Muffled under the revelry and ruckus of the Kentucky Derby last weekend, were the anguished cries of Louisville’s Black citizens who say the police are cutting down Black men and nobody seems to care.
On Friday, just like every other Derby Eve in Louisville over the past several years, scores of Black residents gathered to put a spotlight on the steady stream of Black deaths at the hands of the city’s police force.
“What we have in Louisville is a police criminal problem,” says the Rev. Louis Coleman, head of the Justice Resource Center, a citizens’ group which focuses on police abuse. “We’re not anti-police, but we are anti-police criminal.”
Coleman notes that seven Black men have been killed by city police in the past four years, the latest being 19-year-old Michael Newby who was shot in the back as he fled an alleged crime scene in January.
The three bullets that pierced his back were the least shot into a victim by police, Coleman says.
A year ago, when police shot a handcuffed James Edward Taylor – which a police review board deemed a “justifiable homicide” – Coleman urged his fellow ministers and others to step up the protests.
Many paid attention.
Powerful radio commentator and social activist Joe Madison of WOL in Washington, D.C., is one who joined the cause. On Friday he called on everybody outside of Louisville who is concerned about issue to avoid doing business with the city.
“Stay out of Louisville until this matter is resolved!” Madison urged entertainers, tourists, shoppers and anybody else listening.
Madison pointed to Louisville’s sister city, Cincinnati, where activists have been boycotting for the past three years in response to the string of fatal police shootings there.
The Cincinnati Black United Front estimates that the boycott has cost the city $86 million. In Louisville, so far, the boycott has cost the city more than $1 million, “and we have a report of cancellations to prove it,” says Coleman, saying he would like to see the protest screech the Derby to a grinding halt until justice is delivered.
Officer McKenzie “Mad Dog’ Mattingly, as he is identified on his business cards, was indicted and put on administrative leave following the Newby killing.
When the indictment was handed down, several Black residents danced in the street and waved their fists in the air, claiming victory.
“I told people that this is too small a victory to be cheering,” Coleman says. “We have sisters and brothers jumping up and down, and we don’t even have a trial date yet. A jury in this city could decide to acquit the officer; then what? This was the first time in the history of Louisville that an officer was fired for killing someone. What’s that tell you?”
And the history of police abuse in Louisville is a long one, he said, remembering the time that comedian/activist Dick Gregory came to town to get residents involved in the issue. That was 30 years ago.
“We still have the bodies of Black men riddled with bullets,” Coleman says. “We’re a long way from justice in Louisville.”