LMPD preparing for ICE protest and counter-protest: 'There is the potential for violence tomorrow'
LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - The Louisville Metro Police Department suspended officers' days off on Saturday for an emergency.
That emergency? To keep watch over what could become a volatile situation.
"There is the potential for violence tomorrow," Chief Conrad said.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) protestors are planning a rally outside the Customs Enforcement Office in downtown Louisville on Saturday, and a paramilitary group known as Three Percenters of Kentucky is coming to counter-protest.
"From multiple sources, we've been made aware there will be simultaneous demonstrations going on at 7th and Broadway," Conrad said on Friday. "We expect those to represent different and conflicting points of view."
ICE protestors told supporters the Three Percenters group is associated with white supremacists. Three Percenters deny that claim and said they are simply supporters of the U.S. Constitution.
"We expect those demonstrations to represent different and conflicting points of view," Conrad said.
Some of the protestors may also be carrying guns, which is allowed under Kentucky law.
"I believe a number of people that come to this event will be armed," Conrad said during a press conference.
LMPD Chief Steve Conrad believes increasing police presence -- which the city will do partially by suspending officers' days off on Saturday -- is a necessary step to make sure the protests don't get out of hand.
"What we will not allow is violence or destruction of property, and be assured that we will respond if there is either," Chief Conrad said.
On its Facebook page, Occupy ICE Louisville announced members of the Three Percenters were coming to their Saturday morning rally to counter-protest.
Occupy ICE Louisville said in a statement that "The paramilitary group has historically aligned itself with white supremacists, and had members at Charlottesville in defense of white nationalists."
Kentucky chapter spokesman Gary Foreman of the Three Percenters said they don't discriminate and they are counter-protesting to support the Constitution.
"That is completely 100 percent false," Foreman said.
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Activist Jenny Bencomo Suarez of Occupy ICE Louisville voiced her concerns about the Three Percenters.
"My concern with this group is that they are blatantly racist, xenophobic. They are white supremacists, and they're coming here to try and escalate the situation trying to provoke," Bencomo Suarez said. "They're just trying to distract from the situation and distract from our demands, with what we want with the abolishment of ICE."
"We have all races, creeds and colors in our organization and do not discriminate one bit, and our requirements are to support the constitution and stand up for the laws," Foreman said.
Extra LMPD officers do not make ICE protestors feel safe, activists said. Bencomo Suarez said Friday the announcement to add more officers at the protest may be a political move by Mayor Greg Fischer. But, she maintained, Occupy ICE protesters are not going anywhere.
"We'll be here rallying against hatred, and we'll be rallying for love and for the rights of human dignity and for immigrants to come here and be welcomed," Bencomo Suarez said.
Three Percenters of Kentucky said they heard it would be a big rally and they are coming to back law enforcement.
"Force, violence, is always a last resort," Foreman said. "It's happened before, we hope that's not the case, we'll do everything in our power to deter that and keep the peace."
Bencomo Suarez said of people outside of the ICE protest tents set up by, "I'm concerned for my safety right now because I'm a couple shades darker than all these folks."
A call went out Friday to about 80 local ministers and members of the clergy across Greater Louisville to be present Saturday morning, in the hopes that both sides will see them and keep the protests peaceful.
A message circulated among Louisville Metro Police Department officers on Friday, indicating that Chief Steve Conrad had canceled off days ahead of the dueling protests expected Saturday.
The message stated that Conrad is "declaring an emergency for the purpose of achieving a law enforcement objective" in relation to the ongoing Occupy ICE protest and a counter-demonstration expected Saturday.
The message to LMPD officers indicated days off will be suspended until Conrad can "determine emergency conditions no longer exist."
The LMPD Chief also recommended not to bring children to the protest.
Mayor Greg Fischer issued a statement on Friday afternoon regarding the situation, saying:
"Our Constitution protects the right to peaceably protest, and Louisville Metro Government's public safety team and our federal and state partners are taking steps so that planned protests and counter-protests tomorrow are just that – legal, peaceful and respectful. Violence of any kind will not be tolerated. LMPD Chief Steve Conrad will be briefing the media shortly on our plans to keep our community safe."
The full press conference with LMPD Chief Conrad is below:
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