As protests over the police killings of Black people continue around the country, Louisville, Kentucky, is mourning David McAtee, the much-loved owner of a popular barbecue business, who was fatally shot after police and the Kentucky National Guard fired into a crowd early Monday morning.
McAtee’s Yaya’s BBQ Shack was a fixture on one of west Louisville’s most popular corners. Crowds gathered there, where he was shot, later Monday to grieve and demand justice.
“I always wanted to be in this spot, and when the opportunity came, I took it,” McAtee said in an interview with the local blog West of Ninth in February. “I have always been blessed with the skills to cook. I didn’t need anything else. People have to eat every single day, and all I need is my skills.”
Those who knew McAtee, 53, have remembered his generosity, kindness and warmth. Odessa Riley, his mother, told the Louisville Courier-Journal that her son was a “community pillar.” He was also known to give free meals to police officers, she said.
“He left a great legend behind. He was a good person. Everybody around him would say that,” she said. “My son didn’t hurt nobody.”
Jason Green, a witness to the shooting and a Yaya’s BBQ customer, told local station WLKY, “There’s nothing bad to say about this man.”
McAtee was killed after Louisville police and National Guard troops were sent to the parking lot of Dino’s Food Mart at about 12:15 a.m. to break up a large gathering of people violating curfew, authorities said.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) said in a statement Monday that while working to disperse a crowd, officers and National Guard members were fired upon and “returned fire resulting in a death.”
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer fired Police Chief Steve Conrad later on Monday after learning that the officers involved in the death either were not wearing or did not activate their body cameras.
The two officers involved in the shooting were placed on administrative leave, acting Police Chief Robert Schroeder said Monday. He promised disciplinary action for failure to comply with the department’s body camera policy, pending findings of an investigation.
Schroeder acknowledged that McAtee was kind to local law enforcement.
“Over the years he’s been a good friend to the police officers ... frequently making sure our officers had a good meal on their shifts,” he told The Associated Press.
Louisville Metro Council President David James, a personal friend of McAtee, said the chef was “just a good, decent person” who would often offer free food to those in need.
“He believes in this neighborhood. He loves his city, loves his neighborhood, loves to cook food, loves to keep people happy with his sense of humor. He’s just a great guy,” he told the Courier-Journal.
″We weren’t protesting. We were just out there having a good time. We were eating, we were vibing,” he said.
“As soon as I walk to my car, they jump out with the sticks, the police jump out with their sticks and their shields and stuff on,” he told AP. “It looked like something out of a movie. It looked like a freaking war zone.”
In the absence of body camera footage, authorities have reviewed surveillance video and police radio transmissions in an effort to determine the events that led to McAtee’s death.
Before he was relieved of duty, Conrad had said a shot was fired at law enforcement before they returned fire, and “several persons of interest” were being interviewed.
On Tuesday, additional surveillance video, which appeared to show the moment McAtee was shot, was released during a news conference led by Fischer. According to LMPD officials, it may show that McAtee fired a gun before he was shot.
“That’s what it appears at this point,” Schroeder said. “Mr. McAtee appears to fire at the officers and they take cover and return fire. But without audio ... that is yet to be determined.”
The shooting is yet another painful blow to a city reeling from the deaths of Breonna Taylor, a Black 26-year-old EMT shot by mistake after police served a “no-knock” warrant as she lay in bed on March 13; George Floyd, who died on May 25 as a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than 8 minutes; and other Black men and women who have been killed by police violence.
Protests in Louisville continued Tuesday.