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'We demand transparency': Tensions over racial justice shadow Louisville mayor's race

The race has been shaped by a spike in gun violence and the fallout from the March 2020 death of Breonna Taylor.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — On Valentine's Day, a man appeared in the doorway of a Louisville campaign office and fired shots at mayoral candidate Craig Greenberg. He wasn't hit — a bullet grazed his sweater — but some of the tensions still lingering over this city flared once again.

A social justice activist was charged with the attempted shooting and remains in federal custody. And with primaries drawing to a close Tuesday in Kentucky's largest city, the Louisville mayor's race has transcended local politics.

Greenberg, a businessman, is one of eight Democratic candidates on Tuesday's ballot. The race has been shaped by a spike in gun violence and the fallout from the March 2020 death of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman shot in her apartment during a botched police raid. Then there are issues still with the ongoing pandemic and the prospect that Louisville could face a $70 million budget shortfall by 2024.

Just weeks after the shooting at Greenberg's campaign office, as campaign yard signs began to pop up on front lawns citywide, a jury acquitted the only officer criminally charged in the Taylor raid. Many activists were left expressing feelings that the city’s justice system had failed Taylor and her family. They pledged to take their cause to the ballot box.

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Taylor’s death helped spur massive racial injustice protests in the summer of 2020, along with the deaths of George Floyd and other Black people in encounters with police. In her hometown of Louisville, protests carried on for weeks.

“We demand the truth, we demand transparency,” Bianca Austin, Taylor’s aunt, said at a memorial in March for her niece’s death. “We are going to continue to demand answers and we’re gonna continue to keep pressure on the Louisville Metro Police Department, who continues to fail us and our community.”

As of April, Greenberg has maintained a fundraising lead over his opponents and various local unions, faith leaders, and metro council members have endorsed him. He has said the shooting only strengthened his understanding of the need to quell gun violence in the city.

Other candidates are also connected to the turmoil that followed Taylor's death. Local activist Shameka Parrish-Wright, who is Black, and the Rev. Tim Findley Jr., a Black pastor of a church in downtown Louisville, were active in the 2020 demonstrations. They have both pledged to make racial equity a priority if elected.

Federal prosecutors have alleged that Quintez Brown, 22, wanted to kill Greenberg to prevent him from winning the mayoral race, citing Brown’s internet search history, text messages, and online posts around the time of the February shooting.

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Brown, a former editorial columnist for the Courier Journal, has been charged with “interfering with a federally protected right, and using and discharging a firearm in relation to a crime of violence by shooting at and attempting to kill a candidate for elective office."

If convicted of all federal charges, Brown faces a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life in prison in addition to any sentence he receives on state charges of attempted murder and wanton endangerment. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

As the mayoral race stretched on, new evidence revealed connections to the Republican side of the race, too. Search records showed that Brown had browsed the internet for Republican candidate Bill Dieruf’s campaign office on the day of the shooting. Dieruf is the mayor of Jeffersontown, a local suburb, and is widely seen as a front-runner for the Republican nomination for Louisville mayor.

Still, the Democratic primary winner will be buoyed in November by the advantage that Democrats heavily outnumber Republicans in Louisville.

Whoever ultimately wins, it’s likely the events of the past two years will follow the victor into office. Louisville’s police department remains under federal investigation and many of the city’s residents want to see improvements in public safety.

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