A year after BLM protests, what has changed in Lexington?

City leaders say progress in being made. Community leaders say there is still so much work to do.
A year after BLM protests, what has changed in Lexington?
Updated: Jun. 1, 2021 at 1:30 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - It’s been a year since protests erupted in downtown Lexington following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

Yelling through bull horns and holding signs, protestors called for more police accountability. Now that the noise has long died down, what has changed in the city?

“I’m not going to sit here and lie and say that everything is perfect, but I do see intentional efforts to try and make things more equitable,” said Devine Carama, hip hop artist and community activist.

Last summer, Mayor Linda Gorton formed a commission for racial justice and equality. Members presented 54 recommendations on how to improve the community. Gorton says the city is in the process of implementing 20 of those recommendations.

“You know some of these are big,” explained Gorton. “They are hard. It takes partnerships.”

In her recent $4.9 million budget proposal, Gorton set aside nearly $2 million for eviction relief and affordable housing.

“I think the budgetary aspects of it is a start,” said Councilmember James Brown. “But I think we can always do more.”

Brown was a real estate agent before he joined the Urban County Council. He says the lack of adorable housing has kept many Black families from owning homes.

“We got to do everything that we can to increase that opportunity if we’re going to make Lexington a place where everybody feels included,” Brown said.

Carama agrees. Last month he joined Gorton’s administration as the new director of One Lexington, an initiative that strives to reduce violence in neighborhoods.

“When you talk about redlining, food deserts, distance between social services, focusing on housing can solve some problems,” Carama said.

For Rev. Clark Williams of Shiloh Baptist Church, reducing disparities begins with creating more economic opportunities. He and other Black faith leaders have held several press conferences calling on the city, Fayette County Public Schools, and the University of Kentucky to award more contracts to minority-owned businesses.

“We’re having some very significant conversations, and we’re slowly beginning to see more minority businesses beginning to get some opportunities,” Willaims said.

For some people, not much has changed in Lexington.

April Taylor and Sarah Williams - twin sisters - led many of last year’s protests. They’re disappointed with the rate of progress.

“More than anything I want to get to a point where I know that my children can go about their lives and not risk encounters with police,” Taylor said.

She, along with members of a group called LPD accountability, have marched to police headquarters twice in the last two months. They’ve asked police to give people access to Form 111, the paperwork needed to begin the disciplinary process against an officer.

Others like Rev. Williams are calling for the department to create a citizen review board.

“If there’s not a citizen review board then how can we maximize citizen participation during the police disciplinary process?” Williams said.

The mayor’s budget also included purchasing body cameras. Every police officer is expected to have one by July 1.

“I think an opportunity for improvement with that policy is when we release video,” said Councilmember Brown.

He explained legal issues and other factors interfere with how soon body cam footage is released. LPD Accountability wants video released three days after a use of force incident.

Much attention lately has shifted to no-knock warrants. Brown, LPD Accountability, and Black faith leaders want them banned. However, Gorton and Police Chief Lawrence Weathers strongly oppose.

Last month, Weathers told council members, “The history of no-knock search warrants proves that they’re safe.”

However, Rev. Williams disagrees.

“Our grave concern is that when there is the notion of wiggle room, that wiggle room disproportionately ends up impacting black people in a negative way,” Willaims said.

While Williams, Brown, and Carama acknowledge that one year is not enough time to see significant change, they expect major improvements in the years to come. “We can’t wait until somebody gets killed to care,” Carama said. “We got to care in between the violence.”

Councilmember Brown introduced a draft ordinance banning no-knock warrants to council members last month. The full council will discuss the ordinance during a work session on June 8th.

If the ordinance is passed, it will go into effect on July 1.

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