The first time I ever ran from the police, I fell.
I was cutting between two lawns when Louisville police began making arrests on June 1. It was the fifth night of demonstrations to seek justice for the March 13 killing of EMT and nurse Breonna Taylor. The 26-year-old was fatally shot by Louisville police officers while she was sleeping in the apartment she shared with her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker. It was the night after Louisville barbecue cook David McAtee was fatally shot by a member of the National Guard.
I lost my balance and tripped over someone’s front yard fern. An officer that I later found out had his body camera turned off lunged for me in the dark. I found myself praying to God. I wondered if Breonna had the chance to pray.
All at once, I rose. I ran. I hurdled over fences. I scrambled over gardens. My legs shot down the sidewalk. I almost fell again turning onto a gray street with lattice-worked red carnations creeping out to peek at the world. I wanted to go home.
When I noticed the sound of steps had grown quiet behind me, I looked around desperately for a savior. I turned to two older women watching the night unfold from their car windows. I begged to sit and hide with them awhile.
“We can’t help you, baby.”
They were not unkind. I couldn’t find it in myself to blame them, to be angry with these women. They reminded me of aunties at church, the kind of women that kept butterscotch and strawberry candy wrapped up tight in their purse for crying babies at Sunday service.
One said: “All I can tell you is get home. Run.”
The other held her finger out and pierced the night with the glossed tip of a brightly painted finger, glittering loud and unburdened by the weight in the air. She pointed toward a row of quiet houses further into the neighborhood, away from it all. My ride called and I traced my way back into Louisville’s civil war zone along bushes and behind parked cars. I tried not to breathe. The whole walk, I mostly just wished the streets looked more familiar.
After the last nine days, I no longer feel like a 19-year-old girl in my hometown. I have aged and I have ached. I have sobbed and laughed and danced and mourned. I have let the rain wash tears from my eyes and sweat from my face. In this cleansing, I have learned.
I have always known Louisville is a silent city of the segregation tradition. If you drive too fast and blink, you’ll miss entire ways of life that survive despite a system that hopes we retreat back to the time before blooming. This city knows a lot about concrete cracks giving birth to roses.
It is the lack of job availability. It is the gentrification. It’s the cultural gaslighting of insisting we be peaceful and bite our tongues against monuments to community destruction in neighborhoods held financially hostage with rent hikes and foreclosures. It is the redlining, the history of blockbusting. It is the gerrymandering and disproportionate incarceration. It is the white men in nice suits with nice smiles like Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer who hold news conferences to apologize and kiss babies, but call the National Guard to silence civilians. It is the consequences paid for their roles in systemic oppression and violence. It’s the way nothing changes.
Every day, I watch the crowd swell and bloom. Every day, I find new familiar faces. On June 7, the 10th day of it all, a black woman sat outside in the sun, away from the sound of drums. I think she sensed the fear in my quiet. We talked about the last time our people moved like this, with these numbers and this power.
And I have hope because she has it for us. I believe things can change because she believes it. She, who grew up hearing that the “South will rise again” at college football games, looked out onto our masked faces and believed we will be the change. In Jefferson Square Park — the site of our nightly demonstrations — there is community and there is love.
There is still anger. There is still rage. No one hangs out their car window without throwing their fist up. The chanters grow hoarse, but they do not stop growing.
And these days, a clenched palm cutting through the skyline reminds me of a concrete rose, ready to bloom, just waiting.