Louisville activists called on Greg Harbut, a 35-year-old Black horse owner, to pull out of participating in the Kentucky Derby on Saturday (September 5) in honor of Breonna Taylor, but Harbut refused.
"I stand with Black Lives Matter, and I stand for justice for Breonna Taylor," he tells CNN. "But as an African American man involved in an industry that's not very inclusive to people who look like me, there's no way that I could sit out on one of the largest race days in the US and not bring awareness to the contributions that African Americans have given to horse racing."
Harbut's roots in racing run generations deep. His late grandfather Tom Harbut, owned and bred a horse that ran in the 1962 Kentucky Derby, Greg Harbut said. However, because he was African American, he was not allowed to attend the race or have his name listed on the program. His great-grandfather, Will Harbut, cared for Man o' War, an American thoroughbred considered one of the greatest racehorses of all time.
The Justice and Freedom Coalition, one of several organizations that protested the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, penned an open letter on July 15 calling for a boycott of the race to "put much-needed pressure on the state to not only complete a thorough investigation of Ms. Taylor's case, but to send a clear message that we will not allow these injustices to continue."
The derby, held annually at Churchill Downs in Louisville, went on as planned in spite of the protests. "We know there are some who disagree with our decision to run the Kentucky Derby this year," racetrack officials wrote in a statement. "We respect that point of view but made our decision in the belief that traditions can remind us of what binds us together as Americans, even as we seek to acknowledge and repair the terrible pain that rends us apart."
Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency room technician, was struck by eight bullets on March 13 as Louisville police officers Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison, and Myles Cosgrove attempted to serve a no-knock warrant on her home during a narcotics investigation. Her boyfriend Kenneth Walker, who was asleep in bed next to her, fired his legal and licensed gun first, believing intruders were invading their home and striking an officer in the leg. Officers returned fire, killing Taylor. No drugs were found in the home.
Only one officer, Brett Hankison, has been fired. The other two officers, Mattingly and Cosgrove, have been temporarily taken off the street. No arrests have been made in connection with Taylor's death.
The killing of Breonna Taylor, along with the deaths of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, prompted worldwide protests over the summer that continue today.
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(Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)