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City Barricades Jefferson Square Area Ahead Of Breonna Taylor Events

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Barricades go up near Jefferson Square Park in downtown Louisville on March 12, 2021.

A little more than a dozen people had gathered in Jefferson Square Park around 5 p.m. Friday, the eve of the day marking one year since Louisville Metro Police officers shot and killed Breonna Taylor.

Christina Johnson of Louisville came out with friends “to honor” Taylor.

“All weekend, we'll be doing festivities to say, ‘Breonna, we still remember you,’” Johnson said. “We're gonna continue to say her name, even a year later.”

The square at 6th and Jefferson became the epicenter for racial justice protests in the city in late spring of last year, often referred to as Breonna Taylor Square or Injustice Square as demonstrations continued. And Taylor’s family has asked people to return to the square Saturday for a march and rally

Earlier this week, city officials announced preparations for weekend events, including road closures with vehicle access to the square blocked off by concrete barricades, city trucks and police vehicles. They went up after morning rush hour Friday and will stay through Sunday, according to a news release from the city.   

Louisville Metro Police Department Chief Erika Shields said the barriers are there for safety. 

“As I’ve shared with the protest leaders we’ve talked with, the goal is to allow a safe space for people to gather and express themselves in a peaceful, lawful way,” Shields in a release.

Johnson thinks the city “took it a little too far.” 

She’s worried people might be discouraged from coming to the events Saturday if they have to walk far.

“I guess the city is doing what they think they need to do to prepare for the worst, to prepare for the best, whatever,” Johnson said. “A decision was made and we have to honor that.”

Nicolas Lacey, who said he came out to observe, wasn’t so sure the barricades would make things safer. 

“I feel like I'm trapped, basically,” he said.

Lacey added that the vibe at the square Friday night felt very different than the night before a grand jury announced its decision based on the state attorney general’s investigation into Taylor’s death last September. 

“It feels more of an anniversary type feel, like more positive,” he said, as people talked, mingled and even briefly danced.

Mayor Greg Fischer has tweeted that he anticipates this weekend to be “a solemn remembrance of tragedies, a recognition of changes that those tragedies have brought and will bring, and a reminder of work still ahead to build a city of equity.”

For Johnson, an educator who teaches about social and emotional learning, accountability and demanding justice is important this weekend, but so is healing.

“This has definitely traumatized our community,” she said. “So the way we want to cope with it is in a positive way. We want to sing, we want to chant, fire up the grill, get some music going. We're tired of being sad. So we just want to celebrate her life and the life she did live.”

After the weekend, the city plans to clean Jefferson Square Park daily and require permits for any events held there going forward.

The news release from Wednesday said “the city will work with the families to remove and store memorial items left in the park” throughout next week. The city will also install a marker later this spring in recognition of the role the square has played during racial justice demonstrations, the release said.

Stephanie Wolf is LPM's Arts & Culture Reporter. Email Stephanie at swolf@lpm.org.