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What the hell is a Scalawag?
Kentucky's only Black woman State Representative, Attica Scott, is facing felony charges that could lead to her losing the right to vote and hold office.
"It's clear to me that this is based on race, and it's based on keeping a foot on Black folks' necks. That's what this is about," Scott said.
In the aftermath of last Wednesday's grand jury announcement that no officers would be charged for murdering Taylor, grief and outrage overwhelmed Louisville, and protesters again took to the streets.
Scott, who was previously tear gassed alongside her 19-year-old daughter while protesting over the summer, was arrested last Thursday and charged with felony rioting, unlawful assembly, and failure to disperse. She and others are facing class D felony charges, the same class of offense that Brett Hankison, the officer who pleaded not guilty to Taylor's murder, was issued for his role in the raid on her apartment.
Scott denied the protest-related charges, calling them "unbelievable."
Her presence at the protest wasn't unusual: as an organizer, educator, and mother, protest is one way she's long been a fixture in her community, working toward a more just Kentucky, a place she said she loves to call home. It's "absurd," she said, to be accused of setting fire to a downtown library in the district she serves, a library she fought to fund.
Scott prefiled the bill named Breonna's Law over the summer which would, among other things, ban the no-knock warrant used by police to enter Taylor's apartment the night of her death. Scott has been the primary sponsor of much progressive legislation since 2016 when she defeated a 34-year incumbent to represent Kentucky House District 41.
The miscarriage of justice for Taylor is a defining moment for her district, for Kentucky, and for the nation. And Scott's arrest is a stark reminder of what's at stake.
"This is about the police's power, domination, and control over Black bodies," Scott said. "This is not to discount our comrades who are white… But it's very clear when in the St. Matthew's area—and I serve part of St. Matthews, which is predominantly white—people get to still hang out at the bars and restaurants past curfew and absolutely nothing happens to them."
Scott and others are demanding the county attorney drop the charges of those who were arrested during last week's protest.
"You can't stop the revolution. This is revolutionary action," Scott said. "We are clear that Breonna still deserves justice, and we will continue seeking that justice for her, her family, and her community. And we need people with us in seeking that justice."
Scalawag spoke to Scott about that night at the protest, the felony charges she faces, and her continued fight for Breonna's Law and other legislative measures to protect the people of Kentucky.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Could talk me through your reaction to the announcement regarding Breonna Taylor's case?
Rep. Attica Scott: I'm clear, as are many other folks who've been out on the frontlines for justice for Breonna Taylor, and as her mother said: We were disappointed, but not surprised [that] justice was not served for Breonna Taylor, as the Attorney General made his announcement or held his press conference.
That's why we continue to show up. It's why we continue to march and to protest and to rally, because we're clear that Breonna Taylor, nor her family, nor her community, have received justice.
What happened immediately following that announcement?
Scott: On Wednesday, the evening of the Attorney General's press conference, about 127 people were arrested for marching down Bardstown Road. Then, on Thursday evening, I was with my teenage daughter and my dear friend, Shameka Parrish-Wright. We're turning off from following the protesters who were marching. We were in a vehicle. And so we either had to sit in the vehicle or try to get to the church for sanctuary. It was well before curfew. It's literally just a quick three block walk, so we knew we'd be able to make it in time.
We were in District 41, the district that I serve. We were getting to the main library downtown, and police are on both sides. We decided to go up the walk ramp at the library, make an L shape around the library, and go literally across the street, about a hundred feet away, to the church. We go down the ramp and police immediately yell: 'Turn back.' We go to turn back and then they yell, 'Circle them, circle them.' And you can hear me on my Instagram Live asking, 'What do you want us to do? You said turn them back.' And we were turning back and now they're encircling us.
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They were setting us up. They knew who we were. They follow our live streams. We know that.
It was really scary. They pointed their guns at our faces. They held their pepper ball guns up at us, and they started to zip tie our hands behind our back. They proceeded to detain us for about an hour. We had two minutes before curfew, two minutes to literally get across the street. We could see every detail of the church building to know that we were there. We were there, and they refused to allow us safe passage.
Louisville considers itself the most compassionate city in the world and yet, people who were seeking sanctuary have received no compassion from law enforcement.
Where does Breonna's Law stand now? Why is this bill an urgent need across the state?
Scott: Where it stands now is that we have 11 legislative co-sponsors.
And we have more than 700 community co-sponsors [an updated count stands at 947]—people from across Kentucky who have signed on to say, yes, I believe in Breonna Law for Kentucky.
That's very different for any legislator to do anything like that, but it was so important to me to have people have some ownership with this law.
I think it's really important for me to lift up that two other states, both Commonwealths, have also filed a Breonna's Law. Senator Kearney in Pennsylvania was actually the first to do a citizen's co-sponsor, and I saw that and thought, I want to do this for Kentucky as well. I really modeled it after what he created. Then Virginia also filed—they aren't yet calling it Breonna's Law—but they have filed a no-knock warrants bill. So this is a real legislative movement that's happening across the country. That's born out of protests and activism. And we don't see that often.
See also: 'I'm Black. I'm a mom. I'm mad.'
People are saying her name all around the world. That's powerful. Whether you're in Appalachia, or rural western Kentucky, or central Kentucky—folks everywhere across our Commonwealth are saying her name and fighting for justice for Breonna Taylor.
And I just can't imagine there's any elected official in this state who can deny this is something that's different from anything we've ever experienced before.
So much of your work is a call for justice. Could you describe the 2018 police brutality bill and the Maternal Care Act ?
Scott: It's at the heart of who I am, who I was before I got into office, who I continue to be. It's just a reminder for me of why we need more people who are deeply rooted in community who run for office. We're not interested in playing these political games. We are really just interested in doing the work that takes care of people who are like us.
I'm a Black woman. I had a high risk pregnancy. I want other Black women to be taken care of. We shouldn't be dying at three to four times the rate of white women. We're one of the most industrialized countries on the earth and yet, this disparity still exists, and the legislature still chose not to hear the bill because, I'm going to be honest with you: I truly believe that most of the people who serve in office at the state level choose to turn away from racial justice, choose to ignore it. It's not something that they're comfortable with talking about and just because you're not comfortable with something doesn't mean it doesn't exist.
Had the legislature addressed my Maternal Care Act, which addressed racial justice and health, then maybe we wouldn't have had the disproportionate impact we're seeing of COVID-19 on Black people. But you chose not to even hear the bill in committee to learn more about this issue so that we could have been in a better position when COVID-19 hit, to have already been moving toward the path of addressing why even if you have healthcare, you don't pursue that access, because you're going to be discriminated against as soon as you walk through the door because of your ZIP code or educational level or socioeconomic background, for example.
If you weren't afraid to have the conversations about race and police, we could have already filed a bill to have independent investigations of police shootings. Those examples exist over and over again of us finding ourselves in these situations now where we could have actually been leaders and address this head on, in advance.
Where, and how, does voting factor into your fight for justice?
Scott: I know that I wouldn't have be here, as the first Black woman in almost two decades to serve in our state legislature, and currently the only Black woman—soon that will change come January—but I would not be here, had it not been for amazing people who said, 'We've had the same person representing us for 34 years and nothing has changed; let's vote for someone who's been on the frontline of seeking justice. Let's vote for a Black woman. Representation matters. And we know that she's going to stand up for us in Frankfurt.'
But we can't force people to vote for someone who's not going to serve in their best interest just because they might be of the same political party or they might be a woman or they might be Black or Indigenous or a person of color. That doesn't mean that you're going to fight for justice.
People want to be represented and to be represented well. I also truly believe that we're seeing a shift in having more of those very individuals we're talking about running for office and saying, 'You know what, I don't have to have all the money'—because I certainly never have had more money than people I was on the ballot.
We don't have to have political experience. We don't have to have the right political last name. We just need to believe in justice. We need to believe in freedom and equity and run on that. We're seeing that more and more and it excites me.
What else is exciting you about your work, especially within so much darkness right now?
Scott: The way we build power across Kentucky is if we stand with one another. My fight for clean water from Martin County is because Martin County folks are my neighbors, and my neighbors nowhere in Kentucky should struggle with clean water to drink or to bathe in, and a child shouldn't be embarrassed to go to the doctor because she hasn't been able to take a bath because of the water in her county.
I want my neighbors here in West Louisville to know about what's happening in Martin County, and I want Martin County to know what's happening in West Louisville with our environment and these chemical companies, because we build together when we know one another's struggles and we figure out how to stand with one another.
When I go to Injustice Square Park, when I see people loving on one another, supporting one another, fighting for justice together; when my teenage daughter—for her to experience getting tear gassed and to walk around in a daze for days after that, and ask me, 'Mom, did that actually happen to us? Did police actually do that to us?' And to come out of that daze and say, 'So we're going back, right? We're going to keep fighting for justice, right?'
It just makes me hopeful because people are amazing, and they're standing up against violence from people that they thought were supposed to protect and serve them. They're not backing down. And my daughter said to me, back in June, 'Mom, we don't move in fear.'
And I lift up that quote from her, every chance that I get, because that's exactly right.
We don't move in fear. The only way we can change anything is if we put that fear aside and keep showing up for justice.