When Yvette Gentry, 50, was sworn in Oct. 1 as Louisville’s interim police chief, trust between police officers and the city’s Black and Latino residents was more frayed than it had been in decades. Gentry’s job was to serve until the city could find someone to fill the role permanently. It was commonly understood within City Hall and the Police Department, and among the protesters who demonstrated outside for months, that residents wanted more, the New York Times reports. “The expectation is on me to hold officers accountable,” she says. Scandals have engulfed the police force in recent years: In 2017, the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting found that police were secretly working with federal immigration officers to deport undocumented residents. In 2018, a teenager was handcuffed and frisked and had his car searched during a traffic stop that resulted in a viral video. In 2019, two officers were sentenced for their involvement in a sexual abuse scandal when they served on a youth mentorship program; a third was recently indicted.
“We want to live in a place where we are not scared that somebody is going to kill us or take us to jail just because of how we look,” said Karina Barillas of La Casita Center, a group that advocates for the city’s Latino residents. Protesters want stronger accountability measures for officers who break the rules. Even some police officers acknowledge that the department needs reform. “We lost every credibility,” said Yolanda Baker, a retired police officer who returned to serve as Gentry’s administrative assistant. Gentry, who is Black, has given residents hope. She speaks plainly about the department’s problems and those of the city at large. “They can fire me tomorrow, they can fire me the next day, I don’t care,” she said. “I have no fear in what I have to do.”