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'We Still Have a Racial Divide in Our Country,' Pastor Says at Ferguson Vigil in Louisville

Chad Golden grew up near 41st Street in west Louisville. He said he's not a trouble-maker or criminal, but he's had more than a few run-ins with police. And he says they weren't pleasant.“Even as kids we are harassed by the police," he said. " So, the best word I can think to describe it is ‘frustrating.’ It’s almost like there is nothing you can really do about it.  You feel almost helpless.”

Golden's message was echoed by others at a silent vigil Thursday evening on the steps of Louisville’s Metro Hall in honor of a young man shot by police in Missouri. Michael Brown, 18,  was shot and killed in an encounter with an officer in Ferguson, Mo., last week, a case that has drawn a sharp response from the community near St. Louisand has made headlines across the world.  Law enforcement's strong reaction to the public outcry has raised concerns in communities across the country, including Louisville, and prompted President Barack Obama to address the situation.Louisville residents at Thursday’s vigil said they were there not only to honor Brown, but to call for the end of what they described as race-based run-ins with police in poor and African-American communities in Louisville and around the U.S.F. Bruce Williams, a pastor at Bates Memorial Baptist Church in Smoketown, said what is happening in Ferguson is something to pay attention to, but it’s “nothing unique.”“We still have a racial divide in our country, we have made a lot of strides, but we still have a lot of work to do, as long as that racism is still in the body of politics there is still a possibility of something like that happening,” he said.A spokesman for Louisville Metro Police Department said local police take a proactive approach to prevent racial profiling."Being vigilant in what we are doing and respecting all persons is part of our policy," said Dwight Mitchell, LMPD spokesman.When complaints of racial profiling are filed with LMPD, Mitchell said a professional standards unit within the department investigates the allegations.LMPD Chief Steve Conrad in 2012 ordered a year-long study be conducted on whether Louisville police racially profile when conducting traffic stops, which he believes they do not.  In June, police officials told WFPL that study would be available "later this summer." We're checking to find out the status of that study.Williams said issues with racial profiling in Louisville persist. He said more African-American presence among city leadership is a step towards creating overarching community equality, but the issue has no quick fix, he said.

Williams said fear of racial discrimination from law enforcement is common among men and women of color living in Louisville.“The interesting thing is,” he said.  “If you stop just about any black male, anywhere, they probably have a story about it.”He even has one himself.“I told him who I was, I was the pastor of the church and I pointed to the building,” Williams said.He alleged that the police officers responded by saying: “Do you have any drugs or weapons in your car?”The situation is possible in Louisville, said some of people who attended Thursday's vigil.Metro Councilwoman Attica Scott said it is a situation that nearly happened following the 2004 police shooting of Michael Newby in Louisville’s Shawnee neighborhood.“People were ready to riot and uprise,” she said.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.