LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A planned march in Louisville by an armed group countering protesters for racial justice has drawn a rebuke from Mayor Greg Fischer and inquiries from police.
Screenshots of social media posts shared with WDRB News suggest members of the group will gather Saturday morning in downtown Louisville in opposition to protesters demanding justice in the shooting death of Breonna Taylor. Louisville Metro Police officers shot Taylor March 13 in a raid on her apartment. The shooting for weeks has prompted protesters to march and gather in Louisville.
Demonstrations have been largely peaceful, but some days have been marked by violence, property damage and looting, authorities firing tear gas and pepper balls at protesters and an altercation stemming from protesters blocking traffic.
Although one of the counter-protesters claimed to have support from police, a spokeswoman with Louisville Metro Police Department said "in no way did LMPD express support for any disruptive actions being taken by this group or any other."
In a video posted to social media, a member of a group called American Freedom Fighters said he has spoken with an LMPD major who supports the planned counter demonstration.
"They actually lit up a little bit when I said we were coming," the member said. "His exact words were, you know, he's ready for a hopeful, relaxing weekend. So the police are supporting us; they actually are probably glad that we're coming.
"I told them we're coming in peace," the member added. "I told them we're gonna be armed; I told them we are politically neutral. But the police are definitely aware and they are in 100% support of this movement we're doing."
Jessie Halladay, a spokeswoman for LMPD, said the department, as it does with "all anticipated protest activity," has been in contact with organizers "to get information for our planning purposes." The department did not express support for any disruptive actions from the group or other demonstrators, she added.
"LMPD makes an effort to reach out to organizers to get an understanding of what to expect during a particular protest event," Halladay said in a statement. "... We support everyone’s right to free speech and expression."
Fischer said the city is focused on keeping demonstrations peaceful.
"We are aware of rumors suggesting that armed militia are coming to downtown Louisville this weekend," he said in a tweet Thursday afternoon. "Our message is simple: We don’t need you here. Our focus is on facilitating peaceful protests."
To oppose the counter-protesters, the Facebook group Derbycity Autonomous Collective has scheduled an event titled "Louisville Against Outside Agitators" for 9 a.m. Saturday. In the event description, the group took aim at the counter-protesters, claiming they are "often members of alt-right militias" or "part of far-right groups with white nationalist beliefs."
"They believe they are defending the Constitution with their guns and flags," the event description states. "They imagine themselves as defenders of law and order, on par with the police. They even have members inside the police force giving them details, encouraging them to come and bully us. In reality, they are bringing their guns and anger against anyone different from them into our city."
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