3:15 p.m.: Things were a little eerie at Churchill Downs on Derby Day. It was quiet, at least compared to the usual hubbub of thoroughbred horse racing fans traversing the more than 140 acres that is Churchill Downs. Just the sounds of the announcer over the PA, and near the track, the sounds of the horses’ hooves hitting the dirt.
Claudia Spadaro was one of the few standing in Churchill Downs’ grandstand Saturday. She had a horse running during the day, Pony Express.
“It’s completely empty,” she said looking around at the stands. “Like nothing’s happening.”
She said she’s watched the Derby since she was a young girl.
“I always had these emotions to come here because I know how much it means to us in horse racing and the energy and the vibe you breathe when you’re here,” she said. “It makes me sad, but at the same time, I’m grateful… we have the possibility to be at Derby.”
Different, but “historic” she said, one she’ll someday tell her grandkids about.
And her horse did well, placing second. — Stephanie Wolf
It Was ‘Not Safe’ For Officers To Go Into Square, LMPD Said
2:55 p.m.: Louisville Metro Police officials said most of their resources were staged by Churchill Downs when several hundred people from a militia-style “patriot” group marched into downtown Louisville late this morning.
“Due to the size of the crowd, we determined it was not safe to go in and we did not want to escalate the situation with police presence,” LMPD spokesman Lamont Washington said in an email. “Therefore, it was best to stage, call for additional resources to come downtown and see what developed. The two groups continued to engage, working to separate themselves from each other.”
Officers came in “as tensions subsided,” Washington said.
LMPD officers in riot gear had entered to separate what remained of the two groups after many of the armed militia-type protesters began to walk off the block to leave downtown,.
Police formed lines in front of the Chase bank on West Jefferson Street, forming a sort of barricade more than an hour after the groups first met near the square dubbed “Injustice Square.” They moved out again about 25 minutes later.
-Jacob Ryan and Ryland Barton
Militia groups seem to be leaving. pic.twitter.com/mTWdFNs85t
— jacob ryan (@jacobhryan) September 5, 2020
‘Active police situation’ Near Churchill Downs
1:20 p.m.: UPDATED: The situation has been resolved and was unrelated to the Derby or protests, according to an LMPD statement issued before 3 p.m.
EARLIER: Louisville Metro Police are responding to an “active police situation” near the backside of Churchill Downs, the agency told the Courier Journal.
Alert: An active police situation near the backside of Churchill Downs has caused the race track to take “additional precautions,” according to @LMPD. Police declined to provide further detail. pic.twitter.com/21fMYgS9E3
— Ben Tobin (@TobinBen) September 5, 2020
LMPD officials have not yet responded to inquiries from WFPL.
Police and National Guard presence are already heavy around the track, while protests from the NFAC militia, the Until Freedom group and local activists are expected later this afternoon.
Protesters Meet On Square With No Barricades Or Police
1 p.m.: Police were on rooftops and on the perimeter, but none seen in the Jefferson Square area as armed militia-type protesters clashed with Black Lives Matter protesters.
Here’s what it looked like yesterday in Louisville, when there were only Black Lives Matter protesters. Almost no police presence today https://t.co/fAligu6xhK
— Ryland Barton (@RylandKY) September 5, 2020
The group was led by “The Angry Viking” Dylan Stevens, who stood in the middle of a pack of white, mostly armed men wearing camo and tried to engage in conversation with BLM protesters in front of Metro Hall.
The rhetoric from the counter protesters has changed dramatically since they left the gathering at Cox Park this morning. They are acting much more compassionate toward racial justice protesters now that the two groups are talking in downtown Louisville.
— Ryan Van Velzer (@RyanVanVelzer) September 5, 2020
There was heavy vitriol, shouting and some pushing as the group marched into downtown chanting U.S.A. waving American and Trump flags. The LMPD has in past demonstrations set up barricades to keep opposing protesters on different sides of the block; today, the road was blocked by garbage trucks but there were no uniformed officers between Fifth and Sixth streets.
A reporter saw some officers appear to be gearing up with riot attire closer to LMPD headquarters. Officers told a WFPL reporter they are letting groups exercise their rights, and there’s no need to intervene at moment. -Jacob Ryan and Ryland Barton
Armed Group Opposing BLM Marching Downtown
12:30 p.m. A group of demonstrators convened by “The Angry Viking” is on its way to the downtown square that’s been the center of social justice demonstrations in Louisville.
The march comes after the group had several speakers denounce the Black Lives Matter movement — and after some members passed out cans of Raid and wasp spray to the crowd.
Um. This guy is handing out wasp spray and Raid, says “it’s better than mace” pic.twitter.com/TBJOhKsErl
— Ryland Barton (@RylandKY) September 5, 2020
Police have blocked off the road on either side of the square from car traffic within the last hour. There are no uniformed officers marching with the hundreds of people in the armed militia-type group.
At Sixth and Jefferson streets, in past weekends, the police have set up opposing barricades to keep Black Lives Matter and militia activists apart. There don’t appear to be any separations today. – Ryland Barton and Jacob Ryan
For Churchill Downs Neighbors, Spectator-Less Derby Means A Loss Of Revenue
12:00 p.m.: Sylvia Johnson has been letting Derby fans park their cars on her lawn on Heywood Avenue for 20 years, packing them in strategically.
“One, two, I usually get three, you know,” Johnson said, measuring out imaginary cars in her front yard.
“We got a system, you know. You put the small ones in here and then the big ones in the back.”
She’s got prime real estate, parking-wise, just two blocks away from Churchill Downs. Normally she takes reservations.
“You just can’t even get through the streets, it be so crowded,” Johnson said.
But the scene around Churchill Downs is a lot different today than on typical Derby days.
And for some neighborhood entrepreneurs, this year’s race means a loss of income from parking cars for racegoers. Here’s what residents told reporter Ryland Barton.
‘Angry Viking’ Group Disbands, Plans To Regroup At Waterfront Park
11:20 a.m.: The group convened by “The Angry Viking” at Cox Park has temporarily disbanded after about two-and-a-half hours. They say they will regroup at Waterfront Park and march to the courthouse downtown.
A demonstrator carrying a sign that said “Louisville does not need your guns” briefly disrupted the demonstration and was surrounded by attendees posing as security and escorted to the edge of the event. — Ryland Barton
A Massive ‘Breonna’s Louisville’ Banner Is Briefly On Display
10:30 a.m: Louisville’s Hometown Heroes campaign briefly had a new (unofficial) banner this morning. Ahead of the Kentucky Derby, activists hung a massive Breonna Taylor banner from a mill beside the I-64 in Louisville overnight.
The banner reads “Breonna’s Louisville” with a portrait of Taylor, who was killed by police in her home during an overnight right in March.
The style co-opts the city’s Hometown Heroes campaign, which honors notable Louisville figures including Muhammad Ali, Bobby Nichols, Rudell Stitch and Jennifer Lawrence.
An artist familiar with those involved who declined to be named said there’s a subversiveness to using the city’s own campaign to highlight the life of a Black woman killed by Louisville Metro Police Department.
“I think of Louisville as a place that is really quick to adopt symbols but very slow to act and kind of stand behind whatever those symbols are,” they said. “It’s the irony of that, I think it’s kind of a perfect message in the way that was done.”
Activists asked several businesses around the city for permission to hang the banner. They received encouragement, but found no support so they decided to hang the portrait overnight from the Producer Feed silo that looms over the downtown skate park near the I-65/I64 interchange.
The banner was taken down shortly before 10 a.m. —Ryan Van Velzer
‘My Old Kentucky Home’ Will Play, Despite Criticism
10:00 a.m.: Louisville poet and activist Hannah Drake is calling for Churchill Downs to reexamine its relationship with the Black community. She penned an open letter to Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen earlier this week.
One way Drake thinks they could do better is by dumping a tradition that, she said, is rooted in racism: the annual presentation of “My Old Kentucky Home.”
Since the early 1920s, Derby fans have sung the state song before the start of the big race, sometimes weeping as they do so. It’s been called an “anti-slavery song.”
But Emily Bingham, a Louisville-born historian who is writing a book on the history of the minstrel song, said that’s inaccurate.
“It was written by a white man about a Black person being sold down river from Kentucky to the deep south to be sung by white men pretending to be black men on stages for white audiences,” Bingham said.
Bingham adds that the man who wrote “My Old Kentucky Home,” Stephen Foster, was not an abolitionist.
“It is true that he was writing in the, in the midst of the bestseller success of my ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin,’ the anti-slavery novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe,” Bingham said referencing what she’s learned in her research. “And it is true that his original version of the song was about Uncle Tom and not my old Kentucky home… but he was producing music for the blackface minstrel stage.”
He continued to contribute to a genre of entertainment that fed into harmful stereotypes and caricatures, Bingham said, that you can hear in other songs of Foster’s as well.
On Friday, Churchill Downs said the song will still be played this year. But after some discussion, they decided to have it performed by a solo bugler following a “moment of silence and reflection.”
Drake said that’s not good enough. It still doesn’t align with the company’s statement about empathy and change.
In a text, Drake wrote: “makes no difference. We all know the words to the song. You don’t play it on a bugle and make it better. There is no way to dress up slavery.” —Stephanie Wolf
‘Angry Viking’ Protesters Gather In Cox Park
9:15 a.m.: While much of today’s protest action is planned for later in the area around Churchill Downs (Derby post time is at 7:02 p.m.), a group of a few hundred people, many carrying guns have gathered in Cox Park for a rally organized by online personality Dylan Stevens, who goes by the name “The Angry Viking.”
Stevens said he organized the rally to show support for Louisville police during protests over racial justice. Standing in the bed of a pickup truck, he spoke out against Black Lives Matter demonstrators.
“When the history books are rewritten in 15, 20 years, we’re going to be on the right side of it,” Stevens said. —Ryland Barton
There’s a gathering of a couple hundred heavily armed people at Cox Park in Louisville this morning. Organizers say it’s a “patriot rally” in support of police pic.twitter.com/lI6xpXEcV1
— Ryland Barton (@RylandKY) September 5, 2020
Dylan Stevens, who calls himself “The Angry Viking,” says “they’re coming to your cul de sacs, they’re coming to take your businesses.” Says people call him a white supremacist but he’s not pic.twitter.com/7gSDiR0IZK
— Ryland Barton (@RylandKY) September 5, 2020
Welcome To A Kentucky Derby Day Like No Other
9:00 a.m.: Today, Saturday, is the 146th running of the Kentucky Derby. It probably goes without being said that this is an unusual day in an unusual year.
First, this is only the second time in that 146 years that the Derby has not been run on the first Saturday in May (the other time was during World War Two). And though today’s Derby is still happening, Churchill Downs will be a lot quieter than normal, because the race will happen without spectators in the stands.
For yesterday’s Kentucky Oaks, Shedaresthedevil won the race and WFPL reporter Jess Clark found mostly-empty stands and no lines to place bets at the track.
If you’re wondering who to place bets on this year, two veteran handicappers discussed their picks on the most recent episode of WFPL’s In Conversation.
But even though Churchill Downs will be quiet, action is expected elsewhere. This is the 101th consecutive day of protests for racial justice in Louisville, sparked by the police killings of Black people including Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Activists are demanding the Louisville police officers involved in Taylor’s death be charged; Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron is investigating the case, but hasn’t released his findings yet.
Besides accountability for Taylor’s death, these groups want to see the city invest in some of the root causes of racial and economic inequality. At a press conference Friday, they called for the Kentucky Derby to be canceled. Though Churchill Downs officials have said they want the race to be a unifying event, some in Louisville’s Black community say they don’t believe that’s possible this year. Churchill Downs also announced yesterday it would still play Kentucky’s state song “My Old Kentucky Home,” but instrumental and following a moment of silence. The song was originally written as a minstrel song about a Black person being sold downriver.
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