, and we were crowd control, and we were traffic control. And we were really managing the response of people’s grief and anger and pain. And we watched and looked at these officers across the street, and folks were singing and bringing people water. We were making calls to the governor’s office and to the mayor’s office, like, ‘Hey, these officers need to be leaving the streets, ’cause we don’t know how long we’re gonna be able to manage.’”
“I was standing in the street at 26th and Broadway, and everybody’s angry. You should be angry. One of the things, for me as a leader, is saying, ‘First of all, what I’m not gonna do is try to dismiss your pain and go right to: Well, let’s protect property.’ That angers me in my soul because that means, once again, you are not seeing us as human beings.
“We also know, through the course of our history, that major change often came because folks stood up and fought back — even physically. So we cannot act like the only way change is going to happen is by us sitting at the table and talking calmly. I mean, that’s a great thing to aspire for, and I’m continuing to work to build coalitions so that we can do those things. But we can’t be surprised if folks want to just flip the whole table over. And so my response to folks is like: ‘Look, you mad. And y’all talking real loud. And if you going to run at those officers, I’m gon’ run first. We have every bit of reason to be mad, and we are hurt, and we are dying — and if somebody hurts your family, you fight. And so if you need to fight right now, then I’m going to. But there’s another way to fight as well. And I’m not going to put one over the other. I’m just going to give you both the options, and let’s see what we can do.’
“But the officers were holding their weapons. This was like out of a movie. This scene, I was like, ‘Man, somebody is gonna write about this.’ Broadway was like the chasm. And on one side were folks almost demanding revolution. And the other side is essentially protecting the status quo with one of ours” — McAtee’s body — “on the other side of the lines. And we could see him.”
“But we couldn’t touch him.”
“And you just knew that if somebody just snapped their finger a certain way that this whole city would be different right now. I went over to the officers, and I’m like, ‘First of all, why are you holding weapons? What are you here for? Why are y’all lined up like this? What’s this posture about?’ And they were like, essentially, ‘Well, we can’t put our weapons down because we can’t be left defenseless.’ Like, ‘Defenseless against whom? If you’re protecting one of ours, then why would you think you need to be prepared to attack us? Show us that you belong to us, ’cause we pay for you. Put your weapons down.’ And they were like, ‘Well, this is above my pay grade.’ And I was like, ‘Well, I’m about to call the mayor.’ I was like, ‘You’re screwing this up.’”
“We made some calls!”
“The mayor, the governor.”
“Eventually the word got back to them to put their weapons down. I don’t take peace in that. But it was a moment of opportunity. It wasn’t like we was cool. But we came together and resolved and it was like, ‘OK, we’re still here.’ It was one of the most powerful moments I have ever experienced.”
“Amy McGrath (who beat Booker in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate and will face Mitch McConnell in the fall), I think what she misses, and Black people have to continuously put it on the forefront, is: Racism and white supremacy are also global pandemics. People think that white supremacy is just Ku Klux Klan folks marching around in hoods, or white nationalists in Charlottesville marching around protecting Confederate statues. White supremacy is expressed in so many ways. White supremacy is expressed in the halls of power, where mayors, senators, presidents can simply ignore Black voices. White supremacy is police officers killing Black people and nobody says anything. White supremacy is Black children being homeless and starving. White supremacy is a K-12 curriculum that never mentions Black people, that paints them out of history, and they only learn about Booker T. Washington, Martin Luther King, Jr. And surface stuff about them! All of those are manifestations of white supremacy.”
“I said this to Amy McGrath: ‘You and all your excuses.’ Like, ‘Oh, you know, I’m at home with my family.’ And then she says, ‘Well, you know, it is a pandemic.’” (During a Democratic primary debate on KET, McGrath stated that she had not attended any of the recent protests. She said, “We’re in the middle of a pandemic. So we also have to look at: Is that the place to be right now?”) “I was offended as a Black person. None of us forgot it’s a pandemic. We know what we’re risking. We know that we are putting our very bodies on the line to be in these streets. But we are willing to take the risk to get justice — not just for Breonna, but for Black people. So for someone who wants to be senator to minimize it, like we all forgot it’s a pandemic, is ludicrous. Black people have been fighting two pandemics. We don’t have the luxury of sitting at home saying, ‘You know what? I’m just going to worry about the coronavirus.’”
“There are national campaigns right now around defunding the police, and there’s a lot of distortion about what that means.”
“I don’t see how there’s that much distortion. Like, it literally says: Defund the police. It really can’t get more specific than that. The demand is, we want to take money away from the police. What do we do with that money? We want to see less officers. We want to see less money in their budget. I know one part of the demand is to cut all police departments by half, and cut all their budgets by half. But most importantly, it’s: You can’t reform that institution. Defunding the police is our first step toward dismantling everything that was rooted in slavery. Because they’re the original slave catchers. When Black people try to liberate themselves and become free, you had the police to stop them and put them back in their place. So defunding the police to me means kind of like funding our revolution by defunding our oppression.”
On June 25, Metro Council signed off on a budget that, according to a C-J story, “won’t ‘defund’ police…but will tweak how the agency spends part of its budget.”
“You’re trying to reform something that was built from slavery. Make it make sense! You cannot reform that. What you have to do is dismantle it, start all over again.”
“You can’t edit the devil into god.”
“Say that again, honey! One more time!”
“First of all, police don’t even understand the law they’re sworn to protect. They get six months (of training), where a lawyer has to go for years. So if they can’t even understand the law, which is their whole job, and their only tool for defending that law is violence, how can they understand social services, mental illness? How can they understand cultural differences in forms of expression, all of these things that lead to violence? And they say, ‘Well, we felt under threat,’ and they can use that as a blanket excuse. Defunding the police is saying, ‘Well, if you can’t even understand the law, we’re not going to give you the power to also take care of all of these other things that you use as an excuse to do violence against us.’”
“LMPD killed somebody in their home, and what the police department and the mayor were hoping and praying is the coronavirus is just going to cover this up. And it didn’t. Your sins have indeed found you out. That’s America. That’s Louisville. And then you add insult to injury and unleash this report that Breonna Taylor has no injuries.” (The scant, inaccurate LMPD report about the shooting of Breonna Taylor listed her injuries as “none.”) “No injuries? Then where is she?! Where is she?! She’s dead! And even in her death you don’t have the dignity to even complete the fucking paperwork! So that’s why people want to turn over shit. And that’s why people are in the street. And now, Black people — and many white people — it’s on our terms. We’re going to do it the way that we want to do it. And if it’s in the street, then it’s gonna be in the fucking street. Period.”
“LMPD has 1,157 officers. Twelve of them (according to a WDRB story) live in the West End. What’s that? Like one percent?”
“We’re trying to say we want to fully fund public safety. What we haven’t done is invest in public safety. We’ve invested in police, and those are not the same thing. I think there’s an opportunity for folks to be able to see this as a very rational, measured response, and it’s being co-opted into being this scary narrative about abolishing police, which means we can’t discuss it.”
“I shot an AR-15 the other day at a gun range. It was a big-ass gun. I could barely hold it, and I’m pretty strong. I’m preparing to be a gun owner. I can’t get comfortable with them. And so I’m forcing myself to get comfortable, ’cause my German Shepherd isn’t enough to protect me and my family. But I couldn’t believe that we spend money on these machines, and that people are hunted down with these machines. And when you talk about incremental change, one of the things I thought was, ‘Damn, could we just get rid of these machines?’ Could we get rid of the big tanks as a starting point? Why are these things being used for protection for people?”
“Police are not acquiescing. Police are not reflecting, for the most part. There have been some symbolic knees here and there. But you got cops who are making demands of chiefs, of mayors. They are doubling down.”
“It is a battle. And they’re not just gonna lay down power. So all this symbolic I’m-gonna-take-a-knee shit don’t mean anything. What does matter to me is your policies and procedures. And here’s the thing: I know the game. Any time there’s some police issue in the United States, in less than 24 hours, you’ll see a police officer dancing, a police officer giving away popsicles in a community, a police officer walking an old Black lady across the street to make it appear like, oh, all police aren’t bad. It’s just this one little bad apple.”
“It doesn’t just apply to cops. It applies to everyone who’s doing performance as solidarity. You can’t put a black square up on social media. You can’t say that you want to donate, but then not put in any legwork after that. If you do your performative action but then continue to be complicit in the systems of white supremacy, you are no better than the cop that kneels in my face just to spray me later. You are the same. And allies need to understand that now.”
“At one protest, an officer was talking to me and said, ‘We’ve been out here 15 days.’ I said, ‘We’ve been out here 400 years.’ So here we are. What we gon’ do?”
“When I first announced that I was running for Metro Council, I came out talking about a Black agenda in Louisville. I talked about getting the mayor — in his new position as president (of the U.S. Conference of Mayors) — to push reparations across the country. I was talking about all of this, and so many people — Black, white and in between — said, ‘Be careful.’ I was told to hush up, and people tried to kind of shoo me away from having that conversation. Fast-forward: Now, Mayor Fischer just the other day committed on camera that he would push reparations as a nationwide conversation with other mayors. And now everybody wants to talk about being Black and the struggles of being Black — from COVID to police terrorism. And it’s almost kind of ironic how the narrative has changed over the course of the past six months.”
“Arguments like these are cast like they’re insane, like they’re beyond the pale. But they’re reasonable arguments, when you talk about reformation, defunding or even the abolition of police. Reparations is an argument that has been around forever. So the question is: How do we hold on to not just this moment but this movement of pressing structures to engage at least in the conversations? Because one thing that white supremacy and white privilege does is, it gives people the ability to simply ignore you, to not have the conversations themselves. So it doesn’t matter if the conversations are reasonable, right? They can just be crushed.”
“And not only do we need to get reparations for being locked down in slavery, we need reparations for being locked out of accumulating wealth. Because when we were forbidden from getting loans to own homes and to buy a property, when we were excluded and separated and segregated from having healthcare, from having adequate education, that impacted us to this day. And we need to be in charge of how that decision’s made, because when you owe somebody money, you don’t give it to them and tell them how to spend it.
“I will say real quick and then let it go: We will never hear the excuse that we’ve heard forever about reparations not making sense, not being possible, because we just gave away trillions of stimulus dollars.”
“They found that money, didn’t they?”
“They found that money in four weeks, but we can’t find the money in 400 years.”
“What y’all saying reminds me of that Toni Morrison interview where she’s basically like, ‘If you can only stand tall because someone else is on their knees, then you have a serious problem.’ White people have a serious problem, and they need to start thinking about what they can do about it. Take me out of it. Quit asking me.”
“I just talked to one of the wealthiest people in the state. The next time we talk, I will share, ‘I’m not applying for your $20,000 grants. We want shares in your company.’ That’s the difference in the conversation between now and what’s happened before. Folks used to be OK with a law that was passed. But that no-knock ordinance was passed, and I remember how beautiful it was to see these hundreds of people being able to watch a Metro Council meeting together. This is what democracy looks like for me. Right before COVID, you see a Metro Council meeting — there’s nobody in the chambers, nobody’s paying attention. All of a sudden, there’s dead Black bodies and folks are flooding the streets and folks are paying attention. And they’re gonna be on the streets. It’s not enough for an ordinance here or a law here, or for us to elect a judge. We want it all.”
“I’m glad that (no-knock) law passed, but I’m not satisfied. I believe the police department and other issues in Louisville are like the head of the hydra. You get rid of the police chief and then two more things pop back, right? The only way to do it is to cut off the complete head, and the complete head here in Kentucky is white supremacy.”
“Jecorey tweeted one day—”
“You tweeted, ‘I love our political and social education happening right now. What have you learned lately?’ So I’m gonna pitch that to y’all. What have you learned in these last few weeks?”
“I’ve learned that a fad fades, and a trend is the way the world will be over time. And I see clearly a lot of this new awareness is a fad, and it will fade. But I’m hoping that some things that stick are the trend, the way the world should just be going. Like with legalizing weed — people thought that was a fad; that’s just the trend now. Eventually it’ll be legal in every city, every state, because that’s the trend. And I hope that the people in power don’t miss what I hope is a trend toward justice. That enough is truly enough.”
“People, specifically white people, have not been listening as much as I thought maybe they had been. I turned 28 on May 19th, Malcolm X’s birthday. And I’ve traveled the world. I’ve been in so many spaces I never imagined being in — and in a lot of cases I shouldn’t have been in, just because of where I’m from. And it don’t matter if I’m rapping about — or even teaching about — gentrification and slavery and Jim Crow and redlining and all of the other piles of oppression that we have been underneath. It was almost like nobody was listening as long as it was packaged as a song.”
“I learned how to watch how power moves, and how it oppresses us and tries to repress our movements. I noticed this tweet that was like, ‘Republicans are fascists, but Democrats are too, with just a better PR team.’ And I’ve definitely seen that these past weeks. Even the most progressive Democratic leaders, Black Democrats, Black Democrat mayors, are just really failing people. They’re really trying to protect this system. And it’s just very scary to see. Who do we trust when it comes to the political establishment? Who do we look to as leaders? Because a lot of these leaders will really kill us and tear gas us and then blame us for it. We’re really at war. And they know how to win.”
In 2013, before she was a state senator, Attica Scott was on the Metro Council, and in a Louisville Magazine story she talked about how some people urged her to run for mayor. She said, “I don’t know if Louisville is ready for a person of color as mayor. I see very few people of color in leadership positions in our political parties. Picture in your mind a Black person from west Louisville as mayor. Just try. I wonder if people could do it.”
“Louisville’s ready to have a person of color, but we ain’t ready to have a Black descendant of slavery from the West End of Louisville as the mayor. I think Tupac said it: ‘Although it seems heaven sent, we ain’t ready to see a Black president.’ And don’t get me wrong, the symbolism of a Barack Obama was incredible. But it didn’t have substance when we saw a new sense of prominence with police terrorism happening. Attica’s right. She was right then, she’s still right today.”
“I’m glad you brought the Obama thing up, because in many ways that anesthetized Black people. The problem with this whole diversity, inclusion and equity movement—”
“It erases us.”
“Black people quite often get erased from that conversation. This whole ‘people of color’ argument, Black people gotta get out of that. Stop calling us people of color, minorities, marginalized populations — all that bullshit they talk about in higher ed. No, we’re Black.
“The University of Louisville was ready for a person of color as president, but not a Black person. You talk about the city-county merger in 2003. We were making one argument that was central: This is going to dilute Black voting strength in Louisville — at that point, Black folk were over a third of the city proper and were trending to be over 40, 45, moving into 50 percent within another decade or two. That would ensure that they had a fighting chance to get a Black mayor. Now, when you merge the city and county, you kill that Black voting strength.”
“I was told at a young age: We don’t do the Pledge (of Allegiance). We don’t do that shit. They used to play that song, ‘I’m glad to be an American, where at least I know I’m free,’ every day at elementary school. And I came home humming it one day, and my nana about snatched me up. She said, ‘I don’t know what they doing, but we don’t do that.’
“I can’t tell y’all some of the things my nana told us growing up. I really can’t. She didn’t sugarcoat anything. It’s not that she got deep into graphic detail about violence or anything. But the way she talked about white people in her house — I don’t know if I should be repeating. But it was coming from a real place. One of her best friends grew up with her and was a white woman, so it wasn’t that we hated white people. It was the evils, the injustices and the demands that we had as a people to preserve our dignity and to get our freedom. If you listen to our voicemail, it says, ‘Freedom, justice, liberty for all is a constant struggle.’ She is it. Maybe it’s her age. She’s 87 at this point. There’s just something about the history she carries in her body that I think taught me better than anything else could.”
“I can’t get this song out of my head. We were taught songs of the Confederacy when I was in elementary school. And the chorus of the song is, ‘I wish I were in Dixie. Hooray! Hooray! In Dixieland, I’ll take my stand, to live and die in Dixie.’ And I loved my music teacher. And that song always had this energy, the same way we were taught ‘America the Beautiful.’
“And as a parent, when I birthed my children, I kept saying, ‘How am I going to describe daytime and nighttime to them?’ And once they were in school, it became, ‘How am I going to protect them from this bullshit they taught in school every day?’ And I feel like I’m doing a disservice to my children dropping them off at school every day.”
“What you said, it struck a nerve. One of the many reasons why I left JCPS as a music teacher — sometimes I let the students kind of have choice in what we were doing. I was working with a group of kindergarteners and asked them what song they wanted to sing. They wanted to sing ‘Wheels On the Bus.’ And I had to see these white kids singing, ‘The driver on the bus said, Move on back,’ and telling a little Black kid to get to the back of the line. And they still teach those songs to this day.”
“I remember my daughter came home, she was young. She said, ‘Well, I got in trouble today.’ I think she was in third, fourth grade. And I’m cooking, not paying attention. And then I hear, ‘I had to put my color on black.’ Pause. I said, ‘What color is it when you’re good all day?’ And she said, ‘It’s white.’ I said, ‘OK, now we have a problem.’ You are already instilling in her at this age that black is bad. And when she’s good, it’s white.
“When my daughter got her driver’s permit, I wrote this poem called ‘10 & 2.’ I said, ‘When — not if, but when — the police pull you over, this is what you do. You keep your hands on the wheel at 10 and 2, and whatever you do, do not make any sudden moves. Contrary to popular belief, the police do not shoot to wound. They are shooting to kill you.’
“White people never have to learn anything about Black people to survive. They can just go on about their lives doing white people shit. Black people have to learn everything about themselves being Black, and then everything about white people just to navigate the systems and try to beat the game. And so my daughter can’t just get her permit and say, ‘Oh, I’m going off to drive.’”
“This is a quote from a historian named George Wright. He says, ‘These white leaders did not fear Blacks because they remember Blacks as being loyal and passive slaves. They were convinced that once they made the rules of their new order known, the Blacks would do as commanded.’ He said this in 1985, after letting it be known that, post-Civil War, all of the journalists, all the lawyers, all the realtors, the merchants — everyone who ran and operated the city were former rebels, former Confederates. And how many of those people still exist?
“Even as we sit in this office space — and I love Louisville Magazine — but how many Black employees do y’all got?” (Arthur is right. Though Louisville Magazine works with a diverse group of contributing writers, photographers and artists, the magazine has five full-time employees — three in editorial — and all are white.) “You’re telling the stories and the narratives of people without representation at the actual company level itself. We don’t have wealth in this city. We don’t have ownership. And that has a lot to do with what we’re dealing with now.
“We named our airport Muhammad Ali International Airport. And I had a meeting at the Ali Center, Louisville Magazine hosted the event, and we were talking about it. And I said, ‘How many of y’all have been in the airport?’ Most of them raised their hand. I said, ‘OK, Muhammad Ali is from a neighborhood where 45 percent of the kids live in poverty who will never step foot in that airport.’ And he was afraid flying! He didn’t even like flying! So we try to whitewash.”
“We all watched the video of George Floyd. And to see a man cry out to his dead mother hurts. But I feel I have to bear witness to that. I don’t know why I feel compelled about it, but I want to say, ‘I saw you. I acknowledged you. I know that you were here.’ So they won’t be unknown.”
“I’m gonna say something real millennial. But reading the Harry Potter books—”
“I’m a Slytherin.”
“So am I!”
“When I joined band, I used to take my drumsticks and act like they were wands. And my siblings, we would act like we were at Hogwarts. I loved Harry Potter. Now, J.K. Rowling’s been saying some reckless stuff lately, so…. But reading the Harry Potter books was not as exciting for me as watching some of those films, because it almost felt like the films made it real. But I said that to say this: When it comes to the videos, my aunt and my grandmother raised me, and my aunt’s father was shot and killed by police in the ’80s. So I knew this as a toddler learning about: Where’s your daddy at? Her father was killed by police. Around age seven or eight, my aunt gets pulled over by police. And the first thing she says when he walks to the window, she puts her hands out the window and says, ‘Please don’t shoot me.’
“And then I’m 11 years old, 2004. Michael Newby, my 19-year-old cousin who I barely even knew because I had just met my father the year before, was shot in the back and killed by a police officer. I didn’t have the videos when I was a toddler or when I was seven or eight or when I was 11. But now we got ’em, and watching them makes them a reality that I didn’t really have, just like reading those books. You can imagine it all day long, but when you see it, visually, when you hear it, it makes it a lot more real.”
“Like 2015, those are the first times I remember watching police kill Black people on camera. I feel like I was immersed in it. I’ve always seen it. I was always sharing it. But five years later, I’ve kind of got comfortable with it. There’s so many videos in the past five years that I don’t take that time anymore to share it and disperse it. After these past couple weeks, though, I’ve kinda gone back to my 2014.”
“You said something interesting, Quintez. You said over time you got comfortable with it almost. And I think a lot of people have, which is a really fascinating thing to me. People started saying these are like Black snuff films. This is a kind of new dynamic. For my generation, the big thing for us was ’91 with Rodney King. And you see Los Angeles police just beating Rodney King mercilessly. Rodney King lived, but you just see him flailing and just trying to get away. I mean, he’s struggling for his life. It is clear that he thinks they are going to kill him. How dysfunctional, how violent, how barbaric is a society where any sector of a society normalizes seeing this death on video? Have we considered that?”
“I don’t watch them. I don’t think that I’m strong enough. I read the story so that I can move forward with the information. But I can’t hear that man call out for his mama. I can’t do that. Sometimes I watch them by accident. I come across them and I can’t look away. But I do not ever intentionally sit down and watch these videos. That’s when I have to go to people like Hannah, because I will read about what happened, but I will not listen to it. It’s too much, I think, to hold. And at this point I have to disassociate when I hear my own name. And I did call her (Drake’s daughter, Brianna Wright).”
“Did you? I’ve been wondering.”
“I called Hannah’s Brianna, because, at this point, when I hear my own name, I have to keep myself from this fight-or-flight mode, like this panic. And so I called her Brianna, and I was like, ‘I wanted to check in with you because I don’t know who else to talk to about it.’ And she said, ‘I haven’t talked to anybody either, because it’s a hard thing to explain.’ And I also think it may be why my mom has stayed completely clear of all protest. And Breonna Taylor is the same age — she was the same age. We were born in the same year. We both grew up in the West End. It’s so close that when I hear my name now, sometimes I think that I’m dying, and I have to remind myself that I’m not, that no one’s talking about me. But they kind of are.”
“The multi-generational, multi-dimensional trauma that exists from being Black, specifically a Black American who descends from slavery, who has been here since 1619 — it’s overwhelming. There’s so much. So, so, so, so, so much. I can’t even put it into words. And people are quick to write off how significant our descendance from slavery is. Dr. King’s final book before he was killed talked about us being descendants of slaves. And I know that we aspire to be more. I know that we are more. But when you look at our current condition in the United States of America, it’s almost like it’s neo-slavery today. Slavery was never abolished. They just called it something else.”
“The White House is still standing to this day, the railroads ’til this day. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, they did it and it all fell apart.’ To this day you benefit from it.”
“Damn, we built the richest, most powerful country in the world. We did that.”
“That we descended from enslaved people is not a point of shame for me. I think it gives such a resilience and a power and humility. Such a close-to-godliness. And we didn’t do shit wrong. Why should I be ashamed?”
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