‘All eyes on Derby’: Louisville organizers plan protests for Kentucky Derby weekend

This year, as Churchill Downs welcomes back racing fans, local organizers say there will be police protests
Multiple protest groups said they plan to protest at Churchill Downs on Derby Day, including...
Multiple protest groups said they plan to protest at Churchill Downs on Derby Day, including Until Freedom and the NFAC. Both groups have marched in Louisville in recent weeks.(WAVE 3 News)
Updated: Apr. 30, 2021 at 10:07 AM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Louisville activists plan to protest Kentucky Derby 147 and hold at least one other major rally the day before, unrelated to Derby though it takes place at the same time the city prepares for the annual event.

In September 2020, protesters marched by the hundreds to Churchill Downs while a sign with the words “arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor” was flown in the sky.

Local activists, members of the NFAC militia, and social justice organization Until Freedom rallied for justice and confronted police officers stationed around the facility. That was the scene outside a delayed Kentucky Derby 146, with no fans in the stands due to COVID-19.

This year, as Churchill Downs welcomes back racing fans, local organizers said there will be protests but they won’t necessarily be at Derby.

“This is the time that we need to apply pressure to these particular officers,” organizer Aprile Hearn said. “It’s more than that, it’s more than just No Justice, No Derby. We want you to partner with us, agree to help us. We see you bringing all this money in and yet the communities around you are still suffering.”

On Friday, Better Dayz Youth Coalition members plan to gather from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Louisville Professional Standards Unit on Virginia Avenue. Supporters are asked to rally outside, while those with grievances against LMPD officers file their complaints inside.

“A lot of folks have been mistreated by LMPD, while we have an investigation going on from the Department of Justice, we would like to address the officers directly by filing these complaints ... we encourage everyone in the community to file those complaints,” organizer Marie Bingle said.

Bingle explained the “accountability action” comes in the wake of the federal probe into Louisville police and Metro government announced Monday. Officials with the DOJ began their investigation by interviewing community members; on Tuesday, officials held a community Zoom meeting to encourage people to share their stories about LMPD.

Bingle called her event Friday a “proactive step” in ensuring police incidents potentially captured on social media or unreported are formally processed. She said people who attend the rally will be encouraged to file their complaints with the Louisville Professional Standards Unit as well as the DOJ.

According to a GoFundMe, Bingle was personally injured during a police incident last August when she was hit by an officer while crossing the street, as the officer was “driving at a high speed ... while chasing another protester. Bingle said she required reconstructive knee surgery after the incident.

“If you want to build trust in our community, let’s work on building a safer community ... well for our part, let’s identify the officers who are bringing us harm,” Bingle said. “That’s a first step for us.”

Organizers told WAVE 3 News the event is not connected to the Derby, though they recognize there will be extra attention on them, and they’re prepared for any interactions with police. Bingle said the Better Dayz Youth Coalition may hold weekly events to encourage people to file their complaints against LMPD.

On Saturday, the “Say Her Name Bike Ride” group plans to hold a “No Justice, No Derby” protest starting at 12:30 p.m. According to a Facebook post, the event is open to protesters on foot as well as bikes; participants are asked to bring signs.

Organizations outside Louisville, like Until Freedom and the NFAC, have not indicated they will join local activists.

The rallies planned for Derby weekend may be smaller than similar events in September, but it is currently unclear exactly how many people will participate.

“One thing we’re not going to do, we’re not going to quit fighting for what really matters, Derby is the key to a lot of things,” protester Chris Wells said.

Wells said he will participate in both the “No Justice, No Derby” protest and the rally Thursday; he told WAVE 3 News he wants to ensure police complaints are filed so there’s a paper trail of officer behavior. Wells said he has been “pushed to the ground” and “shoved” by police officers during protests.

In a statement, Louisville police told WAVE 3 News the department is prepared for “large events” at Kentucky Derby 147:

“LMPD will utilize our officers and specialty units within the racetrack, providing coverage as coordinated with the Churchill Downs security team. The outer perimeter of the racetrack will be staffed as usual, primarily for traffic and pedestrian safety. We are prepared for a large event, as we are every year, and for any security issues that may arise surrounding these gatherings.”

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