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Louisville activists 'frustrated' over new police chief; others optimistic

"It's mind-blowing that out of everyone, you decide to get the person who quit because of an officer-involved shooting with a young Black man and you bring them to Breonna Taylor's Louisville," a pastor said.
Image: Erika Shields
Former Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields, now head of the Louisville Metro Police Department, leads department members into Atlanta City Hall in 2018.Bob Andres / Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP file

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Police Chief Erika Shields, who resigned as Atlanta's top cop after police fatally shot a Black man, was sworn in this week to lead the embattled police department here, where many are still reeling from months of unrest over the death of Breonna Taylor.

Tensions remain high between community members and the Louisville Metro Police Department as some residents and activists say they're hopeful that Shields can help reshape a criminal justice system that "failed" Taylor, while others question whether she is a good fit for the city.

"I recognize that there is a lot of healing that needs to happen in policing in general and that LMPD is at a crossroads," Shields said in a Jan.6 statement. "But I think there is also an opportunity to get this right here in Louisville and to create a model for other cities to follow."

Timothy Findley Jr., founder of the Justice and Freedom Coalition, a social justice organization, said he was "shocked" and "frustrated" when Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer announced Shields as the next police chief.

"It's mind-blowing that out of everyone, you decide to get the person who quit because of an officer-involved shooting with a young Black man and you bring them to Breonna Taylor's Louisville," Findley said this week.

Taylor, 26, an emergency medical technician, was shot and killed in March after police with a "no knock" warrant broke down the door to her apartment seeking evidence in a narcotics investigation. Despite protests against Taylor's shooting, no criminal charges were brought in her death.

Instead, Detective Brett Hankison, who was fired in June, was charged with firing blindly into an apartment and recklessly endangering Taylor's neighbors. In January, Detectives Joshua Jaynes and Myles Cosgrove were fired over their roles in the raid.

Poet and writer Hannah Drake, who was active in the Taylor demonstrations, said Shields' appointment is a "slap in the face" to people who spent months calling for justice in the case.

"If she has such marvelous ideas, why didn't she implement them in Atlanta?" Drake said.

Shields resigned from the Atlanta Police Department in June after an officer fatally shot Rayshard Brooks in a Wendy's restaurant parking lot. The officer, Garrett Rolfe, was fired.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said Shields wanted to step down "so that the city may move forward with urgency in rebuilding the trust desperately needed in our communities."

Fischer called Shields an "experienced" leader who "believes in the rules of policing but also knows when to revise them."

"She is skilled but open to new ideas, tough and undaunted by challenge," Fischer said.

Shields, who has worked in law enforcement for 25 years, joined the Atlanta police in 1995 as a patrol officer.

Sadiqa Reynolds, president and CEO of the Louisville Urban League, said the community has lost trust in the mayor's office and the police department, but she said she is willing to work with Shields.

"We are really suffering in Louisville, and we are in a place where we've got to make sure that people are doing and saying the same thing. We really need transparency," Reynolds said. "We want tomorrow to be a million times better than today, and I don't think anyone wishes her failure, but there is certainly great apprehension."

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Despite some pushback, community activist Christopher 2X said residents should give Shields a chance. He and families affected by gun violence met with Shields on Jan. 6 to discuss her plan to reduce violent crime in the city.

"At this point, we need to adjust and try to co-exist in a good way and see if we can get some positive outcomes as far as community and police relations," Christopher 2X said.

Kentucky state Rep. Attica Scott, the legislator behind "Breonna's Law," which bans no-knock warrants, said Shields needs to have an open dialogue with residents, especially when problems arise.

"I hope the new chief will not stop engaging with us when things get uncomfortable, because, quite frankly, Black folks have been uncomfortable in this country our entire existence," Scott said. "If she's not willing to move through that discomfort, we'll never have healing, and we'll never have reconciliation."