LOUISVILLE, KY. — Officials in Kentucky’s largest city were preparing Tuesday for more protests and possible unrest as the public nervously awaits the state attorney general’s announcement about whether he will charge officers in Breonna Taylor’s shooting death.
With timing of the announcement still uncertain, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer declared a state of emergency due to the potential for civil unrest, hours after police said they would restrict access in the city’s downtown area. The mayor and police said they were trying to plan ahead of time to protect both demonstrators and the people who live and work there.
But some involved in protests seeking justice for Taylor questioned why the police were going to such “overkill” lengths when the city has been the site of peaceful protests for months.
Attorney General Daniel Cameron has declined to set a deadline for his decision. Earlier this month, he remarked that “an investigation, if done properly, cannot follow a certain timeline.”
Interim Police Chief Robert Schroeder said officials from Cameron’s office have promised to try to give authorities a heads-up.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said the measures taken by Louisville police are due to the intense scrutiny of the Taylor case, in Louisville and around the country.
“The national attention here is so great, the potential for outsiders so significant, the possibility of someone taking something peaceful and trying to turn it into something that’s not, is all there,” Beshear said during his daily COVID-19 briefing Tuesday.
Mayor Fischer said officials’ goal “is ensuring space and opportunity for potential protesters to gather and express their First Amendment rights after the announcement.”
“At the same time, we are preparing for any eventuality to keep everyone safe,” he said.
In a news release Tuesday, the Louisville Metro Police Department said it was placing barricades around Jefferson Square Park, where protests over Taylor’s death have been held, and the perimeter of the downtown area; allowing only pedestrians in the blocks immediately surrounding the park; restricting vehicle traffic in other areas of downtown and limiting access to parking garages.
The department apologized for any inconveniences to workers and downtown residents.
“However, public safety is our number one priority, and it would be irresponsible if we did not take preemptive action to preserve it,” the statement said.
Police first mentioned the barricades on Monday, when they also said they had canceled vacations and were denying officers’ requests for time off for the time being.
Federal officials closed the federal courthouse and other federal buildings for the week.
Sadiqa Reynolds, who heads the nonprofit Louisville Urban League and lives downtown, described the city’s measures as “overkill.”
“This is certainly an over-response to the local protests that have been happening in our community,” she said, noting that protesters have been demonstrating in and around the city for nearly four months.
When Reynolds and hundreds of others staged a peaceful protest on Kentucky Derby day, police blocked off streets surrounding Churchill Downs and stationed dozens of officers at the track, which was without fans inside.
“This city keeps meeting the desire for justice with this preparation for war,” she said.
Taylor, a Black emergency medical worker, was shot multiple times March 13 by officers who entered her home using a no-knock warrant during a narcotics investigation. The warrant used was connected to a suspect who did not live there, and no drugs were found inside. The use of no-knock warrants has since been banned by Louisville’s Metro Council.
Large protests over Taylor’s death that at times became violent erupted in late May in the city but most demonstrations since then have been peaceful. Celebrities, athletes, activists and Taylor’s family have for months pushed Cameron to criminally charge the officers involved in the raid.
Meanwhile, an officer who was shot in the leg by Taylor’s boyfriend the night police entered her apartment wrote an email to fellow officers telling them that with their actions, Fischer and top police officials had “failed all of us in epic proportions.”
In the email, published by news outlets Tuesday and confirmed by his attorney, Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly wrote, “I know we did the legal, moral and ethical thing that night.”
Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, told police he fired one round after Taylor’s door was broken down and Mattingly entered. Walker said he thought someone was breaking into the house and didn’t know that it was police who were entering.
Referring to protesters, Mattingly added that police officers should not be in a position “that allows thugs to get in your face and yell, curse and degrade you.”
His attorney, Kent Wicker, told The Associated Press in an email that Mattingly’s email was “expressing his support for (fellow officers) and their work during these difficult times.”
Associated Press reporter Bruce Schreiner contributed to this report.