Lexington group joins national observance against police brutality in Missouri case

Lillian Neidhardt raised her hands in support of Missouri teenager Michael Brown at the Lexington vigil on Thursday.
Lillian Neidhardt raised her hands in support of Missouri teenager Michael Brown at the Lexington vigil on Thursday. Herald-Leader

April Taylor said she's been pulled over more than 15 times in her life and each time has been illegally searched. She worries about going to jail and fears for her children.

"I have two sons and a daughter, and I don't want to have to bury my children ... especially at the hands of those who are supposed to serve and protect," said Taylor, visibly emotional. "You just wonder how the interaction's going to go ... I can count on one hand the number of cops who I felt had any kind of respect for me as a human being."

At 7:20 p.m. Thursday, Taylor, 32, joined about 40 other Lexington citizens in front of the Fayette Circuit Court building downtown to observe nearly a minute of silence against police shootings and police brutality.

The group participated in a social media campaign that called for a national moment of silence days after unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown was killed by police in Ferguson, Mo. ( Read the latest about the situation.) The furor surrounding the shooting sparked national outrage after photos and footage showed police in military-like uniforms shooting tear gas and rubber bullets at demonstrators and journalists.

People gathered in public places in some 90 cities around the country to commemorate those victimized by police brutality, according to the New York Times.

A Facebook page for the vigil in Civic Center Park in Denver showed that about 200 people out of 1,400 invited planned to attend, and the vigil at Malcolm X Park in Washington had 1,400 registrants out of 7,800 who were invited, the newspaper reported.

Enchanta Jackson organized Lexington's vigil with Kentuckians for the Commonwealth in an effort to give people a place to discuss the circumstances surrounding the shooting in Missouri.

"I see the emotions building," said Jackson, 31, who's part of the Black Youth 100 Project. "Police brutality and criminalization is not something unfamiliar for people in Lexington. ... It's a movement of young people of color who are ready for change."

The Lexington demonstrators, a noticeably diverse crowd, held hands in prayer, shared stories, called for the violence to stop, offered suggestions and held signs that read "Don't shoot. Hands up," and "No justice. No peace."

The handling of the protests after Brown's shooting has raised questions nationally about police tactics and machinery used to handle large crowds.

Lexington public safety commissioner and former FBI special agent Clay Mason said Lexington's strategy for dealing with crowds differs from that of other cities.

"When our folks go out for what could be called a civil disturbance response, they're going to have the gear on, but if you notice the gear is for self-protection," he said. "We don't have weapons out. ... We're not going to roll out with our special response team vehicle on an incident without a real good knowledge or probable cause that there's an armed individual we're going to be encountering."

Police typically wear riot gear on State Street after University of Kentucky victories in NCAA Tournament games. Police officers are stationed on every corner and in front of homes as fans pour into the area to celebrate. Cruisers also patrol the area.

But Mason, who has investigated several civil rights cases, said the department has worked tirelessly on community policing and dealing with racially divided areas in hopes of gaining the trust of the citizens to ensure that large disorders do not happen.

Taylor agreed that it takes a community to avoid police brutality. "It's about showing a united front," she said. "This is just not a black people issue, but a human issue."

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