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In The Weeks Following Darnell Wicker's Shooting, Few Public Protests

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A balloon and rose adorn Darnell Wicker's lawnmower.

It's been nearly three weeks since two Louisville Metro Police officers shot and killed a man after responding to a 911 call in southwest Louisville.

Police allege Darnell Wicker approached officers with a handsaw. The officers were called at the behest of Wicker's longtime girlfriend, who wanted him to leave her apartment, where he often stayed.

Body camera footage of the shooting is leading some, including Police Chief Steve Conrad, to question the officers' use of force. And while similar police killings of African-American men have sparked protests in cities across the country, that's not been the case locally.

Outside of social media, local activists offered little public response to Wicker's killing. And that's in line with the response to recent police killings in Louisville.

In 2015, a Louisville Metro Police officer shot and killed 35-year-old Deng Manyoun, who approached an officer wielding a flag pole. Local activists only took to the streets days later, prompted in part by a controversial open letter sent from police union president David Mutchler suggesting police would be aggressively monitoring black activists.

In 2014, the fatal police shooting of 28-year-old John Jolley Jr. in downtown Louisville resulted in few, if any, protests.

Conrad praised the department's response to the shooting of Wicker. Within hours, the chief addressed reporters, released the body camera footage and details about the officers involved, and meticulously outlined the investigation process.

"We've tried to be transparent," he said.

Still, he doesn't believe transparency alone is responsible for quelling potential protests. He suggested the quiet response to Wicker's killing may be proof people are willing to trust the process.

"I think it says a lot about our community," he said.

Some local pastors agree.

The executive leadership of the Interdenominational Ministerial Coalition held a press conference in the days following Wicker's death to voice their concerns about the shooting. During that press conference the Rev. Vincent James echoed Conrad's sentiment that the lack of protests stems "people trusting the process."

"We are not judge and jury," he said.

But some activists dismiss that notion.

Chanelle Helm is the co-leader of Louisville's Black Lives Matter chapter. She's helped organize a handful of past protests in the city calling for police accountability.

The absence of protests in the wake of Wicker's death is not a sign activists are "trusting the process," she said. Rather, it's because Louisville doesn't have "rapid response" activists.

"We don't have the manpower to continually protest," she said.

Local activists have jobs, families and responsibilities keeping them from being able to organize a rally in response to every injustice they see, Helm said.

"People do not pay black activists to be activists," she said.

Moreover, Helm said protesting police is not the sole focus of local activists.

"Where we collectively come together is building a movement for black liberation, and a lot of people don’t understand what that means," she said.

What that means for Helm is fighting to get more employment options, housing options and food options in to black neighborhoods. If that doesn’t happen, Helm said people should expect backlash. She said protests in Milwaukee, Baltimore and Ferguson stemmed not just from a police killing, but also from decades of neglecting entire communities.

Crime and violence can plague neighborhoods that lack resources and opportunities. In Louisville, homicides and shootings are spiking this year. More than 70 murders have been reported thus far by police in 2016, on track for record levels. And just this week, a 14-year-old was fatally shot and two young residents were injured in a Smoketown drive-by shooting, according to a report from The Courier Journal.

"Every black community, every community of color across the nation is at a boiling point," Helm said. "They are exhausted, and they are tired of being ignored."

Jacob Ryan joined LPM in 2014. Ryan is originally from Eddyville, Kentucky. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.