LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Around 8 p.m. Sunday, it looked as if the fourth night of protests against police brutality in downtown Louisville was beginning to wrap up. Peaceful demonstrators demanding justice for Breonna Taylor chanted, "I love you!" at a group of National Guardsmen and police officers in the shadows of the Hall of Justice. One member of the crowd could be heard inviting authorities to a barbecue at his place when the demonstrations ended.
"If you're with us, we're out!" one protester said during WDRB News reporter Chad Mills' livestream of the demonstrations.
"Are we going to Broadway?" another asked.
"Nope, we're going home," an attendee replied. "... Let's go home and watch the progress."
Roughly 20 minutes later, declaring the demonstration an "unlawful assembly," authorities fired tear gas at the protesters. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer's dusk-to-dawn curfew did not kick in for another 40 minutes or so.
"Even though some of the people in the crowd looked peaceful, we had several people that were infiltrating the crowd for their own agenda," LMPD Lt. Col. LaVita Chavous said during a briefing Sunday night. "It was peaceful protest, but one thing I want to say is that it was always an unlawful protest because people did not have a permit and we were blocking street access. We have allowed the blocking of street access simply to be accommodating to people and allow them to voice their opinions and views in a positive and peaceful ways.
"I want you to know that LMPD could have legally taken those steps a lot earlier than we did," Chavous added, "and it wasn't until we became concerned for the safety of the community and the safety of our officers that we declared it to be an unlawful gathering and we determined to shut it down prior to the curfew."
In a early statement sent to WDRB News, Metro Council President David James said he questioned the mayor's office about why the officers used tear gas before the curfew set in. The mayor's response to James was that police saw people approaching with leaf blowers loaded with bleach, which were intended to hurt police.
James said, based on his conversation with the mayor, police started using tear gas to disperse the crowd before 9 p.m., because they had intelligence that there was a potential for danger to everyone.
Later, a police spokesperson said officers had no confirmation that the leaf blowers were intended to blow harmful chemicals at authorities.
"We saw people with leaf blowers in the crowd. We know those are used for things like dispensing powder chemicals and for blowing gas back toward police," an LMPD spokesperson told WDRB News in a statement. "We don't have any confirmation they were used for either purpose. The threat of that use is one reason we decided to disperse the crowd prior to curfew."
Chavous said police noticed at least two leaf blowers during the protests and assumed "they weren't going to blow leaves."
Protesters scattered throughout downtown as the chemicals were deployed, some from authorities stationed atop the MetroSafe building at West Liberty and South Fifth Street.
The afternoon started on a much calmer note, however. Speakers at Black Lives Matter Louisville's "healing ceremony" led nearly 1,000 attendees through breathing exercises and burned sage outside the KFC Yum! Center to wrap up a weekend of demonstrations that started with seven people being shot outside Metro Hall on Thursday and widespread property damage Friday.
Not long after the Black Lives Matter event, a group then gathered at the Muhammad Ali Center and began marching throughout downtown. The group had peaceful confrontations with police during the march, and authorities let the group walk into the middle of Broadway. The crowd then marched toward and down Ninth Street with arms interlocked.
A group of white protesters linked arms and formed a line in front of black protesters as they march down 9th Street downtown demanding justice for #BreonnaTaylor on the 4th night of protests in Louisville. @WDRBNews pic.twitter.com/H48cqXtFff— Paige Thompson (@paigeinacage) May 31, 2020
Protesters then worked their way back to Jefferson Square outside the Hall of Justice, which has been a main gathering point for demonstrators during the weekend. They shared passionate messages demanding justice for the shooting death of Taylor at the hands of law enforcement.
"All it takes is a couple of arrests, and we'll go home," a protester told WDRB News reporter Chad Mills during his livestream of the demonstrations. This protester was referring to the Louisville Metro Police officers who shot and killed Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency room tech and former EMT, while serving a search warrant on her apartment on March 13.
"Don't arrest them, convict them," another chimed in.
Emanuel Mitchell, who has been leading protests over the past few days, encouraged Mayor Greg Fischer to meet with protesters in the streets for dialogue.
"I want Mayor Fischer to ... talk to us like a man," Mitchell told Mills during the livestream.
"He's afraid," Mitchell said, again referring to Fischer. "But does he know how peaceful we are? We promise, from the bottom of our souls, each and every last one of these people that's been marching, that it will be a peaceful sit-down."
During a briefing around 10:45 p.m., Fischer said peaceful protesters who are getting tear gassed should be upset with the non-peaceful protesters who are "hijacking this event for their own purposes" and not LMPD.
"LMPD wants to keep people safe," Fischer said. "So if you're here peacefully and you're seeing other people not being peaceful, to the extent that you can, either leave the area or try to influence them to be peaceful. Peaceful protest is good. Please continue to do that and get away from people that are not doing that."
WDRB News has learned from the family member of a patient at Norton Brownsboro Hospital that the facility has been placed on lockdown. A Norton Healthcare spokeswoman confirmed that Norton Healthcare's downtown campuses and Norton Brownsboro have been placed under "code green." Norton officials expect the code green to be lifted when the protests end in Louisville.
As of 10:53 p.m. Sunday, police have made an excess of 40 arrests, Chavous said.
Fischer's curfew expires at 6:30 a.m. Monday.
- Black Lives Matter Louisville holds 'healing ceremony' after three nights of protests
- Kentucky Alliance calls for police accountability in Breonna Taylor case
- Louisville mayor: 40 arrests, shots fired at officers during Saturday protests
- Curfew, increased police and National Guard presence mark third night of Louisville protests demanding justice for Breonna Taylor
- Hundreds fill Louisville streets during second night of protests sparked by Breonna Taylor shooting
- Attorney representing Breonna Taylor's family says police made mistakes in raid, calls for end of 'no-knock' warrants
- LMPD: 7 people shot, 1 'critical' during protest in downtown Louisville demanding justice for Breonna Taylor
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