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interviews

What State Takeover Looks Like

by Senator Scott Wiener
© Frank

interviews

The People are Still Protesting

by Representative Attica Scott
March 31, 2021

This interview with Rep. Attica Scott, who serves in the Kentucky House of Representatives for the 41st district, was conducted and condensed by franknews and Payday Report. 

AS | I am State Representative Attica Scott. I serve Kentucky House District 41. I was born and raised in Louisville. Before working in government, I worked for seven and a half years as a coordinator with KY Jobs with Justice. We did quite a bit of work around raising the minimum wage, around a single-payer healthcare system, around being on the front lines with workers who were on strike, and so forth. 

You were very involved in organizing for Breonna Taylor in Louisville. How do you look back at the summer of 2020 and see its impact today?

We were clear that our work includes protest, it includes advocacy for public policy, and it also includes politics. When I look back, I see a comprehensive picture that highlights the importance of being on the front lines, demanding justice for Breonna Taylor, as well as the importance of folks coming to their state Capitol to advocate for Breonna’s Law. We have people from the streets, folks from the hood, coming to the state Capitol to be advocates. Some of those folks had never been to the State Capitol in their lives, and now folks are running for mayor, for city council, for state representative, and all of these offices up and down the ballot because of it. 

Can you expand on Breonna’s Law and where it is now?

Breonna’s Law, HB21, is a bill to ban no-knock warrants across Kentucky. It also mandates that officers submit to alcohol and drug testing when they're involved in deadly incidents. It mandates that officers wear and turn on their body cameras. While we know that body-worn cameras are not at all the answer to police accountability, we also know that this is something that the family was asking for. We worked on this bill for seven months with the community and with the attorney for Breonna Taylor's family. 

The bill, however, died in committee.

Basically, they waited until it was so late in the session that we could only hear it for discussion, and could not vote on it. 

What was the reasoning for voting against it?

Well, first and foremost, it's because of institutional, systemic racism. We went four years without hearing a bill from any member of the Kentucky Black Legislative Caucus. Republican legislators didn't say anything to me for seven months until the bill was up for discussion. And when it was up for discussion, the main push back I heard was that they did not want to support a full ban on no-knock warrants. The president of the Senate also said that he would not support alcohol and drug testing of officers because he felt like that should be in some separate piece of legislation. 

What does this loss mean going forward? 

Well, the president of the Senate has put forth a no-knock warrant ban that limits these warrants in some situations but is definitely not a full ban. Now, mind you, when I announced at Injustice Square, in August 2020, where protests were happening, that we had filed Breonna's Law, the Kentucky State Fraternal Order of Police viciously attacked me on their social media. But when the white president of the Senate announced that he was working on this no-knock warrant ban, they said nothing.

They were mute. Not a peep.

One of my colleagues, Representative Minter, put an amendment on the Senate President's bill that addresses some issues that it did not. For example, it addresses the fact that though Breonna Taylor was shot multiple times, there was no aid rendered to her.

Not one officer tried to give her life support.

There was no EMT nearby. There was nothing. Her amendment mandates that there be an EMT nearby. Her amendment also mandates that law enforcement have insignia on the front of their clothing when they come to a door so people know who is at their door.

We're hopeful that her amendment will get added to that bill so that we can vote for it. If her amendment is not added, we're not voting for it because it is not Breonna's Law. We're not interested in performative politics, which is exactly what's happening right now. 

You were also arrested during all of this. More recently, Rep. Park Cannon in Georgia was also arrested. How did seeing that make you feel?  

When I saw state Representative Park Cannon getting arrested, I thought, “You have got to be kidding me.” She literally knocked on the door and they arrested her and charged her with a felony. That is targeting Black women in office. 

Georgia state Senator Nikema Williams was arrested as well. Virginia Senator Louise Lucas was arrested. I was arrested. 

We have a target on our backs. We are Black women in elected office, standing up for justice, whether that be standing up for the foundation of our democracy or standing up for justice when people have been murdered by police, and we get these felony charges thrown on us.

They hope these felony charges stick so we lose our ability to serve and vote.

If our charges don't get dropped, there's a legal battle we have to face. And financially, we are often not in the same position as our white colleagues who might be able to afford to fight those losses. We can't afford to fight those losses. That's our reality.

So when I saw that, I immediately went back to our arrest in September. We were arrested for literally walking while Black. We were trying to get to the sanctuary, literally across the street to the church before curfew and the police arrested us. 

Did you feel confident charges would be dropped?

I thought they might stick because it was retaliation against us. They knew when they arrested us, they knew who they were arresting. My daughter was with me and one of the officers knew my daughter's name before she even gave him her driver's license. They knew who I was when they took us to jail. They put me in isolation for my role in the Frankfort as a legislator. I'm like, “the folks in here don't want to come for me.” They know I'm fighting for them. I'm not at all afraid of the people who were locked up. But I was concerned that the charges would stick because they wanted to send a message.

And then they were dropped.

Yes, they were dropped over the course of a couple of months. We were arrested in September, felony charges were dropped in October, and then the misdemeanor charges were dropped in November. I guarantee you if I had not been going live on Instagram at the time of our arrest, and if we did not have that evidence to back up what we were saying, I don't think those charges would have been dropped.

Where does the political energy in Louisville feel focused now?

People are still protesting. They're still doing marches and rallies. They are clear that the demands we are making in March 2021 are the same demands we were making in May 2020. And our demands are to fire, arrest, and charge every single officer who was involved with Breonna Taylor's murder. 

And now, there's this resurgence of energy because their own people, who they marched side by side with, are running for office. They have this infusion of energy into the movement. Folks are able to say, “I know that person. I marched with them, I got arrested with them and now they're running for office. Oh, hell yeah, I'm staying in this every single day.”

The key is being deeply rooted in community because, first and foremost, people got to trust you. They got to know you. They got to be able to say I marched right next to Representative Scott. It also came down to me reaching out to people who were sustaining the movement. I am not sustaining the movement. I am in government full-time. It is about making those connections and building those relationships with people on the front lines. 

I can't imagine functioning without staying directly connected to my community. I don't even know how you serve as an elected official if you're not regularly connected to the people that you represent. 

Practically, how do you build community and build those relationships?

For me, in the midst of COVID, this looked very different. Typically I would do community forums, show up at neighborhood association meetings, community gatherings, and things like that. But right now, I have been using the platforms that are available to me. Recently I did a Clubhouse call with folks about Breonna's Law. I do Facebook lives periodically and I do Instagram lives. During the height of COVID, I was doing an Instagram live every week, bringing in different perspectives about COVID by bringing medical professionals, government folks, community folks, and essential workers in to have conversations about the different ways COVID was impacting people. 

For over 150 days, I have shown up to Injustice Square Park. When we first started occupying the park, I was there until one in the morning, and then back at 8:00 AM bringing in breakfast and helping people set up. That has been where I've been able to connect to people. 

You act often as a resource center for your community. Do you feel you’re filling in a gap where local news may have once been because there is so much information and so much misinformation? 

I feel like folks can rely on me because they know that I am the real deal. It doesn't matter to me if you're the mayor or the governor or the chief of police, if it needs to be said, I'm going to say it. And if something needs to be done, I am going to push you to do something.

I will also say, to the credit of activists and organizers, and leaders on the ground, they pushed our local media to step up and do better in their coverage. Initially, the coverage played into the talking points that were coming straight from the Metro Police Department and the Mayor's office — you know, that Breonna Taylor was a drug dealer caught up in a drug situation or that the protests were just violent riots. 

Our activists confronted every single media outlet and basically said that we don't want you here in our space if you are going to portray us in this way. If your narrative basically parrots talking points from the police department and the mayor, we don’t want you. 

And I feel like after the national news outlets saw the shift in the way local news was covering the protest, national news came in understanding that they don't get to come here and cover it like it was some random violent uprising.

They were told that they needed to be very clear about our demands and they needed to cover us with dignity and respect. And so they came in with that perspective. 

How does police presence feel now? 

I don't feel like it's changed much at all.

Even with the new chief who was hired in January, who I've met with three times, not much has changed.  

On March 13th of this year, we set up a day to honor the memory of Breonna Taylor, and they had concrete barriers up around the park. They had dump trucks up around the park. That was an overly heavy response to people who were in mourning and honoring the memory of Breonna Taylor. And I told the new police chief that. 

And I said to her, when white people in Louisville marched from the East End, which is predominantly white, to the Square, there was not one police officer present. There was no one on a bike, no one on a horse, no barricades, there was nothing. There is a huge disparity in police response that is evident every time we have an action. She didn't have anything she could say because it was true. It was all true. 

The presence feels antagonistic.

Well, right. What is sad is that instead of hearing us out about how the police presence often feels antagonistic, violent, and aimed at trying to egg people on, they instead decided to file a piece of legislation that says if you curse out or hurt the feelings of a law enforcement officer, they can arrest you. The bill has passed the Senate and is now in the House. 

That seems like a first amendment problem. What does it even mean to hurt their feelings? 

Right, well, it will get kicked out by the courts, but the point is to try to intimidate us and to try to silence us. They don't care if it gets kicked out by the court. They just want to put that veil of fear over us.

The police have everything in their favor in Kentucky. They have the Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights across the country. They have qualified immunity. And then you have new legislation that's being filed for policy in favor of the police. The response to this summer was legislative. 

And then, on the other hand, you have us just trying to live. We are not even trying to thrive. We wish we could thrive, but right now we're just trying to live.

I'm not sure if that's ever going to change unless we change the people in leadership.

That's why I affirm and applaud and support and celebrate the activists and organizers who were running for office. They looked at this situation and they said, “Oh, so we need to change the laws locally and statewide and in DC. Okay. So then we'll run for office so that we can do that since y'all are not doing it.”

You said labor missed the moment – how do you see them connecting in the future?

I wish labor would see that this is their movement too. Breonna was an essential worker. 

She was a frontline worker. I wish labor saw Black people as being part of the movement. I mean, how powerful would it be if every single labor union in Louisville showed up to Injustice Square and stood side by side with the people.

Labor needs to be organizing the unorganized. That's how it builds its numbers, organizing the unorganized. And there are a whole lot of folks who have been showing up for Breonna Taylor and who have been a part of the movement for Black Lives that are working in places that are not organized. This is also an opportunity to build that collective power and labor should be part of that; they should be part of the building of movement, the building of community, the building of power, but labor is not here, they are missing.