In Louisville on the night of Sept. 24, while walking to a Unitarian church for sanctuary and safety, prior to the city-wide curfew and after a day of protests following Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s decision to not charge any police officers in the death of Breonna Taylor, Kentucky Rep. Attica Scott was arrested and charged with felony rioting. Scott narrated the terrifying scene leading to her arrest on her Instagram Live account.
“They want to kill us, I want you all to know they want to kill us,” said Scott in the video, which showed police officers circling her and other protesters as they walked toward the church. “We were trying to go inside, which is what we were supposed to do.”
Scott is the only Black woman legislator in the Kentucky General Assembly. She and 17 other protesters—including her daughter, Ashanti—were held for an hour on the street in zip ties while police officers refused to tell her what they were being charged with. They later were transported to jail, where they were charged with felony rioting charges for allegedly trying to burn down the Main Library in Louisville.
Scott has been a longtime supporter of the library system. The Main Library resides in her district, and she has sought increased funding for it for years. Before Scott and the rest of the protesters were even released from jail, the Louisville Free Public Library Union, AFSCME Local 3425, released a statement in support of her, saying that they found “these accusations inconsistent with her character and the constant support [they] have received from her.”
Scott and the other protesters were held for 10 hours in jail before being released. Conversely, Brett Hankinson, the only officer who has been charged in the circumstances around Breonna Taylor’s murder, was only held for 32 minutes before being released.
After being released, Scott spoke outside the jail. “They are trying to have power, domination, and control over our bodies and our voices, and we will not allow it,” she said. “We do not move in fear, these charges will not stop us, it will not stop the revolution.”
The felony charges against Scott and the other protesters were dropped after people in Kentucky and around the country pressured Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell, but the misdemeanor charges remain and are scheduled for trial on Nov. 16. The police have not given a statement because of the pending charges, but O’Connell did say in court that they did not have enough evidence to support the rioting charge. There is still a petition for O’Connell to drop the remaining charges, especially considering the toll that the arrest has taken on the protesters. “It was an extremely traumatic experience, and many of us are still carrying the mental and emotional scars from that experience,” Scott told TRNN.
However, the arrest has not stopped Scott from advocating for either her community or for Breonna Taylor’s family. She spoke out about the recent news that Cameron is trying to prevent two grand jurors from talking about how he presented the charges in Taylor’s case. “It’s obvious that the Attorney General is an utter and complete failure … He has failed miserably in seeking justice for Breonna Taylor, and instead he has been an agent of the police and trying to protect the police. The fact that he wants a stay on a judge’s order says that he has something to hide, and I think we should all be concerned about that.”
Scott has been a vocal critic of Cameron’s ties with the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), and believes that he did not approach the investigation of Taylor’s death with the goal of pursuing justice. “He had no intentions of serving in office and defending the people of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Instead, he was committed to defending the people who endorsed him, the Fraternal Order of the Police, so that’s why so many of us were disappointed, but not surprised,” said Scott.
This kind of activism on behalf of victims of police violence is nothing new for Scott, who has been working in Louisville for racial and political equality for years. Before becoming a state legislator, Scott was consistently involved in racial protest movements and has spoken out and organized protests about prior Louisville police shootings. In 2014, when she was a member of the Louisville city council, she led a protest in response to an open letter by local FOP leader David Mutchler condemning the “anti-law enforcement attitude” of protesters. Mutchler told Scott and other local activists that they needed to “be on notice.” In 2018 she sponsored a bill in the Kentucky General Assembly to create an Officer Shooting Review Board that was aggressively opposed by the FOP.
Scott’s situation is similar to that of the case of Virginia State Sen. Louise Lucas. Lucas had felony charges brought against her relating to protest vandalism of Confederate monuments a day before meeting with other legislators to work on police reform. Supporters of both Lucas and Scott have alleged that the charges against them are related to their outspoken criticism of the police. Scott believes she was specifically targeted for arrest, she told TRNN: “I have video where they called me by a name at a Charlottesville rally on Broadway. I’m in a lawsuit with the ACLU against LMPD for tear gassing us. The State FOP has attacked me on social media for filing Breonna’s Bill. I voted no on the Blue Lives Matter Bill.”
Even in the face of police intimidation, Scott continues to confront police violence. Scott is a firm believer in using protests to drive systemic change of the systems that led to Breonna Taylor’s murder. But she also sees an opportunity in working electorally and through policy to change the system.
Scott has also pre-filed ‘Breonna’s Law’ for the Kentucky General Assembly 2020 term, and hopes to get a hearing for it this year. The law, which she worked on with the Taylor family’s lawyers and the Kentucky ACLU, would end no-knock warrants throughout Kentucky, require police involved in shootings to immediately have drug and alcohol tests, and would require body cameras to be used any time a warrant was served.
Scott is optimistic that the people of Kentucky will use their voices to support this law and pressure the governor to sign it. “It comes from the people, it comes from community, it’s a piece of legislation that folks are owning, that they feel like they are a part of. We have 4000 people who have signed on as community sponsors of the law,” she told TRNN.
She also encourages Kentuckians to vote no on a constitutional amendment which would extend the terms of district court judges, including that of Judge Mary Shaw, who signed the no-knock warrant in the Taylor case. The amendment would also extend the terms of commonwealth attorneys throughout the state, a move that Scott thinks would make them less accountable to the communities they serve.
The police in Louisville may have tried to intimidate Scott against speaking out, but it is clear she has no intention of backing down. “My daughter often reminds me ‘we don’t move in fear.’ I am even more resolved in my commitment for Breonna, her family and our community.”
Additonal reporting by Molly Shah