LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - A picture may be worth a thousand words, but the image that’s gone viral since the first day of protests in Louisville also came with a lot of questions.
And as many across the nation have been chanting the names of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, in protest of police brutality and inequities in America, Metro Louisville is now investigating the police-involved shooting death of David McAtee in the city’s west end Monday.
The scene in the midst of a downtown riot showed African-American men and a Caucasian man locked arm in arm, forming a human barricade in front of a lone Louisville Metro Police Officer who had been trying to get to his squad car.
“Who are these men and what made them do this?” people asked.
Darren Lee Jr., a local daycare owner in Louisville, was one of those men. He said it was the first time he had ever joined a protest.
“There is just a lot that has happened between Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, Demonjhea Jordan,” Lee said. “When you have officers that harass the black individuals in the area of town that they live in, it’s difficult to look at any officer with respect.”
The names listed by Lee are all African Americans who have died at the hands of police, and in each case, some laws have been changed but the system remains the same. Lee said he decided to march for justice after seeing so much injustice. The protest in Louisville on Thursday started peacefully.
“At about 9:30, I felt the energy change,” Lee said.
Someone in a crowd fired gunshots. Seven people were hit by the bullets. Lee said he decided it was time for him to leave. As he made his way home, his gaze landed on a lone Louisville Metro Police officer who was separated from his team, trying to get to his squad car.
“The officer ... was out on the street,” Lee said. “Then he came, he walked up to Bearno’s Pizza. I was like, ‘Oh my God, he’s by himself.’”
He would not be standing alone for long, as the crowd began to close in on him, shouting questions, asking him to explain why there is so much police brutality and harassment.
“He was nervous,” Lee said. “He didn’t know what to do. He was trying to respond to some of the questions they were saying to him.”
There was already one man who had put himself between the rioters and the officer.
“I jumped up there with him,” Lee said. “Other guys just came in and we just formed a barricade. There was also one white man with us as well.”
Eventually, the rioters began to shout their questions at the human chain of men protecting the officer.
“Why are you guys protecting him?” Lee said the angry crowd yelled. The jeers and the screams from the rioters eventually died down, but the tension remained. The men were then able to usher the officer to his crew. Nothing was said between the strangers who used their bodies to shield the officers.
“He said, ‘Thank you,’” Lee said of the officer. “I think he learned at that point that not all protesters or not all black people are bad people. We don’t all have hate for the police. We just want to see change. We just want to see justice.”