I spent a week in my hometown of Louisville, Ky., covering the protests in response to the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and David McAtee.
I left Memphis early on Saturday, May 30, 2020, so I could get settled in my hotel before the long night.
As I approached my hotel in downtown Louisville — a mere few blocks from the site of the protests — I noticed workers were boarding up all the ground floor windows at the hotel. The adjacent store had its windows smashed out. There was protest related graffiti all over the place.
As the evening approached I headed down to Jefferson Square with a reporter. We weren’t entirely sure what to expect. While the bulk of the previous evening had been peaceful, there were some unruly incidents. One police officer targeted members of the media with pepper ball guns. Some protesters smashed and looted stores downtown.
At the square, we saw some of what you’d expect. Protesters chanting and holding signs. We also saw some protesters preparing bottles of water and baking soda to counteract the effects of tear gas. These protesters wanted to make sure that families with children were all prepared.
We also notice law enforcement on the rooftops of nearly every surrounding building, watching the crowd from above. They also had helicopters and drones in the sky.
It wasn’t long before the crowd started marching through downtown, walking side by side taking up the entire street. The march went several blocks to a bridge over the Ohio River, blocking traffic to and from Indiana.
One truck driver wanted through and spent some time laying on his horn with the nose of his truck right up to the crowd. Many protesters got very angry with him. A few threw water at the driver. But one man took the time to talk calmly and de-escalate the crowd and the driver, ultimately getting the driver to back up and go a different way.
After a while, the crowd left the bridge and marched back to the square. Many laid down in the intersection, again stopping traffic completely.
Many motorists stuck in the traffic showed the protesters support. Some got out and threw a fist in the air. Some honked in support. Nobody seemed to show anger or frustration.
It was about that time that police, both from the Louisville Metro Police Department and the Kentucky State Police, started lining up on the streets and in the square completely decked out in riot gear.
The police officers systematically moved closer and closer, forcing the crowd down the block. They were clearing the square of protesters.
Shortly after 7:30 p.m., an unmarked pickup truck drove through the grass and across the square, parking next to a monument that was surrounded by cases of water and gallons of milk. Protesters had stashed supplies there (and elsewhere around the square) to stay hydrated and rinse their eyes if they were hit with tear gas.
Two plain-clothed officers got out of the truck and started tossing the cases of water into the bed of the truck and smashing the jugs of milk.
The whole incident which unfolded unbelievably quickly was captured by the reporter I was teamed up with.
We again saw officers destroying packages of water and gallons of milk about 45 minutes later. This time an officer was slicing the water bottles down the side.
Police continued to move through the square, systematically clearing protesters from the immediate area. Media was also pushed out of the area.
The crowd as split in several directions and it seemed as if there were already other groups of police in place to bottle people in where they wanted them.
The police started throwing flash bangs that exploded in the sky. It was a sound that became familiar during the weekend. They also threw a smoke grenade that emitted a dense green smoke. Some protesters weren’t deterred by the smoke and were then shot repeatedly with pepper balls.
As the night descended on the city, things only escalated. Protesters, while yelling profanities at the police, remained largely peaceful. I witnessed one group set up behind a barricade at least a block away from police. At lease one officer fired pepper balls into the crowd from the roof hatch of an armored vehicle.
Shortly after, officers fired tear gas down the street. I, along with several other dedicated journalists, followed the police as they advanced down the street. That is until we were overtaken by the tear gas and had to retreat because we couldn’t open our eyes and were coughing uncontrollably. As soon as it cleared from our eyes and lungs, we rushed back in but were hit with a second wave forcing us to again retreat. The third time we advanced, we could tolerate what was left in the air. At that point, the crowd had mostly dispersed but at least one man was being arrested.
We continued to move through downtown, trying to find where the police were clashing with protesters. At one point, we found a group of state police clearing a mostly empty street. They walk shoulder to shoulder covering the sidewalks and street. They had riot shields and batons in hand.
The only person I saw on the street other than the media was a woman who appeared to be homeless and completely uninvolved with the protest. The troopers forced her up and pushed her with their shields down the street, knocking her down multiple times.
We continued to move throughout downtown. At one point, we were walking on the sidewalk and saw a Humvee come driving up behind us on the sidewalk dragging a tree behind it. No emergency lights. No sirens. No horn.
As we went street to street, we did find some stores had their windows smashed, but most of the damage had been done previous nights.
Officers continued to clear streets, moving down each like human a plow. At one point, a group of five journalists (myself included) were standing on an otherwise empty block trying to figure out where to go. We were wearing neon reflective vests that said “PRESS” in large letters across the back. The officers decided to clear that block. As they came toward us, we all pushed up against the building to let them pass. But they insisted that we move. So we started walking in the direction that they were going. At some point, they decided we weren’t moving fast enough and the whole line of police in riot gear started jogging toward us, ultimately shoving me in the back with their batons.
Late in the night, we heard that there was a fire at a McDonald’s so we raced over there. The fire was extinguished by the time we arrived.
As the night went on, the hot spots popped up sporadically which made it really difficult for us to chase on foot. So we called it a night.
To see more of my images from that night, as well as those from the other Courier Journal photographers, check out this gallery.
I started a bit earlier the next day to cover a healing ceremony in front of the KFC Yum! Center.
As people started showing up to the event, I saw a person dressed as large figure arrive. I went over to talk to them to learn more about what they were about.
Tha man, Shawn Hennessey, is a member of a group called Squallis Puppeteers. He was dressed as the late civil rights activist Anne Braden. The sheer size of his outfit made him stand out in many of my pictures.
There were many moments when the crowd was moved to emotion. There were people hugging and crying. People wanting change and accountability.
One lady I met, Rhonda Mathies, got down on her knees as the crowd sang “We Shall Overcome.” I made her image while she was singing and then spent some time talking with her. She remembers the struggles during the civil rights movement, and sees the similarities with the fight now.
As that ceremony ended, the crowd moved over to Jefferson Square. I rushed back to my hotel to file a few images before heading to the square.
The crowd marching was measurably larger than the previous night.
As the crowd returned to the square, LMPD, state police and the national guard were in place. Several protesters worked to keep the distance between the upset protesters who were verbally venting their frustration and anger and members of law enforcement.
About 45 minutes before the curfew was set to be in effect for the night, law enforcement got on a loudspeaker telling the crowd to disperse. They cited a state code saying that this was an unlawful gathering. As they did that, officers started putting on their gas masks.
I really wanted to avoid the tear gas that night. It is not a pleasant experience and I really didn’t want to experience it again. I started paying attention to the direction of the wind and routes of escape, all while keeping my head on a swivel to pay attention to the happenings on the ground.
As officers fired tear gas and pepper balls, they advanced down the street, clearing the block as they went. A few protesters brought leaf blowers to try to blow away the tear gas. They were some of the first arrested.
The crowds dispersed from the square and kept marching and moving.
When the crowd would see the officers down a block, they would stop and yell at them from a block away.
As the night went on, officers continued to appear to systematically split up the large groups. At one point, officers started firing tear gas and pepper balls at the crowd. People started running. One person drove on the sidewalk to get away. Some people hesitated as they didn’t know why everyone was running at first.
I went around the corner of a building to stay out of the line of fire. A protester who had been shot in the face with a pepper ball, maybe a half inch above her eye, was trying to rinse out her eye.
As the night went on, the cops were responding to small groups of protesters. At one point, a dozen or so protesters started running across a parking lot while being chased by the police. Many jumped over a fence. A few were arrested while trying to get over the fence.
It was about that time in the night when the bulk of the activity had quieted and we couldn’t keep up with the pop-up incidents. As we walked back to the office, a police pickup went down the road with lights and sirens on in the lanes of oncoming traffic.
I went to my parent’s house for lunch when I woke up the next morning. I was pretty excited to see one of my images six columns above the fold on the front page that day. I don’t really get excited to see my images in print anymore, but this is my hometown paper. It’s the paper that got me into journalism in the first place. It was a big honor to have my image in such a prominent spot.
After I got back downtown, I was sent to West Broadway and South 26th Street, the site where David McAtee had been shot and killed by police the previous night. We knew tensions were going to be high. I got out there a bit early and started talking with as many people as I could. I wanted to learn about the community to help me document it accurately.
I had been told by multiple people that things could take a turn for the worse that night. There was a frustration among the community that police use rubber bullets and pepper balls downtown but they use real bullets in the west side of town.
I was able to learn that the intersection was a normal hangout spot. People would get food and drinks from the BBQ place or the gas station. Cars would cruise the stretch of Broadway. It was a community gathering point.
As people gathered on all four corners of the intersection, some began to lead chants and prayers. Cars drove by honking and gesturing at the police (who were nowhere to be seen).
One motorist did a burnout in his pickup truck. That came to an end when it sounded as if he destroyed his transmission. The crowd cheered and rushed to push his truck to a nearby parking lot.
Shortly after, the crowd looked eastward on Broadway and saw a large group of protesters marching their way. The crowd from downtown marched more than two miles to join the group at West Broadway and South 26th Street.
The two crowds rushed toward each other, dancing and cheering as they met in the street.
A few police officers marched with the group from downtown. They were not in riot gear. Many in the crowd were emotional as they thanked the officers, exchanging handshakes and hugs. One man said it showed a lot of respect and understanding for the officers to join them on the march.
After maybe ten minutes or so, the crowd from downtown turned around and headed back toward downtown.
The night returned to normal on West Broadway. People were hanging out and cruising the street. I spent that time talking with people in the community.
As the night went on and it was past curfew, there was still no sign of the police. That didn’t stop people from expressing their frustration. Many people in the crowd were carrying firearms. One man I spoke with expressed his frustration of black people being shot and killed by the police. He was carrying a gun to protect his community. “We’re tired of being slaughtered,” he said.
You could tell that he didn’t want to fire his weapon, but he along with many others were ready to do so if they felt that their life, or the lives of their neighbors, were in danger.
Late in the evening, a small fire broke out on the roof of the gas station. Firefighters came to the scene and quickly extinguished the fire.
While they were on site, a group of police and national guard controlled the intersection and kept space between the firefighters and protesters.
That was the point of the highest tension all night. But protesters worked to keep the crowd peaceful and show the police that they were not a threat.
After the fire was extinguished, the fire department and police left the intersection. The crowd rushed to the street and celebrated.
The protesters clearly felt like they had win that night. The police didn’t fire tear gas, pepper balls, bullets or any other type of munitions to disperse or control the crowd.
To see more images from Monday, June 1, check out the gallery on the Courier Journal website.
On Tuesday, I again headed out to the square in the late afternoon. There were a few groups gathered and a microphone was being passed for people to share their thoughts and feelings.
At one point, a large part of the group split off and headed to the Muhammed Ali Center. I followed them for a bit since it was something different.
When I got back to the square, speakers, including Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, were taking times addressing the crowd. After they wrapped, the group started marching for the evening.
As we walked past the Omni Hotel, the crowd turned and started running. I asked what was happening. They thought there were officers on the balcony of the Omni shooting pepper balls down at the crowd. But after a short while, we were able to realize it was a hotel guest throwing ice cubes down at the crowd.
As the crowd pushed east, we moved into residential neighborhoods. The convoy had people on foot and a massive caravan of cars. Neighborhood residents were peeking out their windows and front doors as the protesters moved past.
As the crowd moved into the Highlands, I was falling behind. Every time I stop to make an image or talk to someone, it becomes a little harder to run back to the front. It didn’t help that night that the cars seemed to be pushing the pace a bit. Plus I was developing blisters on my feet from the previous nights coverage. So I contacted one of the Courier Journal photographers who was in his car on that side of town. He leap frogged us to where we expected the march to go. Mid City Mall.
When we got there, the back parking lot had a sizable police presence. But shortly after we parked, a convoy with two personnel carriers, armored vehicles, humvees and a bus rolled in to the lot. The lot was clearly serving as a staging area for law enforcement.
We didn’t know exactly where the crowd was, but we had a good idea by watching where the police helicopters were circling. As it appeared that they were heading back downtown, all of the officers in the parking lot raced out of there.
We followed suit and headed back downtown. We saw a decent number of police and national guard on the sidewalk on Broadway under the interstate. Since the march had ended up on broadway most nights, we figured they might come right past those officers. And they did.
As protesters on foot and in cars passed under the interstate, they yelled and honked and cheered and gestured. The officers stood silently on the sidewalk. It remained peaceful. In fact, many protesters started coming up and shaking hands with the officers.
After they passed, we heard they might be heading way west on Broadway to a Walgreens that was looted earlier in the night. We raced over there trying to stay ahead of the group.
The marchers never made it that far. They split off and and dissipated about ten blocks farther east. So we called it a night.
See more photos from Tuesday, June 2, 2020, in a photo gallery on the Courier Journal website.
On Wednesday, I again headed out the square. I was looking for different things. Visually speaking, it becomes really repetitive showing people marching with signs. I needed to continue to push myself to see things a little differently.
When I arrived, there were a bunch of students drawing chalk portraits of Breonna Taylor and David McAtee in the center of the square.
There was also a second group on the steps of city hall chanting and holding signs.
The crowd began gathering at the square as people took turns speaking. And cars started lining up on the street.
At a certain point, the crowd started marching. They headed north toward the river.
The protesters turned toward the hospital district, rolling with a massive convoy of people on foot and people in cars.
As we continued to move eastward, I witnessed a great act of humanity. Protesters were stepping out of the crowd to give a group of homeless men their snacks and water. One after another came up to the men with whatever they had in their packs.
The crowd kept marching east towards the Highlands for the second night in a row. And again, people were stepping out of their homes to cheer them on.
At that point, I again got picked up to get back downtown ahead of the crowd. They marched down Broadway and stopped at the federal building.
After leaving the federal building, they marched around the corner and then dispersed the group for the night.
Check out more images from Wednesday, June 3, 2020, in a photo gallery on the Courier Journal’s website.
I wasn’t sure what to expect on my final night in Louisville. The forecast was calling for a night full of rain. I grabbed rain gear for my cameras and myself and headed back down to the square.
The crowd on the square was notably smaller than the previous nights, but still substantial. They were prepared with umbrellas, ponchos and rain jackets. Others were handing out disposable ponchos to folks in the crowd.
Shortly before the crowd left the square, I found myself in a bit of a predicament. One of my cameras succumbed to the rain. My camera with my wide lens mounted to it decided it would no longer power on. I was left with my telephoto for the duration of the evening.
Photographing the march with only a telephoto is challenging. It’s hard to take pictures while moving with longer glass. Instead, I looked for opportunities where I could run ahead and get in position to make an image.
Following suit with the previous nights, there was very little police presence. We saw a handful of officers and Kentucky National Guard personnel outside of the police headquarters. But other than that, it was very light.
The march deterred from the previous nights by staying downtown instead of going out to the Highlands.
As the light of day faded, it became more and more challenging to make images. With my wider lens (and if it weren’t raining), I could have used my flash. But with telephoto, that becomes a bit less practical. Especially when photographing in the rain.
I continued looking for details that expanded the story. I was looking at windows to see if people were watching as the march went by their building.
The crowd stopped outside of a condo building and chanted toward the building for several minutes. It was evident that they thought a major mover and shaker lived there, but they never revealed who it was.
The crowd then moved toward the Big Four Bridge — a pedestrian bridge that spans the Ohio River between Kentucky and Indiana with a large spiral ramp on either end. As they got to the base of the ramp, I heard them say they were just going to go to the top of the ramp and not across. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to make a compelling and unique image from the top, so I waited part way up the ramp to get the silhouettes of the protesters marching with some of the skyline in the background.
Thoroughly soaked and exhausted, we called it a night.
Check out more images from Thursday, June 4, 2020, in a photo gallery on the Courier Journal’s website.
It was incredibly humbling to work with the staff of my hometown newspaper. The photo staff is among the best in the business, and the paper won the Pulitzer Prize this year for their dedicated journalism.
I’m back in Memphis, but the folks at the Courier Journal are still out on the streets covering this important and continually evolving story. Do yourself a favor and subscribe to continue to see their work.
Or if you don’t want to subscribe to the paper in Louisville, subscribe to the local newspaper near you. There are dedicated journalists all over the country risking their lives and wellbeing to show the truth about what is happening on the streets of their communities. That’s worth supporting with a few bucks.