Ashanti Scott speaks about her arrest and Breonna Taylor’s death Friday, Oct 9 2020 

 By Tate Luckey —

3 counts of “wanton endangerment” were the only charges filed in the case of Breonna Taylor’s death that occurred earlier this year on March 13. When a Kentucky grand jury and Attorney General Daniel Cameron confirmed on Sept. 23 that those were in fact the only charges for officer Brett Hankison, a reasonably upset city took to the streets to protest for justice.

The city countered by reimplementing a 9 p.m. curfew from Sept. 24 to Sept. 26, with those not abiding the curfew being taken into police custody. 

Among those arrested on Sept. 24 were University of Louisville McConnell scholar and sophomore Ashanti Scott and her mother, state representative Attica Scott. They were held until Friday morning, along with local activist Shameka Parrish-Wright. 

“We had been driving by one of the marches that happened, and then LMPD cut us off. We got out of the car because we thought we’d be arrested for still being in our car during curfew. We had walked to this church that Rep. Lisa Willner was a part of because they held sanctuary there,” Ashanti Scott said, speaking about the First Unitarian Church, which offered protesters sanctuary that night.

“We were walking towards the front of the library, along Broadway, but to try and avoid confrontation with the police we turned and tried to go around the church. When we came to the back police yelled ‘Surround them! Get on the ground!’ and we were detained.”

According to both her account and Rep. Scott’s Instagram Live footage, they were then held down with zip ties around their hands. 

“One of the others we were detained with asked the officer if they were going to read us our rights. They said no, and so I was never read our charges,” Scott said. “I didn’t even know our charges until later on while in jail. When we finally did know, even the officer that showed Ms. Shameka her charges said ‘this was crazy,’” she said.

Unable to see their bond, they were eventually released at 8:30 a.m. the next day. Their release papers showed that they had a riot 1 felony, unlawful assembly misdemeanor, and failure to disperse misdemeanor.

After Attorney Mike O’Connell and Thomas Wise initially refused to drop said charges, the Scott’s started a #dropthecharges campaign that gathered moderate interest on platforms like Twitter from various U of L groups and local officials/activists.

“I don’t think they’re necessarily being indifferent. I think it’s a strategy by LMPD. My mom has introduced Breonna’s Law (an ordinance banning no-knock warrants unless in the situation of child endangerment), and I think it’s just a way to silence her,” Scott explained.

Scott said she wasn’t surprised by the decision of the Taylor case.

“I feel like just charging him with wanton endangerment, for shooting into the apartments, it was crazy to me that that happened,” she said. “[Hankison] spent less time in jail than what I did. I think the Breonna Taylor case is the most corrupt case we’re seeing involving the murder of an innocent black woman and someone actively trying to cover it up.”

Scott, who went to middle school with Taylor’s sister, explained that she thinks the severity of this case, in particular, is likely caused by Mayor Fischer’s gentrification plan for Taylor’s neighborhood and was compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic/support of healthcare heroes. She initially only found out about Taylor’s death from her family’s social media. 

As of Oct. 6, the charges against the Scott’s and Parrish-Wright were dropped by O’Connell due to a “lack of evidence.” And while Ashanti was disappointed by the university’s response to the Breonna Taylor case and the Black Lives Matter movement beyond a few emails, she did have some sage advice for those getting involved.

“This movement involves a lot of young kids who are angry, and justifiably so. We just have to be able to work with them. If you can’t protest, the Kentucky Alliance Against Political Oppression is a great organization to donate to, as well as the Louisville chapter of the Bail Project. There’s also a lot of petitions still circulating.”

Photos Courtesy of Ashanti Scott 

The post Ashanti Scott speaks about her arrest and Breonna Taylor’s death appeared first on The Louisville Cardinal.

U of L remembers the life of Breonna Taylor with memorial walk Sunday, Oct 4 2020 

By Anthony Riley —

The University of Louisville’s Commission on Diversity and Racial Equity (CODRE) organized a walk in honor and memoriam of Breonna Taylor’s life and legacy. It took place on Oct. 2.

Students, faculty, staff and friends were invited to walk together in a show of solidarity; Belknap campus participants gathered at the University Point lawn to march to Spalding University where they met up with those from the Health and Sciences Campus. U of L President Neeli Bendapudi was in attendance, and voter registration tables were set up at the Spalding Green Space, accompanied by a CODRE information booth.

See photos from the march below:


Photos by Anthony Riley//The Louisville Cardinal

The post U of L remembers the life of Breonna Taylor with memorial walk appeared first on The Louisville Cardinal.

RAVE Alerts show administrators lack racial sensitivity Thursday, Sep 24 2020 

By Zachary Baker-

Over the past couple weeks, the University of Louisville’s administration has made several mistakes when it comes to racial sensitivity on campus.

From the conflicting language when it came to the Black Lives Matter protests around campus on Aug 25., to the dangerous and irresponsible vague RAVE alert, the university has been failing its students of color. 

On Sept. 10, a RAVE alert went out at 2:20 a.m. warning students about “A Black Male wearing a red hoodie” on the run from the police and possibly on campus. 

In a time where the danger of a Black student to possibly be killed in a misunderstanding by police is high, it seems downright reckless to send out a vague text early in the morning to a student body that is made up of 11% Black students

There are thousands of Black students on campus at a university where the schools colors are red, black and white. Sending out a text which only includes vague descriptors was either completely ignorant of current events or dangerously negligent of the consequences that could come from doing so. 

This is no new issue from the university, problematic RAVE alerts have been around for a while. 

Student Body President Sabrina Collins commented on the incident and who should be held accountable.

“The Sept. 10 RAVE alert is only the most recent incident in a longer history of problematic RAVE communications that put people of color on our campus at risk,” Collins said. “Having served on Top 4 for multiple years, I know this is not the first time SGA has advocated for substantial change in the way safety concerns are communicated with campus.”

Collins said that the university “must back their words up with anti-racist action if we ever hope to come close to the ideal of a ‘premier metropolitan anti-racist university.'”

“The University is correct that we must do better; however, students must keep pushing our administrators and police department to follow through on that promise,” she said.  

It is painfully obvious to the student body that the university can do better to protect them. The danger is not limited to the student body either. People across Louisville have talked about how it seems better to avoid U of L than risk arrest or injury due to the negligent behavior of the administration. Is that the university we want to be? 

Do we want that same message to go to potential incoming students seeking a better life through higher education? 

Dangerous and reckless behavior by the administration in how it communicates is correctable only by the administration itself. U of L needs to do better in both protecting its students of color and by promoting true change and accountability within the system.

File Graphic // The Louisville Cardinal

The post RAVE Alerts show administrators lack racial sensitivity appeared first on The Louisville Cardinal.

MLK Scholars hosts student activism panel Friday, Sep 11 2020 

By Madelin Shelton —

In response to recent protests surrounding racial injustice, the University of Louisville’s College of Arts & Sciences hosted a forum titled “We Can’t Wait: Student Empowerment Through Activism” featuring MLK Scholars Arii Lynton-Smith, Nicole Sparling and David Echeverria.

The forum, which took place Sept. 8, focused on the social activism of the featured MLK scholars, ways members of the U of L community can engage themselves in activism, and how the university can improve in making U of L a truly equitable place for black and brown students.

Dr. Cherie Dawson-Edwards, the newly appointed Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, moderated the panel and provided questions to facilitate the discussion.

When asked what student activism entailed, all three panelists agreed that it was crucial to think beyond the relatively small U of L community. “As an organizer, I’m working towards global liberation,” Echeverria said.

While keeping the global worldview in mind is necessary, the panelists also agreed that student activism includes investing in your community, whether that be through financial resources, or donating one’s time and energy.

The panelists gave consistent criticisms of the university on how it should move forward in support of Black Lives Matter and empowering student activists. Among those criticisms were that the university doesn’t simply need to put forth an “anti-racist” agenda for face value.

“What people are asking for is an overhaul of a system that exists, not for a system that is working to continue but in different ways,” Lynton-Smith said.

Sparling said that, “[BIPOC] weren’t expected to be in higher education spaces and now that we are in these spaces, there are issues.”

“What the university should do is completely rework the system,” she said.

Echeverria also added that the university should not just look to SGA for student input, as students’ voices aren’t always accurately represented. In addition, the panelists advised increasing the number of student representatives on important university advisory bodies relating to inclusion and equity.

At the end of the panel, the panelists gave a call to action for attendees to educate themselves about issues concerning racial history and modern racial injustices, and to engage in critical thinking about the world around them.

File Photo // The Louisville Cardinal

The post MLK Scholars hosts student activism panel appeared first on The Louisville Cardinal.

U of L has double standards when it comes to protests Thursday, Sep 3 2020 

By Zachary Baker–

This year has been a chaotic year for many of us, but especially so for the African American community. With the many killings of unarmed people by the police, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has been in the national spotlight. Louisville has seen months of protests demanding justice for the killing of Louisville resident Breonna Taylor by the Louisville Metro Police Department. 

One of the protests, held right by Cardinal Stadium on Aug. 25, had an interesting response from the U of L administration which seemed almost hypocritical to their statements of support for the movement. 

When the group of protesters formed sometime after 3 p.m., several emails went out through the university’s RAVE system—normally used to alert students to robberies or other dangers on campus. 

The university sent the emails to alert students to the protests forming. They recommended students and faculty avoid the area. 

“University leadership has been monitoring the news surrounding potential upcoming protests in our city, including a planned demonstration today at 2 p.m.,” President Bendapudi wrote in an email to students Aug. 25.

The emails that followed were to ensure that students were aware of law enforcement presence in the area and that arrests were made—though the protest remained peaceful. The emails came in one after another so that students were frequently updated. There were a total of 4 emails. 

While this may not seem like too much of an issue, it is a strange position to take. They’re telling students to “avoid the area” of a protest against police violence while also defending the position of the protestors. 

But let’s compare this protest to the primarily-white gun march on campus in 2017. The gun march saw students carrying semi-automatic rifles around campus in the wake of several mass shootings across the campus and even the deaths of students around campus from gun violence. 

The university’s approach was to keep young children inside. But they did not warn the campus of any dangers around the event despite the involvement of weapons.

In fact, the campus did not limit the protests too much. Matthew Glowicki, a writer for The Courier-Journal, wrote that people drove by honking or showing support for the march.

Shelby Brown, former Louisville Cardinal Editor-in-Chief said that students were concerned by the march, with several people believing the march was to intimidate students on campus and to show a sense of dominance with the weapons. 

Despite the gun march’s involvement of active weapons and close proximity to campus, it was treated similarly to how we allow religious groups on campus to operate. Compare that reaction to how the university treated the BLM protest by Cardinal Stadium. The university treated it as if it was a danger to students and required immediate police intervention. 

We can’t be sure that this difference is due to the racial differences or the change in the administration since then. But the difference between the public language of the university when promoting racial justice and their language when alerting students to racial protests on campus is concerning.

We can hope that the university considers how the differences in their language affects how the student body trusts them and their actions.

File Graphic // The Louisville Cardinal

The post U of L has double standards when it comes to protests appeared first on The Louisville Cardinal.

LGBTQ Protesters March For Black Lives In Downtown Louisville Saturday, Jul 25 2020 

'

Louisville Metro Police said they arrested 76 people Friday in the NuLu area.

Police in NuLu on July 24, 2020 when 76 people were arrested.

 A crowd of people had set up, what appeared to be, a block party on Market Street, between Shelby and Clay, with tables, tents, music, art and a trampoline. U-Hauls delivered supplies, and there were chants of “Whose streets, our streets” and “This is what democracy looks like.”


CLICK ON TITLE TO READ FULL ARTICLE.
'

Meet The Teen Leading This Kentucky Town’s Discussion Of Racism In Appalachia Tuesday, Jun 23 2020 

The courtroom was silent as 19-year-old Dayjha Hogg approached the lectern at a Letcher County fiscal court meeting, stared down a panel of county magistrates, and spoke. 

“I know COVID’s going around right now, so just imagine, there’s no COVID, normal society, and imagine you walk around and it’s like you have the plague.”

Hogg is biracial, and her entire county leadership is White. The Berea College student gripped the lectern to steady herself, and continued. 

People look at you and it’s almost as if, if they stare too long, if they breathe the same air, they’re scared that they’re going to catch the plague. That is just a small, small glimpse of what it was like growing up here in eastern Kentucky as a minority.”

Conversations about police brutality and racial equity are happening across the nation, and rural communities are no exception. 

In Letcher County and Whitesburg, its county seat, a racial reckoning is unfolding that is at once peculiar to this rural Appalachian community and inextricably tied to the one unfolding across the nation. 

This reckoning came after a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Whitesburg. 

Hogg helped organize the protest, and she had been a little afraid not many people would show up. But roughly 200 people attended in a town of just 1,800 —  in a county where 80% of the vote went to Donald Trump in 2016. Democratic State Representative and U.S. Senate candidate Charles Booker visited from Louisville to speak at the Friday evening event. 

“It was amazing before and afterwards,” Hogg recalled. “We were like, ‘Oh my gosh, we pulled it off, we really did it!” 

But the following Sunday, the county’s highest elected official, Judge-Executive Terry Adams, posted on his personal Facebook page denouncing the local event and the national Black Lives Matter protests. 

“This is a strange new world we live in today!!!” the executive wrote. “You have a small group of far leftists who want to stir the pot on racism that rarely exists anymore but in their minds. Then you have the majority of the people that have common sense that get pushed into a corner on these nonsense issues.” 

“I believe the ones that are always pulling out the race card are the racists,” he said, comparing those who wanted to remove Confederate statues to Hitler. 

Dozens of people commented on the Facebook post, defending Black lives, defending Confederate statues, debating whether looting was justified. 

When Hogg saw the post, her heart sank. She wasn’t surprised, she said — she had lived with racism all her life. But this time, something was different: Her White friends, even White people she barely knew, stood with her.

At the regularly scheduled fiscal court meeting the next day, about 20 Letcher Countians filed into the bare and echoey courtroom. For a local governmental body that primarily concerned itself with paving roads and repairing water lines, it was an unprecedented crowd, and it touched Hogg that they had shown up in her defense. 

The soft-spoken judge-executive looked uncomfortable as he brought the meeting to order. 

“I suppose you all are here because of the Facebook post I posted,” Adams said. “I’m sorry if anything I said offended you. I’m just one man.” 

And he ceded the floor. 

“This is my hometown, so all my life I’ve always empathized with everyone around me,” Hogg said. “I’ve always understood, they’re just uneducated, this is how they were raised, this is how they grew up. But today I have these people here supporting me and wanting me to speak up. And for years, me and my family, and so many people in the Black community, have had to hear these derogatory terms and take them, and accept them, and lay down with them, and day by day it belittles you until you feel less than anyone in your community.” 

Hogg shared the daily discrimination she faced in school, saying that her mother always tried to speak to the principal about it, but Hogg wouldn’t let her. Hogg knew that if she was seen protesting the abuse she faced, she would be accused of playing the race card to get special treatment. She said whenever the cafeteria had watermelon, she never took a slice, because it wasn’t worth the taunts she would receive. 

“If I have to rip open a scab, dig into an old wound because my friends are here to support me and that’s what it takes to prove that there is racism in Letcher County, then that’s what I’m willing to do.”

Sydney Boles | Ohio Valley ReSource

Letcher County Judge-Executive Terry Adams faced criticism after a Facebook post that was critical of Black Lives Matter protests.

Letcher County is 98% White, according to the 2018 American Census Survey, but art and media about Appalachia too often erases the experiences and contributions of Black Appalachians and Appalachians of color. It’s too easy, Hogg said, for racism and discrimination to be swept under the rug. 

Tanya Turner, a local White resident and a co-host of the popular Trillbilly Workers Party podcast, also spoke, asking the court to remedy the damage caused by Adams’ post. 

“I think since words have been used by people on this court to divide people, I hope that there are some real solid actions taken by this court to change that narrative,” Turner said. “This court could release a statement of solidarity in support of Black lives. That is the minimum that we could do.”

The court has not yet released such a statement. 

Small-Town Policing 

Turner also raised concerns about the police presence, a touchy topic in the small community. 

“This is a town with six police officers, yet there were probably 20 police officers downtown Friday night [at the protest,]” Turner told Adams and the other magistrates. “Now, I don’t know why that was, or what the expectation was, but that did not make people feel safe.” 

While protestors in many cities, including Kentucky’s largest city of Louisville, have been met with tear gas and rubber bullets, the Whitesburg protest was held with the blessing of local police chief Tyrone Fields, who is biracial.

Still, heads turned when Turner finished speaking and Fields stood up from a bench in the back of the courtroom. “May I follow up, please?” he asked the judge-executive. 

Whitesburg had four police officers, actually, he corrected Turner, and he had called in help from other local forces to make sure all the streets to downtown were blocked off after other peaceful protests in Kentucky and around the country faced aggression from right-wing counter protesters. 

But Fields also wanted to take a stand. 

“It’s safe to say that George Floyd was ⁠—  and I’ll say this as the chief of police ⁠— it’s safe to say that he was murdered. We do know that. They might as well have hung him from a tree. Any police officer that thinks he was not murdered should immediately turn their badge in.” 

Adams Responds

Following nearly two hours of comments from the community, attendees reiterated their demands for a statement in support of Black lives and for members of the court to denounce the words of their superior. One by one, each magistrate said he or she disagreed with what Judge-Executive Adams had written. 

Adams finally responded with “I’m sorry if I offended you.” 

One woman, who had been silent for the duration of the meeting, interrupted. “I’m sorry, I just have to. You’re saying you’re sorry if you offended anyone, but are you sorry for what you actually said?”

Adams repeated the same statement, so I pushed him on it in his office a few days later, on Juneteenth. 

He chose his words carefully. 

“I’ve got a son that’s got Down Syndrome,” he explained. “And after I get to thinking about that, people say things that sometimes bother me because of him. And I could see the same thing in racism now.” 

He became emotional, swallowing back tears. 

“If I’ve hurt people’s feelings, I’m sorry. I should not have brought what’s national, going on nationally, and combined it with people wanting to speak out locally.” 

Hogg doesn’t think Judge Adams really gets it, but she says the conversation was productive. For now, Hogg says, that feels like justice. 

“This little town is making big moves, just like all these other places,” she said. 

Behind This Story

Sydney Boles produced this story as part of the America Amplified initiative using community engagement to inform and strengthen local, regional and national journalism. America Amplified is a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. 

Q: What did the people you talked to say about the experience of being interviewed for public radio?

With the exception of Judge-Executive Adams, who seemed very uncomfortable having me in his office, everyone I spoke to for this story was elated to share their experience confronting racism in their hometown. Dayjha Hogg, the protagonist of this piece, said something that stuck with me: “I never thought my experience was that important or interesting, but now with all these other people listening to me, I guess it must be.” 

Q: What surprised you about this type of community engagement?

It was joyful! The majority of the stories any journalist writes are negative— which makes sense. It’s our job to make sure people know what’s going on in their communities, whether it’s political corruption, environmental harms, or any number of things. But when the status quo is the silent tolerance of injustice, joy becomes newsworthy.

Q: What lessons do you have for others who want to do the same?

Local governance meetings remain a timeless method of taking the pulse of your community.

Sherman Vs. Lee: How One Man Sparked A Fight To Take Down A Confederate Statue In His Kentucky Town  Sunday, Jun 21 2020 

Sherman Neal FamilyToddlers yelling, running around the hardwood floors and leaving cracker crumbs on the ground. A laptop screen dented by a soup can dropped by a kid. At one point, a room covered from ceiling to floor with hand prints after kids were left alone with a paint can. 

But for the moment, Sherman Neal’s kids — two-year-old Skyler and three-year-old Jett — are on the leather couch, fixated on another “Max & Ruby” cartoon

“This is a warm up one before jumping off the couch,” Neal said with a hint of apprehension and a smile.“There’s no running right now. It’s pretty calm.”

“Usually what we’re doing is cleaning up messes half of the day,” Neal’s wife, Rikki, added from across the living room. “We’ve had some more light bulbs — they see a light bulb, and they’ll throw it.”

Yet despite the moments of chaos, this is family time 31-year-old Neal, who shares a name with Union General William Tecumseh Sherman, has truly never had until now. For years, he was away from his wife and kids pursuing a career and serving his country as a U.S. Marine, commanding a platoon on a California base and in the Middle East coordinating supplies for Marines in several countries. 

Liam Niemeyer | Ohio Valley ReSource

Sherman Neal (left), Rikki Neal (right), and their two children.

He wasn’t there in person when his wife went into labor with their daughter Skyler, having just arrived in Kuwait for his second deployment. He heard his daughter for the first time through a Skype call, but he didn’t get to be with her during her first seven months of life. He hadn’t lived with his wife since they got married in 2015 until recently.

Their Murray, Kentucky, home they purchased last year is where, in many ways, his life is just beginning. 

“Why would I be sitting in the desert in California by myself in 120 degrees, but I could just quit,” Neal said. “But I was doing it because these guys I’m talking about working with, I owe them that. Now I owe them that, I owe my kids that, I owe my family that.” 

Neal had declined to pursue a further career in the armed forces after five years of active duty, instead chasing a dream of coaching football. That dream started by sending dozens of letters and emails to coaches across the country, eventually networking into volunteer coaching opportunities.

Murray State took a chance on him for his first real coaching job as an offensive and special teams analyst. So Murray — population 19,327 — ended up being his family’s new home. But before he took the job, he did a little internet research on the town.

The first thing he saw was a picture of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Specifically, a statue of Lee, installed in 1917 on Calloway County courthouse grounds and funded by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

On June 1, Neal spoke about his family and his children in an open letter to Murray and Calloway County leadership that subsequently embroiled the quiet college town in protests and calls for action. His target: that statue.

Liam Niemeyer | Ohio Valley ReSource

Signs were placed on the Confederate monument on county courthouse grounds, advocating for the removal of the monument.

“When my three-year-old son and two-year-old daughter ask, ‘who’s that man and why is he up there?’ I will inform them that the city worked in conjunction with the Daughters of the Confederacy and the Ku Klux Klan by proxy, to place him up there with the intent to keep Black people quiet and subservient,” Neal said in the letter. “I will then tell him that we will not be intimidated by any symbol and will never be subservient to any man. We will tear down this and other actual/symbolic barriers to justice — eventually.”

Neal never mentioned in the letter that he was a football coach, a veteran, or an attorney licensed in two states, having graduated from West Virginia University College of Law on a full ride fellowship. He only said he was a resident of Murray, and a Black man. He wanted to see what title people would choose and how people would address him without any labels.

“If you write that as an attorney, do you get the same attention that you’d write it as a Marine?”

Since then, the response has been roaring, bringing nationwide media attention to the small town. 

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, Murray State University, and former Murray State basketball star Ja Morant have also all called for the removal of the statue. An online petition calling for its removal as of Thursday has more than 9,700 signatures; another petition opposing the removal has more than 2,500 signatures. The debate has spilled into the streets, as protesters called for the monument’s removal. Some of those demonstrators were sprayed with pepper spray by White men from out of town.

Neal said he’s received online messages threatening violence against him, some using racial slurs. He said he knew the risk of publishing the letter, but the risk of complacency and losing an opportunity to remove a symbol of racist intimidation from an outdated era was even greater.

“There’s nobody with a cape that’s coming out of the phone booth to come save me,” Neal said. “If you have the training in and the ability to do something and you choose not to under the current circumstances that we’re in, then you’re okay with it, and you’re complicit with what’s going on.”

Upstairs in the Neal home, the kids have a space-themed fort with galaxies and stars swirling on the cover; Neal went to a space camp in fourth grade and wanted to be an astronaut for years. On the shelves of the play room are books highlighting figures like Harriet Tubman, who used the stars to guide people to freedom, and Mae Jemison, the first Black woman in space. 

“Just like that statue’s a symbol to discourage us from pursuing certain jobs or professions or justice, you know, what’s not up there are people like Harriet Tubman or Mae Jemison,” Neal said, pointing to the books on the shelf. “So, just with tearing down, you have to build up. Every girl should know that she can be an astronaut.”

It’s a message of embracing dreams and speaking up that he ultimately wants to pass down to his children, he said. Seizing the momentum of nationwide protests in large cities and small towns alike calling for racial justice and police accountability, the will to publish that open letter wasn’t just a spur of the moment decision for him.

As Confederate monuments come down in larger cities across the country, Neal is on the forefront of battle similar to others taking place in smaller towns over what a community chooses to memorialize. At first, he stood alone in publishing that letter, using a voice he’s honed over the course of his life.

Liam Niemeyer | Ohio Valley ReSource

Sherman Neal, with the Murray State University football team.

‘Leading By Example’

Neal grew up in Naperville, Illinois, a west suburb of Chicago, going to parades in the ’90s celebrating the Chicago Bulls’ NBA championships.

A love for football started early, too, with memories of juking around the kitchen table and playing on Pop Warner football teams. He also doesn’t remember a time when he wasn’t learning about slavery in the United States and the legacy of the Confederacy.

“There’s weekends where we go to Springfield — this is five hours away — and go to [Abraham] Lincoln’s tomb,” Neal said. “I got older and I realized everything has some context.”

One of the children’s books in his Murray home that he remembers reading as a child is “Pink and Say, a story about a former slave, Pink, saving a white Union soldier, Say, and nursing him back to health. The two are eventually captured by Confederate marauders; Say is released, while Pink is hanged. 

Neal also wrote a series of letters while serving in-school suspension in middle school, re-writing and replacing words in the Emancipation Proclamation and Declaration of Independence so that it would apply for students.

“My mom actually made me take that to the city council and petition against my assistant principal,” Neal said. “She had me doing things like that at an early age.”

He credits his mom, Michelle Neal, for much of his independent spirit. She came to the United States to escape civil war in Liberia, and became an immigration attorney in Chicago. Neal had dual-citizenship with Liberia until he renounced it to join the Marine Corps; his sister also represented Liberia in track and field in the 2016 African Championships.

He would wander the Chicago streets from his mom’s office near DePaul University, sometimes sitting in on meetings she had with people from diverse backgrounds, ranging from east African, Mexican, Swedish, Pakistani, and more.

When the Trump administration announced a travel ban in 2017 on countries in the Middle East and Africa, Michelle Neal rushed to Chicago O’Hare Airport to help those in legal turmoil. Sherman Neal said her work has influenced his own choices.

“All the decisions that I’ve made involve some way shape or form of helping people, from a personal standpoint and career standpoint,” Neal said. “It’s not a ‘when you can,’ it’s like, ‘you shall and you’re gonna find a way.’ And it’s been leading by example.”

As he progressed further in his legal career in the armed forces, he began to notice more and more the context and history of the world around him.

In Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where he played on special teams for Middle Tennessee University’s football team, he learned about the history of a “Johnny Rebel” Confederate monument, originally erected in front of the county courthouse, which a local historian believes was erected as a form of racist intimidation

When he was in law school at West Virginia University, he learned about the effects of mass incarceration on minorities, with Black men serving prison sentences at almost six times the rate of White men.

And in the Marines, he learned that while institutions can be slow to change, change is not impossible. Neal recalled when he was preparing for his second deployment to serve as a logistics officer in Iraq he was boarding a bus that would take him and his fellow Marines to their plane. Near that bus door was a red Ford Bronco with a Confederate flag. His anger boiled over on the bus, and a friend had to calm him down.

Courtesy Sherman Neal

Sherman Neal, deployed in Iraq.

“What you allow to happen on base is a choice, is a reflection of your values,” Neal said. “I personally never had like a line of people supporting me saying any of these things.”

Every year, he submitted feedback to the Marine Corps calling for the removal of Confederate symbols and flags from military installations. He didn’t see much change while he was in the Corps. But in the wake of recent nationwide protests, the Corps relented, banning public display of the battle flag including bumper stickers and mugs. 

Now in Murray, he turns his gaze to Robert E. Lee next to the Calloway County courthouse.

In an open letter published by the Murray State History Department, faculty in the department said the statue represented a “Lost Cause ideology” similar to other Confederate monuments erected during that time frame, symbols of “white power and black oppression.”

Neal isn’t specifically advocating for the destruction of the statue, but says it needs to be removed because of the message it carries next to the courthouse. When he first arrived in Murray, he appreciated the historical markers and context provided by the Fort Donelson National Battlefield across the state border in Tennessee, a battlefield managed by the National Park Service. 

But the county courthouse statue’s purpose isn’t to provide history or context, he said.

“You’re sending a message to Black people in the community,” Neal said. “With it having been built in 1917 and knowing about the genesis of where all these came from, I don’t know how you can make a legitimate argument that you’re not doing that.”

Inaction And Confrontation 

Neal wore a grey suit and dark tie with a blue cloth face mask, notes jotted down on a Murray State-themed pad. Again, he stood alone.

On June 16, he approached the Calloway County Fiscal Court at their monthly meeting to address county leadership on why the monument should be removed. The monument was on county property, and therefore the decision whether to remove it is up to the county.

He didn’t have a prepared statement, but he didn’t need one. He said he felt more comfortable speaking from the heart.

“Nothing changes in this country or this community, or legally, without the will of the people behind it,” Neal told county Judge-Executive Kenny Imes and the county magistrates. “Robert E. Lee himself, who in fact is the man who’s on that statue, if nothing else he was a member of the United States Army before resigning his commission to become an enemy combatant. And for that reason alone, we should not have that man on public property.” 

Imes had previously said he didn’t associate the statue with racism, but was willing to listen to Neal and others. Imes had said the fiscal court would need to get permission from the Kentucky Heritage Military Commission before taking action, as the Confederate monument is listed as a military heritage object. Imes in 2018 had also suggested he would need to be “hauled off” by federal marshals for the monument to be removed.

Liam Niemeyer | Ohio Valley ReSource

Sherman Neal waits to speak before the Calloway County Fiscal Court on June 17 to advocate for the removal of the Confederate monument.

Going into the meeting, Neal was clear with his call to action: he wanted at least a resolution stating intent to remove the monument, even if the fiscal court couldn’t yet officially approve the removal. He sent county leadership the day before a 36-page document outlining his and other supporters’ platform.

“We have the opportunity right now to be an exemplar for what happens and what can happen when you handle these type of divisive issues in a civil manner, specifically in towns like this,” Neal added. “Rather than being what’s wrong, in having that statue be the manifestation of what’s wrong and being the beacon to everybody in the nation that we don’t care about the thoughts and feelings of others.” 

The fiscal court also allowed another man to speak, this time opposing the removal. Murray resident Blake Hughes compared the removal to “cultural genocide” and said that advocates with “Marxist intent” were destroying history because “they hate us, our nation, and our God.” 

He also said he was worried the monument would be torn down outside the due process of government, and that people who haven’t lived in the county long were dictating historical interpretations of monuments to people who have lived in the county their entire life. 

Imes didn’t side with either man. He decided to delay instead, in an effort to sort out “legal issues” regarding the monument that he didn’t specify.

For Neal, it meant disappointment and anger, his usually steady voice shaking.

“Am I a communist? Am I a citizen? Am I in the wrong place? Is it the wrong time? Just, you know, what sticks to the wall,” he said, referring to Hughes’ speech. “I dislike when people say the word ‘dog whistles,’ because it’s not. It’s overt calls to White supremacist groups to try to stop progress.”

After the meeting, Neal confronted Hughes, sparking a debate over the monument’s meaning, the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and the uncertain future ahead.

“How will removing the Robert E. Lee statue stop oppression? How will it stop police brutality?” Hughes asked.

“We can’t even get to the substantive talk because we’re stuck talking about a rock of an enemy combatant on public property,” Neal said. “So the actual, ‘will it stop?’ — the knee being placed on a neck — by removing that statue? Absolutely not. But we can get to that conversation.”

“Many people are not even waiting to go through the legal system to remove these statues. And where does it end? I mean, a lot of people in history have been remembered for great things and have done terrible things,” Hughes said. 

“Here’s where it ends,” Neal said. “It ends when someone like you can not go into a courtroom and tell me that I don’t have the right to speak on a topic that’s afforded to me by the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.” 

The Fourteenth Amendment granted full citizenship to all persons born and naturalized in the United States, including those who were formerly enslaved. 

Liam Niemeyer | Ohio Valley ReSource

Sherman Neal, posing with Commendation Medals he earned with the U.S. Marine Corps.

Soldiering On

Neal isn’t sure exactly what is next in the battle over a monument he brought into the national spotlight weeks ago. He plans to offer university facilities as an option for a forum on the statue. Over the course of several interviews, he mentioned Thurgood Marshall, the lawyer who argued for integration and eventually became a Supreme Court Justice, as inspiration.

“If Thurgood Marshall can litigate for probably about ten years to strategize and get Brown v. Board of Education passed to get me to the point where I can be here now, coaching Black players and White players in the same place, I can probably go ten days, whatever struggle this is, to remove a symbol of segregation and hate.”

Sherman Neal is ready for a long march.

Calling For An End To ‘White Silence,’ Protesters Kneel Outside Louisville Police Headquarters Thursday, Jun 11 2020 

A crowd of more than 100 protesters gathered outside Louisville Metro Police Department headquarters in downtown Louisville on Thursday to read the names of people they say have been unjustly killed by police officers.

Demonstrators with Louisville Showing Up for Racial Justice (LSURJ) said the purpose of the protest was to call for an end to “white silence,” which is the idea that white people who do not actively promote racial justice in their own communities are complicit in systemic racism.

“It is just the morally right thing to do, regardless of our skin color, the melanin content of our skin,” said Dwain Lee, a white Presbyterian minister. “The other thing is we are the majority ethnic group in the United States and without our voices, change will never happen.”

The vigil began with a trumpeter playing the spiritual “Down by the Riverside,” the chorus of which is “I ain’t gonna study war no more.” Following the song, protesters read the names of those killed by police, including the names of Breonna Taylor, who was killed in March by LMPD, and David McAtee, who was killed by the National Guard while working with LMPD.

After reading the names of those who have died, demonstrators moved into the street outside police headquarters and sat or knelt in silence in solidarity with George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

Despite being outside police headquarters, police had no visible presence at the demonstration and did not come out of the building to meet with the crowd.

The protest concluded with a march to Jefferson Square Park, which protesters called “Breonna Square.” The largely white crowd held signs calling for an “end to white silence,” and chanted “defund the police” and “Black Lives Matter.”

Christy Washington stood by the square as protesters arrived. Washington, who is Black, said she loves to see the solidarity from white people and only wished the crowd was larger.

“We need more white people to speak out,” she said.

Ryan Van Velzer | wfpl.org

 

Small Towns Host Black Lives Matter Marches As Movement Spreads Beyond Cities Tuesday, Jun 9 2020 

IMG_0921 2By now it’s become a familiar scene: Marchers fill the streets with placards proclaiming “Black Lives Matter,” and chants fill the air as the demonstrators recite the names of those lost. 

But there’s something different about some of these protests around the Ohio Valley in the past week. They’re not just happening in the larger cities such as Louisville, Lexington, Columbus and Cincinnati. Smaller college towns such as Athens, Ohio, and Morgantown, West Virginia, have seen marches. Communities in Kentucky farmland and the heart of Appalachian coal country, such as Hazard and Harlan, Kentucky, have seen people protesting against racial injustice and police violence. 

“Because prejudice here is as old as our dialect here for some people, and it’s inherited,” Bree Carr said. The 18-year-old from Harlan, Kentucky, said she protested to be an ally for people of color so they will know they have support. “There are so many other people behind them that support you, and hear you, and want to see you.” 

Sydney Boles | Ohio Valley ReSource

A Black Lives Matter demonstration in Harlan, in eastern Kentucky’s coal country.

Bowling Green, Kentucky, has seen consecutive days of protest, drawing up to a thousand people at one event. Civil Rights activist Charles Neblett sang with the Freedom Singers in the 1960s to fight segregation. Neblett said he was thirteen when Emmett Till was lynched in Mississippi. He told protesters at the Warren County Justice Center that prejudice and injustice have persisted for too long.

“When is it gonna stop? I’m tired. And more people got to step up and do this thing,” he said. 

The protests in smaller cities and towns have been overwhelmingly peaceful. But they have not been without confrontation. A protest planned for Charleston, West Virginia, was postponed after organizers said they received threats, although a smaller group went ahead with a demonstration. Carr said she received threats over the demonstrations in Harlan, and in western Kentucky marchers have faced assaults.

A video from a march on June 2 in Murray, Kentucky, showed a white motorist using pepper spray on marchers as he drove by. The man, who was from Paducah, Kentucky, was arrested. Another white man was later arrested for pointing a weapon at demonstrators in Murray.

Courtesy Audrey Elizabeth Kellett

A Facebook video shows a man assaulting marchers in Murray, KY, with chemical spray.

The marchers in Murray invoked the names of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, both killed by police. But another issue is animating the protests here as well. Demonstrators are calling for the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee next to the Calloway County courthouse, spurred by an open letter issued by a football coach at the local university.

As in other places, the protests here are reviving older debates about statues and memorials dedicated to the Confederacy. Louisville officials on Monday removed the controversial equestrian statue of John B. Castleman, a Confederate officer, something city leaders had proposed years ago. 

It remains to be seen if the same will happen in small towns like Murray. On Monday, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear called for Murray’s statue to come down after being asked a question about it during a press conference.

The calls to remove Confederate memorials in rural communities are also part of a larger theme of confronting a history and stigma of racism in some smaller towns.

In Marshall County, Kentucky, where the population is nearly 98 percent white, more than a hundred people marched on Friday around the courthouse square. Only a few months earlier the county’s judge-executive had allowed a confederate battle flag to fly at the courthouse before a backlash forced its removal.

Liam Niemeyer | Ohio Valley ReSource

A protest in Marshall Co., KY, where a confederate flag recently flew over the county courthouse.

Malique Humphries, a 23-year-old black man from neighboring county, says he was afraid to protest in Marshall County after being in other protests because of the county’s perceived racist reputation.

“I have a six-year-old daughter,” he said, “and I felt uncomfortable to come here, you understand that?”

Yet he came anyway to join other Marshall County residents to start a larger conversion about racial injustice, police accountability, and loving one another.

“We should feel comfortable anywhere we want to go, we should be allowed to go anywhere we want to go, it shouldn’t matter if the majority is white or not, we should feel comfortable anywhere on this earth.”

Humphries said he hopes protests like these will start to bring change where it is needed, at the local level.

Claudia Cisneros, WOUB

Demonstrators in Athens, Ohio.

ReSource reporters Sydney Boles, Brittany Patterson, Aaron Payne, and Becca Schimmel contributed material for this story.

Next Page »