The Louisville Urban League’s “Stronger Than Hate” rally united people who support stronger hate crime laws and a more inclusive community.
Hundreds of people ignored the rain on Monday night to gather outside Metro Hall for the Louisville Urban League’s “Stronger Than Hate” rally. Billed as a call for justice and inclusiveness, the Election Eve event served as a political call to action against the national rise in hate crimes.
The rally focused mainly on the October 24 shooting deaths of Maurice Stallard and Vickie Lee Jones who were reportedly shot at a Kroger store in Jeffersontown by Gregory Alan Bush, a 51-year-old white man with a history of racial bias.
Members of the Stallard and Jones families were at the rally, but they did not address the crowd. However, many of the political and community leaders who did speak tied the Stallard and Jones murders to the divisive rhetoric of President Donald Trump and his supporters and highlighted the need for social and political change.
Bush was charged in Jefferson District Court with murder and first-degree wanton endangerment but not a hate crime because the Kentucky statute covering hate crimes only includes rape, assault, arson and unlawful imprisonment as violations that warrant such a charge.
Raoul Cunningham, president of the Louisville NAACP, told the crowd at Monday’s rally that he met with federal officials earlier in the day to encourage them to charge Bush with a federal hate crime. No matter what their final decision is, Cunningham said, it is important for the public to elect leaders who will strengthen penalties for crimes against minority or religious groups so there is no debate on these kinds of charges in the future.
“To defeat hate, we must vote, and tomorrow, we have to vote in unprecedented numbers. We are asking you not only to vote but that you take five people to the polls with you or get five people to go vote. We have got to vote as if our lives depend on it, and your lives, my life, do depend on it,” Cunningham added.
Mayor Greg Fischer was among the speakers at the Stronger Than Hate rally. Earlier on Monday, Fischer held a press conference with the Interdenominational Ministerial Coalition during which he called for a stronger state hate crime law and tightened gun laws related to domestic violence cases.
Fischer reiterated his support for new hate crime legislation at the rally, telling the crowd, “we are a welcoming, compassionate and proudly diverse city.”
Other speakers included Congressman John Yarmuth, Rev. Kevin Cosby of St. Stephen Baptist Church, young activist Sean Wardell Jr., Chanelle Helm of Black Lives Matter Louisville, Rev. Kevin L. Nelson Sr. of First Baptist of Jeffersontown and Yvette Gentry, director of the Rajon Rondo Assisting Youth Foundation.
Before the shootings at Kroger, Bush reportedly tried unsuccessfully to get into First Baptist in Jeffersontown — a predominantly black church. Nelson Sr. said his church stands with the Stallard and Jones families in their time of suffering, and he shared letters of condolences he received since the incident to show that a great number of people outside Kentucky do too.
Joshua Miller was particularly moved when listening to Nelson’s speech. A soldier stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Miller attended First Baptist as a child. He said he was devastated after hearing about the shootings, and they inspired him to come home to vote.
“I’m so glad that my sister told me about this rally. It is good to see that other people care as much about what’s going on,” Miller said.
Gentry, a former LMPD deputy chief, and Helm talked about the importance of continuing to work for justice after Election Day. Gentry called for a 90-day legislative agenda, including a change in the state hate crime law and eliminating the lifetime voting ban for felons that keeps many African American men from the polls each election.
Gentry also criticized the media. She said when a news channel shows a mug shot of a hate crime victim, they are catering to people who are looking for a way to justify the killing.
“The Stallard-Jones Law is low-hanging fruit. The Kentucky Revised Statute should be revised to include murder. The second thing we will put forward is to stop using mug shots to show somebody’s victimization. If we don’t have a family picture, then we won’t have a picture because its excusing people from having humanity and understanding that our black men and our families are important,” Gentry said.
Before giving an impassioned speech of her own, Louisville Urban League President Sadiqa Reynolds reminded the crowd her organization is non-partisan. She did not censor the speakers at the rally, she said, because the issues they discussed are so important to the future of the community.
“We need to figure out how to work with people, no matter political party, no matter persuasion, no matter race,” Reynolds said. “Anybody that wants to work with us, we must be willing to work with to change this country and to change this city. But we will not allow folks to just be comfortable. It’s time for some tough conversations.”