The skirmishes were the latest in a series of tense confrontations over racial justice in a summer that has been marked by violence and acrimony in many American cities.
In Louisville, some of the protesters sought to use the signature horse race to draw attention to the death of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman killed by police in her apartment there in March.
But tensions escalated as an armed group carrying long guns and those protesting over Taylor’s death came into contact in front of Louisville’s Metro Hall, according to the Louisville Metro Police Department.
While no shots were fired and the feuding groups eventually separated, the scene mirrored many of the hostile showdowns across the country as peaceful protests over racial inequality have descended into riots and, in some cases, street battles between Black Lives Matter demonstrators and supporters of President Trump in recent weeks.
Several protesters in Louisville complained that local police allowed the armed group to confront and intimidate peaceful protesters without stepping in. Police said they were mostly assembled near the racetrack at Churchill Downs and decided to monitor the situation from a distance.
“Due to the size of the crowd, we determined it was not safe to go in and we did not want to escalate the situation with police presence,” the department said in a “Midday Update” posted on Facebook. “The two groups continued to engage, working to separate themselves from each other.”
A White militia member from Ashland, Ky., who only identified himself by his first name, Mike, said he and other members of the group Sons of Liberty came to Louisville because they “love America and don’t want to hurt nobody or anything,” but they wanted to “protect” Louisville against a Black militia group called the NFAC. Wearing a vest covered in ammunition and a pistol on his hip, Mike held an AR-17 by his leg and worked “security” at a parking lot across from Louisville’s Waterfront Park while hundreds of other armed militia men marched from the lot to Jefferson Square.
While there were visible firearms being carried by members of both groups, the confrontations did not escalate beyond yelling, police said Saturday afternoon. The group of mostly White militia members later left the scene.
Police said they later were able to create a barrier separating protesters and counterdemonstrators. Later Saturday, a separate group of armed, mostly Black, self-described militia members also assembled in Louisville. They departed after having a heated exchange with local residents, who told them to leave.
A separate, larger group of several hundred Black Lives Matter protesters marched to Churchill Downs, where the Kentucky Derby was set to take place without spectators because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Sadiqa Reynolds, CEO of the Louisville Urban League, said she and others made the decision to march to the racetrack to remind others of Taylor’s death. “We don’t want anyone celebrating when we’re in pain,” said Reynolds beyond a rhinestone mask in South Central Park, where the rally started earlier in the day.
The march marked more than 100 days of demonstrations over Taylor’s death, which remains under investigation, according to Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron.
“Today, while we honor a KY tradition with the running of the Derby, we remain cognizant of the community’s desire for answers in the investigation into the death of Ms. Breonna Taylor,” Cameron wrote Saturday on Twitter.
In New York, Attorney General Letitia James announced Saturday that her office will impanel a grand jury as part of its investigation into the death of Daniel Prude. A recently released video shows Prude being handcuffed and hooded while in police custody in Rochester in March. Officials said Prude, who was naked at the time, was having a mental health emergency when he was placed in custody. He died a week later. Seven officers have been suspended.
“The Prude family and the Rochester community have been through great pain and anguish,” said James in news release, saying her office would “immediately move to impanel a grand jury as part of our exhaustive investigation into this matter.”
New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) said in a statement Saturday that “justice delayed is justice denied and the people of New York deserve the truth.”
As protests continued, Jacob Blake — the Black man who was shot late last month by a Kenosha, Wis., police officer — urged the public to remain calm from a hospital bed Saturday night in an emotional video released by his lawyer. Wearing a loosefitting hospital gown, he told members of the Black community to focus on constructive goals.
“Your life, and not only just your life, your legs — something that you need to move around and move forward in life — can be taken from you like this,” Blake said, snapping his fingers. “Every 24-hours it’s pain… It hurts to…