There are a lot of stories circulating about David McAtee, the 53-year-old black man shot and killed while Louisville Metro Police and the National Guard attempted to “disperse” a crowd who had gathered outside a Dino’s Food Mart in the early hours of Monday morning.
The details are hazy by circumstance (information coming out in the immediate aftermath can be speculative and inaccurate), and by intent (the LMPD officers involved in the shooting didn’t activate their body cameras). What police are saying is this: A crowd had gathered around the food mart, as had LMPD and National Guard soldiers. Someone allegedly shot at the police and the troops, at which point law enforcement returned fire.
In the shooting, McAtee was killed and Louisville police left his body on the street for 12 hours.
What you will read in these stories about McAtee is that he was a beloved owner of a barbecue restaurant not far from the scene of the shooting. What is oft-repeated is how he fed police officers for free. That detail feels necessary, I suppose because the police killed him—directly or indirectly. It feels tragic and ironic.
But McAtee’s life was bigger than a moment of horrific irony in a news story. What you need to know about McAtee, known by friends and neighbors as “YaYa” or “Barbecue Man,” is that he was deeply invested in his community—that he fed cops because he fed everyone in his pocket of western Louisville.
A longtime friend, Greg Cotton Jr., told the Louisville Courier Journal that McAtee, the owner of YaYa’s BBQ, helped with community events “for at least 15 years if not longer.”
“He was one of the ones who would donate all his time and all his food, everybody could just come up and take it and he wouldn’t charge because it was for the neighborhood,” said Cotton.
“Mr. McAtee’s legacy is something that cannot be duplicated or replaced,” he said. “There are only a handful of people who care about the community the way that he did.”
And now, McAtee is dead. Now, his mother, Odessa Riley, has to mourn the loss of her second child this year. Riley told the Courier Journal that she buried her “baby daughter” in January—“now, my baby son has gotten killed.”
There are any number of reasons McAtee chose to provide cops free meals on their shifts, but the most straightforward rationale is that he viewed those cops as part of the community.
It’s a view that LMPD hasn’t shared in the wake of the mass protests that broke out across the country last week—a load of many straws finally broken by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer fired Police Chief Steve Conrad on Monday after the chief said officers involved in the shooting didn’t activate their body cameras. Police usage of body cameras had become an issue for the department after Breonna Taylor’s fatal shooting in March. Then, officers serving a “no-knock” warrant at her home also didn’t wear body cameras. In May, Fischer announced that all officers will be required to wear body-cams.
“This type of institutional failure will not be tolerated,” Fischer said during his Monday announcement.
The shooting is being investigated by Kentucky State Police. The Associated Press reports that police were able to get video from surveillance cameras around the scene of the shooting. Officials say two Louisville officers and two guard soldiers returned fire.
One of the officers placed on leave is Katie Crews, whom the Courier Journal reported had mocked a protester last week. Crews posted a photo of herself on Facebook taken by a Courier Journal photographer: the image showed her among a line of police in riot gear; before her stood a protester wearing a face mask, offering her flowers.
“I hope the pepper balls that she got lit up with a little later on hurt,” Crews wrote in the photo’s caption.
“She was saying and doing a lot more than ‘offering flowers’ to me. Just so for it to be known,” Crews continued in the post. “For anyone that knows me and knows that facial expression tells everything.”
“Come back and get ya some more ole girl, I’ll be on the line again tonight.”
Crews may not have fired that bullet that killed McAtee, but make no mistake about it: She and other police officers coddled in a culture with a complete lack of accountability with a complete disregard for black lives are the reason McAtee is dead. Officers who were somehow responsible for a community they hated, feared, sneered at, dismissed.
McAtee deserved better—not because he may have fed Crews and her colleagues, not even because he cared for and understood that community in a way she never could. But because his life had value in and of itself, and was worth protecting.
“My son was a good son. All he did on that barbecue corner is try to make a dollar for himself and his family,” said Riley. “And they come along and they killed my son.”