Breonna Taylor protesters in Louisville defy curfew, confront armed counter-protesters claiming to ‘defend the Constitution’

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Protesters took to the streets again on Thursday night, defying a citywide curfew for the second night and coming face-to-face with armed counter-protesters claiming to “defend the Constitution.” 

A day after a grand jury’s decision in the deadly police shooting of Breonna Taylor sparked a new wave of national protests for racial equality and police reform, Tamika Palmer made a brief appearance at her daughter’s memorial in Jefferson Square Park as hundreds marched through downtown Louisville chanting Taylor’s name

The Black Lives Matter protesters at one point confronted about a dozen armed counter-protesters, with one man dressed in a camouflage helmet and a green vest telling reporters he was a member of the “Oath Keepers” and had come to Louisville from North Carolina.

Many of the counter-protesters wore military-style garb and carried long guns.

“We’re not here to start nothing,” the man told reporters, adding that the group was there to protect the property of local businesses.

An armed counter-protester talks with Black Lives Matter demonstrators on Thursday in Louisville, Ky.

While some marchers confronted the counter-protesters, others urged them to keep their distance.

“Back up! Don’t be stupid!” one man yelled. “Walk through and keep moving. Do not engage these people with no guns!”

The Oath Keepers describe themselves as “a nonpartisan association of current and formerly serving military, police and first responders” whose goal is to “defend the Constitution,” according to their website. The Southern Poverty Law Center describes them as “one of the largest radical anti-government groups in the U.S.”

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By 10 p.m. EDT, an hour after Mayor Greg Fischer’s curfew, Louisville police could be seen arresting protesters near the First Unitarian Church, which had offered its property as a refuge for protesters.

State Rep. Attica Scott, the Democratic lawmaker sponsoring a bill to end no-knock warrants like the one used when Taylor was shot and killed in March, was among the arrests, said Tracy Dotson, a spokesman for the union representing Metro Correction officers. 

A woman shouts to police on Thursday night during protests following the decision not to charge three officers for murder of Breonna Taylor.

Scott has been charged with first-degree rioting — a felony — along with failure to disperse and unlawful assembly, both misdemeanors, Dotson said. 

The protest reached a negotiated end around 11 p.m., with both the remaining demonstrators and police in riot gear leaving the church area.

Unlike the previous night, when protests broke out in cities across the U.S., Thursday night presented only a few demonstrations.

A group of about 250 protesters marched in Rochester, New York, organized by a group called Free the People Roc. They called for public accountability and later sat quietly in the street outside the city’s Public Safety Building.

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“I’m tired already. I could not imagine marching for 194 days and then getting slapped in the face,” said organizer Ashley Gantt. “That’s what that was (for Taylor).”

A vigil for Taylor and Dion Johnson, a Black man who was fatally shot by an Arizona state trooper on Memorial Day, brought together at least 120 people in downtown Phoenix. 

“It’s been a long, tough week,” said Itoro Elijah of  the W.E. Rising Project, a local group against police violence and systemic racism that organized the vigil. “There’s always the hope that we will be heard.”

An organized march through the streets of Hollywood came to an abrupt end when a truck drove through the group of protesters, striking at least one person, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Breonna Taylor protesters urged nonviolence.Then 2 Louisville police officers were shot

Protests were largely peaceful on Wednesday night, just hours after the indictment ruling rippled across the country — but not without violence or strife.

The shooting of two Louisville police officers further inflamed tensions in Taylor’s home city, while Portland police declared a riot in Oregon’s most populous city and made 13 arrests after some protesters threw Molotov cocktails at officers.

Police in Atlanta and Seattle also reported multiple arrests after using chemical agents including tear gas and pepper spray to disperse protesters.

Hundreds gathered in other major cities across the country, including Chicago, Milwaukee, New York and Washington, D.C., marching through streets and chanting for justice and police reform.

Contributing: Olivia Krauth, The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Ky.); Cynthia Benjamin and Sean Lahman, Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle; Madeline Ackley and Kaila White, The Arizona Republic; The Associated Press.

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