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U of L Cardinals Players March For Racial Justice, And Breonna

The University of Louisville men's basketball team leads a march on Central Avenue Friday afternoon.
Stephanie Wolf
The University of Louisville men's basketball team leads a march on Central Avenue Friday afternoon.

Players from the University of Louisville’s men’s basketball team expressed their condolences to Breonna Taylor’s family Friday afternoon. 

“It breaks my heart,” senior and Cardinals player Malik Williams said. “It is time to take a stand against police brutality and social injustice against the Black community.”

Williams spoke to a crowd of a few hundred, who had gathered outside Cardinal Stadium for a march for racial justice that the UofL players would lead on campus. He went on to say that this isn’t about politics, but about systemic racism.

“Black Lives Matter is no organization. It's a cry for help,” he said. “For years and years we have been looked down upon in the United States ... You say all lives matter. You got to show me that Black lives do. We're angry. We're frustrated, tired and scared.”

His teammate sophomore David Johnson, who spoke shortly before Williams, told the crowd, which included many other UofL athletes, that “it’s very terrifying being Black living in America.”

“Every single day, you have to live with that,” Johnson said. 

Johnson said a lot needs to change and he doesn’t expect this march to fix all the problems.  

“Still gonna be racism, there's still gonna be a lot of things we have to deal with,” he said. “But the truth is, today, we can take a step in the right direction.”

Coach Chris Mack said he came to support his players.

“I'm really proud to be their coach,” Mack said. “I'm also here to listen, I'm here to learn … And I understand, as a white guy, 50-year-old, that Back America is hurting and in order for Black America to not hurt, white people got to get involved.”

This is not the first time the UofL men’s basketball team has shown solidarity with those calling for justice and equity in the city’s streets.

Earlier this month, the team shared a video on social media, during which they demanded justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and “the countless others we have lost to racial injustice and systemic oppression.”

On Friday, several days after a grand jury announced its decision in the Breonna Taylor investigation, the players and crowd marched while chanting Taylor’s name. After they made their way back to the stadium, Williams told the crowd the players are hosting a voter registration event on Oct. 3 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Shawnee Park.

Police Use Flashbangs In NuLu

Protesters also marched through downtown for the 121st  consecutive day on Friday. Louisville artist Justin Dunn has been among those to take part in demonstrations since they started in late May.

Dunn said the grand jury’s decision not to charge any LMPD officers for the death of Breonna Taylor did not surprise him. But he said he has encountered some people that still don’t understand the reasoning behind the marches, and that does surprise him.

To continue raising awareness of Taylor’s case and racial injustice throughout the history of the United States, Dunn said protesters will continue marching. When he looks back on this period of history, he wants to be able to say he was a part of the movement.

“Where were you at?” Dunn said. “Did you at least go for 10 minutes? And I think when I'm 65,  I want to look at my grandkids and be like, ‘I was there.’”

During Friday’s march, protesters encountered a line of police on Main Street while making their way back to Jefferson Square Park from the NuLu neighborhood to the east. Another line of police then approached from Hancock Street and fired flashbangs, or stun grenades, just before 7 p.m., two hours before curfew.

A statement from LMPD said “two flashbang rounds were deployed in the air above the crowd to get the crowd’s attention.” But at least four blasts can be heard in video from the scene. In a social media post LMPD attributed the additional blasts to the two rounds echoing along the nearby overpass.

Michael Thomas, Sr., is a 67-year-old Louisville native who marched with protesters on Friday. He said he does not believe protesters did anything to prompt the use of flashbangs, nor did he hear any warning from police that they would be deployed.

“I was up there on the front and heard, ‘Boom boom’ and ran back,” Thomas said. “No warnings, no nothing that caused them to do that. It's ridiculous. It's a sad day for the Louisville Metropolitan Police Department. The citizens were marching peacefully.”

After the flashbangs were deployed, protesters headed back east on Main Street and were met with another line of police officers. Protesters were allowed to pass on one sidewalk and make their way south toward Market Street, and eventually returned to Jefferson Square Park.

Just before curfew, protesters went to First Unitarian Church on Fourth Street. The church grounds were also used as sanctuary on Thursday night, though police surrounded the church after curfew and made several arrests around the property. 

On Friday, no police presence was visible when the 9 p.m. curfew went into effect. Some arrests were made during Friday’s protests, though LMPD has not released an exact figure.