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Police killing of 'BBQ Man' Dave McAtee renews a familiar anguish in Louisville

David McAtee was known to give out free meals to community members, including officers of the police department that shot him.
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Louisville, Kentucky, a city already grappling with the police shooting death of Breonna Taylor nearly three months ago, faced renewed anguish this week with another police shooting that killed beloved business owner David McAtee.

McAtee was in a parking lot next to his barbecue stand, YaYa's Barbecue, early Monday when Louisville police officers and the National Guard went to break up a crowd in violation of a recently mandated curfew.

The crowd that the police and National Guard was trying to disperse wasn’t part of protests, according to NBC Louisville affiliate WAVE, and people often congregate in the parking lot of McAtee’s restaurant to eat and play music.

Image: David McAtee
David McAtee.Courtesy of family

McAtee’s nephew, Marvin McAtee, told WAVE that soldiers boxed in the crowd and people were scared. When shots rang out, David McAtee’s niece was hit by a bullet.

McAtee “reached out to grab her and at that point another fire went off,” Marvin McAtee said. “Then another fire in the rear shoots off and hit him in the chest and he died right there.”

Louisville police say surveillance footage released Tuesday shows that McAtee fired a gun before he was shot and killed.

The video “does not provide all the answers,” interim police Chief Rob Schroeder said, but authorities were releasing it to “provide transparency.”

At a news conference Tuesday, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said, "This is a difficult piece of the story to process, but I believe in transparency."

The calls for transparency followed the firing Monday of Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad after it was revealed that the officers involved in the McAtee shooting had not activated their body cameras, as required.

Metro Council President David James, who says he was a friend of McAtee's, told WAVE that the surveillance video was “only a part” of what happened.

“I would encourage everyone to understand that that is just a snapshot at that moment,” James told WAVE, adding that the lack of body camera video was concerning.

“He’s just a good, decent person," James told The Courier-Journal of McAtee. "He believes in this neighborhood. He loves his city, loves his neighborhood, loves to cook food.”

McAtee's mother, Odessa Riley, called her son a “community pillar.”

“All he did on that barbecue corner is try to make a dollar for himself and his family," Riley told the Courier-Journal. "And they come along and they killed my son."

Riley said McAtee would give out free meals to community members, including officers of the same police department that fired shots at him.

"He fed them free. He fed the police and didn't charge them nothing,” she said.

McAtee, known to many as the “BBQ Man,” used food to bring the community together, Carlos Nolen, who holds events nearby Yaya’s and knew McAtee, told the Courier-Journal.

“This is a strong loss. A lot more would have happened on this corner if he wasn't here," Nolen said. "Time after time I've witnessed him stop the escalation of violence with food."

Carolyn Wilder told WFPL, a public radio station in Louisville, that McAtee was a “beautiful person.”

“He tried to feed everybody. He wouldn’t even charge half of them. He would just feed them so they wouldn’t go hungry,” she said.

McAtee's death came nearly 12 weeks after Taylor was killed. Taylor, 26, an EMT who was black, was shot in her home on March 13 by three Louisville plainclothes police officers serving a "no-knock" warrant against her and her boyfriend in a drug case. Taylor's family has claimed in a wrongful death lawsuit that she and her boyfriend believed their home was being broken into because the officers did not identify themselves. Police have said the officers did. No drugs were found.

Taylor's boyfriend, believing they were intruders, fired a legal firearm at the officers. Taylor was killed in the responding gunfire.

The investigation is ongoing; the officers involved have not been charged.

The city, still incensed by Taylor's death, has protested for six nights calling for racial equality in the wake of George Floyd's death in police custody in Minnesota on May 25.

McAtee was slain amid that backdrop — fueling renewed questions about police use of force and policing measures for black residents. After the shooting, around 100 people lined the sidewalk all day across the street from McAtee’s barbecue stand — wishing for change while experiencing a sadness that's become far too familiar.