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'We’re going to fight these charges': Protesters say LMPD took chants and demonstration out of context

LMPD defended felony charges for the protesters who went to Daniel Cameron's home, though organizers and experts questioned the decision.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The Louisville Metro Police Department has defended felony charges for 87 protesters who took part in a demonstration at Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron's house Tuesday.

LMPD released two videos of chants that made police believe the protesters were threatening Cameron's safety.

According to police, in the video protesters are heard chanting "If we don't get it, burn it down." 

However, one of the clips was captured outside of Ballard High School, which was before protesters knew they were going to march to Cameron's house.

"Prior to arriving at the home, it was stated the intent of the protest was to 'escalate' their actions, which in the past has indicated violent or destructive behavior," LMPD Special Adviser Jessie Halladay said.

Organizers, however, said their claims were taken out of context. 

"Escalation means what's the next level of organizing and we decided the mass civil disobedience was the mass escalation," said Linda Sarsour, co-founder of Until Freedom, the organization that led the demonstration.

During a training session ahead of the demonstration, organizers encouraged participants to not resist arrest.

"The minute the law enforcement agent comes, you get up with your back straight and your head held high," Sarsour said.

The organizers, some of whom those who founded the Women's March in 2017, discussed how to start a large, nonviolent demonstration.

"We're not going to get physical, we're not going to beat anybody up," they said. "Building community and being nonviolent about it."

At the training session, Sarsour did not announce where protesters were going.

"The media doesn't know what we're doing and guess what? You're still going to go to the action and you're still not going to know where you're going," Sarsour said.

RELATED: LMPD explains why protesters outside AG Cameron's home were charged with felonies

WHAS11 followed the demonstration from Ballard High School to Cameron's home. When the group arrived, co-founder of Until Freedom and civil rights activist, Tamika Mallory announced to protesters that they were standing in front of Cameron's home. Police said when protesters arrived, they entered Cameron's yard without consent and searched through the windows. WHAS11 cameras did capture a moment when an organizer stopped one person from walking closer to the door. 

In a second video released by police, Halladay said police noted protesters saying "they will burn it down if they don't get what they want," though Sarsour called the chant a historically common shout in demonstrations.

"This chant of 'If we don't get it, shut it down. If we don't get it, burn it down,' is one that is used across the country and it refers specifically to oppressive systems that continue to keep Black people and people of color down," Sarsour said. "So to try to imply that 'burn it down' meant some sort of threat to Daniel Cameron, although 87 people were trained in Kingian Nonviolence just a few hours before, is despicable."

It's not only the protesters who have questions about the legitimacy of the charges and the allegations.

University of Louisville Law Professor Sam Marcosson said before a state can punish speech on the ground that is threatening or intimidating, the speech must be clearly targeted at someone. 

Marcosson said if the prosecution tries to go forward with felony charges, he is confident they will be dismissed.

"There are 87 protesters who have more charges filed against them then the actual police officers who murdered Breonna Taylor," Sarsour said during a zoom interview with WHAS11 Thursday. "We’re going to fight these charges in the highest echelon of the courts in the country."

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