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‘We Are Not Sucking It Up Anymore’: Protesters Descend on Kentucky Derby to Continue Call for Justice For Breonna Taylor

A day intended for celebration turned into a demonstration during one of the most popular events in American culture. 

Demonstrators were not “horsing around” at the 146th Kentucky Derby. The Run for the Roses horse race at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, went on without fans in attendance because of the coronavirus pandemic. But there were plenty of people present before the race got underway, with hundreds gathered outside Churchill Downs prior to the derby to focus on a different kind of race — the race to justice for Breonna Taylor. The group included members of the national social justice organization Until Freedom, all gathered for a No Justice, No Derby demonstration. 

Taylor, 26, who was an emergency room technician, was killed by police during a botched drug investigation at her Louisville, Kentucky, home on March 13, 2020.

The crowd of demonstrators met at South Central Park, which sits a few blocks away from Churchill Downs. Several speakers amped up the crowd before the march that led to the iconic horse track.

President and CEO of the Louisville Urban League Sadiqa Reynolds gave a firm message to the city. 

“We are not sucking it up anymore,” Reynolds said. “Today we have decided you will have no peace Louisville, Kentucky. No peace until we have our justice!”

Rev. F. Bruce Williams, senior pastor of Louisville’s Bates Memorial Baptist Church, reminded the crowd of the purpose of the demonstration.

“People are more important than horses. The pain that the people are suffering should be a priority over the profits they want,” said Williams. “And so while they’re partying, we’ll be protesting.”

“We’re glad the National Guard is here but the same way you protect those horses, you ought to be protecting Black children from being gunned down in the streets,” said Rev. Jamal Bryant of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, located in metropolitan Atlanta. 

The Kentucky Derby is normally held the first Saturday in May, but this year because of COVID-19 it took place the first Saturday in September. Derby Weekend also marked 100 days since demonstrators took to the streets demanding the arrests of the officers responsible for killing Breonna Taylor. 

Louisville activist Kejohn Jennings, who took part in the demonstrations, has had an overall long stretch of protests.

“I’ve been protesting since June 15 here in Louisville, Kentucky. For an event; something so big, and something so huge for Louisville; for Breonna Taylor, and for the meaning of it today, I couldn’t miss it,” he said.

“What keeps me going is definitely the fact that I know the people before me, my ancestors before me and my relatives before me kept going. So what would it mean if I quit when they didn’t quit?”

Although spectators were not permitted inside Churchill Downs, justice seekers remained outside, marching and chanting. 

Lexington, Kentucky, native Desiree Willis drove to Louisville to participate in No Justice, No Derby.

“We can’t just go on like business as usual when we have social injustices that need to be rectified,” said Willis. “The fact that her killers are out here still living free. It’s unfair to her family, it’s unfair to her, it’s unfair to us as a people. As a people we’ve been through so much this year.” 

Willis stated she was moved by the demonstration. 

“For me it’s the unity; seeing our allies marching with us lifting their voices in protest.”

The demonstration remained peaceful though tensions were high between opposing protest groups. Louisville Metro made three arrests related to the protests, but none were due to confrontation between counter-protesters.

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