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Breonna Taylor protesters reflect on a year of progress and pain in Louisville

Travis Nagdy (on right) speaks with WFPL reporter Jess Clark after a march in Louisville on the National Day of Protest.
Travis Nagdy (on right) speaks with WFPL reporter Jess Clark after a march in Louisville on the National Day of Protest.

A year after protests over the death of Breonna Taylor, friends and family of 21-year-old activist Hamza Travis Nagdy gathered Sunday in a celebration of life.

It was a cold, gray November afternoon outside the Unity of Louisville Church. A light rain fell as family and friends of Nagdy gathered to talk, smoke and greet people walking into a building beside the church in Smoketown. 

Nagdy was shot and killed in an apparent carjacking last November. He was a prominent voice in last year's protests for racial justice. So too were many of the people there: street organizers, faith leaders, attorneys, live streamers and community activists. 

People like Rev. Stachelle Bussey, who helped organize this celebration for Nagdy. She now sits on the Louisville Metro Police Civilian Review Board. It’s one of a handful of clear changes that came about in response to last year’s protests. 

“What this group of people did for this entire city was make us all wake up,” Bussey said. “We can never forget the work that the people marching in this city did. It made us open our eyes.”

Reflecting back on the last year, Bussey reiterated the words of Louisville Metro Councilmember Jecorey Arthur of District 4: “Everybody in Louisville is responsible for Louisville.”

Those words, as well as Arthur’s actions on Metro Council, have resonated with activists.  Many at the memorial see Arthur’s election to Metro Council in November of last year as one of the wins of their movement; he’s more socially progressive than most of council and outspoken on issues like homelessness and racial justice. 

Another racial justice activist prominent in the months-long protests, Shameka Parrish-Wright, is running for mayor. That’s something protest organizer Amber Brown says she’s looking forward to. 

“I’m very excited about next year and the possibility of getting our first Black woman mayor,” Brown said. 

There are more incremental changes too: reforms banning no-knock warrants, revising investigations into police shootings, and use-of tear gas policies, among others. Notably, the U.S. The Department of Justice is now investigating LMPD for discriminatory policing. 

But among activists, there’s still a sense of disappointment on policing reform. Metro recently approved the largest ever pay increase for LMPD leadership, and is still negotiating the contract for rank and field officers.  

For many at Sunday’s memorial, the reforms, as well as the ongoing negotiations over police contracts, have not gone far enough

“Until there is accountability, until there is transparency, until there’s a community that feels they are appropriately represented, by not just the police force, but the criminal justice system and the government, it’s not good enough,” said Jason Downey, a livestreamer from the protests. 

Beyond institutional disappointments, the protests took a physical and emotional toll on everyone involved. The National Guard shot and killed David McAtee in a skirmish in the West End. Photographer Tyler Gerth was shot in Jefferson Square Park. Two police officers were also shot. Police tear gassed and pepper balled peaceful protesters and journalists. Police made more than 1,000 protest-related arrests, according to the Courier Journal. It’s not surprising activists are still processing their pain. 

“Where I come from we are built for war, we are built for struggle, we are built for surviving,” said local musician Issa Fixit. “But the mental strain that it is when you feel like you are at war with the same people that are supposed to protect you, and you feel like your battle cries ain't being heard, and you feel like it’s compromising your well-being as a human citizen.”

Many of those at the memorial said they’ve endured personal sacrifice because of their activism. They’re fighting charges, they’ve lost their jobs, and their physical and mental health has suffered. Chris Wells is a street organizer who led countless protests and said he’s going to trial for blocking traffic, inciting a riot and disorderly conduct. 

But all of them said it was worth it in the pursuit for racial justice. Wells said that’s what Nagdy believed too.

“That’s why we keep going, and that’s the motto [of] the late great, Travis Nagdy, my little protégé,” he said. 

Dozens came out to the memorial for Nagdy on Sunday. Brown, the activist excited about Parrish-Wright’s candidacy, said their activism has given rise to countless initiatives and organizations, inspiring people across the city.

“We have done so many good things,” she said. “And this movement is not over. It’s not over at all. That’s the biggest takeaway, we’re not going anywhere.”

Tuesday is the one year anniversary of Nagdy’s death. Activists are planning a vigil at Jefferson Square Park at 7 o’clock Tuesday evening. 


Ryan Van Velzer is the Kentucky Public Radio Managing Editor. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.

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