Breonna Taylor protesters hit with felony charges after sitting on Kentucky attorney general's lawn

A "Real Housewives" cast member, an NFL player and a NAACP leader were among the 87 arrested at the protest

Published July 16, 2020 11:07AM (EDT)

People gather with balloons for a vigil in memory of Breonna Taylor on June 6, 2020 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
People gather with balloons for a vigil in memory of Breonna Taylor on June 6, 2020 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

A "Real Housewives" cast member, an NFL player and the president of the Minneapolis chapter of the NCAAP were among the the 87 musicians, celebrities and activists arrested Tuesday at a protest over the death of Breonna Taylor, which culminated on the front lawn of Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron in Louisville.

The protest was organized by Until Freedom, a national social justice coalition co-founded by Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour, two organizers of the 2017 Women's March.

The group led more than 100 individuals clad in identical white T-shirts bearing the organization's purple logo in a peaceful march to Cameron's home in Louisville's affluent East End. The individuals demanded that the attorney general arrest the three white officers involved in the shooting death of Taylor, a Black EMT and ER tech killed March 13 in her apartment by local police.

Cameron, who is Black, has resisted similar calls for months.

Outside of Cameron's home, the group chanted "How do you spell murderer? LMPD" and "Whose streets? Our streets." Police eventually surrounded the demonstration, and dozens of protesters who sat down on Cameron's lawn — 87 total — were cuffed and jailed.

The officers followed the protesters beyond their jurisdiction, and the arrests came at Cameron's personal request, LMPD said in a statement.

"We reached out to the Greymoore Devondale police chief to make him aware and were asked if we would assist due to the resources required for such a large group," the statement read.

"The protestors chose to occupy the front yard of a home owned by the Kentucky attorney general and continuously chant towards he and his neighbors [sic]. At his request, they were trespassed from the property," police added. "All were given the opportunity to leave, were told that remaining on the property would be unlawful and chose not to leave. In total, 87 people were arrested."

The department said the charges stemmed from the protester's "refusal to leave the property and their attempts to influence the decision of the attorney general with their actions."

The Louisville Courier-Journal reported that most of the protesters were booked on three charges, including a Class D felony referenced in the above statement: intimidating a participant in the legal process. They began trickling out of the jail the next morning, continuing to do so through the afternoon.

The ACLU of Kentucky weighed in Wednesday with a statement, which in part read: "Applying inappropriate felony charges on peaceful demonstrators is an abuse of power and should be condemned, particularly by Attorney General Cameron."

Counted among the arrested was Minneapolis NAACP President Leslie Redmond, who had made the trip to Louisville after leading rallies in her own city following the death of George Floyd in police custody.

Kenny Stills, a wide receiver for the Houston Texans and Black Lives Matter advocate, was also detained. Stills was one of the first in the league to join Colin Kaepernick in kneeling to protest police brutality.

Two reality TV stars — Porsha Williams of "The Real Housewives of Atlanta," and Yandy Smith of "Love & Hip Hop" — revealed in social media posts that had been arrested, too.

Williams shared a photo with her 5.7 million Instagram followers taken after her release from jail, where she stood next to Taylor's mother, Tamika Palmer.

"It was my pleasure! I love you and as always praying for you Ms.Tamika Palmer...," Williams wrote. "Ps: Thank you for waiting on us to get out! It was heart warming exiting and seeing your family."

Williams also tagged Cameron, adding: "Arrest the Cops! Do The RIGHT thing."

Smith shared photos of the arrests on Instagram, as well. 

"Stand for something or fall for anything! We have heard from everyone on the inside and they are all ok," she wrote in one caption. "Over 100 people have been detained including the following people who choose to use their celebrity and platforms to stand on the right side of justice."

Smith then listed the names of celebrities and activist leaders who had also been arrested. In addition to Mallory and Sarsour, they included: 

  • Frazier Othel Thompson III, a.k.a. Trae Tha Truth, a rapper from Houston
  • Cordae Amari Dunston, a rapper who goes by YBN Cordae
  • Mysonne Linen, a rapper known as MySonne who also a co-founder of Until Freedom
  • Angelo Pinto, an attorney and co-founder of Until Freedom

The Courier-Journal reported that police also arrested several local activists, including Petia Edison of the Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression.

"This is unacceptable for a peaceful protest," Mallory wrote on Instagram upon her release from jail. "And they have charged us with a FELONY for a peaceful protest because @danieljaycameron feels intimidated. But the murdering cops are still free...we are at the jail and have not left. And will not leave until every single protestor is free. We will also be bailing everyone out who has a bond."

She added that Stills and YBN Cordae were among the dozens yet to be released, and the organization's attorneys would field allegations of police misconduct.

LMPD were serving a "no-knock" search warrant as part of a larger narcotics sting when they shot and killed Taylor, 26, in her apartment on March 13 at about 1 a.m. local time.

Taylor's boyfriend, believing they were victims of a break-in, fired at the officers, allegedly striking one in the leg. They returned fire, hitting Taylor multiple times. She died in her hallway.

Cameron's office is reviewing the incident, along with the LMPD personnel involved. There is no indication as to when the probe may conclude.

Cameron, a Republican, responded to the protests in a statement, saying that "justice is not achieved by trespassing on private property, and it's not achieved through escalation."

"It's achieved by examining the facts in an impartial and unbiased manner. That is exactly what we are going to do in this investigation," he continued, adding that his office was dedicated to a "thorough and fair" investigation and "today's events will not alter our pursuit of the truth."

"The stated goal of today's protest at my home was to 'escalate.' That is not acceptable and only serves to further division and tension within our community," he concluded.

An LMPD spokesperson issued a statement Wednesday explaining that police chose to make the arrests in part because protesters had been "chanting that if they didn't get what they want, they would burn it down."

In an interview for a 2019 Sports Illustrated profile about his activism, Kenny Stills said, "We're not asking for anything more than equal opportunity. Like Angela Davis said, Black people have been doing this work for a long time, and we're not going to stop."

"If you continue to just do the right things every day, consistently, every day, you can break that," he added.

By Roger Sollenberger

Roger Sollenberger was a staff writer at Salon (2020-21). Follow him on Twitter @SollenbergerRC.

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