Yandy Smith recently delved into her experience after she was detained in Louisville, Kentucky, for demonstrating against the police shooting of Breonna Taylor.
Smith was arrested twice over the summer along with Real Housewives of Atlanta star Porsha Williams, who lent their time and platforms to advocate for Taylor with activist Tamika Mallory and her organization, Until Freedom.
“We were sitting right next to each other with locked arms,” she told Page Six regarding her experience as she sat next to Williams. “And we were both so afraid, but so empowered and feeling courageous.”
Smith and Williams were arrested on August 25 during an Until Freedom march to a nearby police training in Louisville. According to the Louisville Courier Journal, around 71 protesters were arrested for obstructing traffic. Smith said she was charged with disorderly conduct and obstruction of traffic.
“If you know me, you know my personality, there’s nothing disorderly about me,” she said. “I am a poised woman, a classy woman at that. I was within my rights.”
Smith continued, saying that while Until Freedom organizers urged participants to practice non-violence, officers reacted aggressively, pushing demonstrators as they walked the streets. Smith was also arrested in July during a Breonna Taylor demonstration.
“We knew at that point we were going to be detained,” she said. “But that’s when I’m like, ‘Well, I’m going to stand up.’ I did not know if they were going to start pepper-spraying. If they are going to do anything, they’re not going to do it to me on my back.”
Smith said police used plastic handcuffs to detain demonstrators, who then had to wait in 98 degree temperatures for hours as they awaited processing. After the long process, they were taken to a nearby jail in a paddy wagon.
“A lot of us were claustrophobic,” she said, pointing out that some removed their face masks because, “When you’re in that van, it was so incredibly hot you would not be able to survive with your mask on.”
At the detention center, she said the group was taken to an outside area comprised of metal cages where they were searched. Smith was able to sneak in a second phone to document the conditions of the detention center, however, she later turned in both phones during the search.
“I wanted to document as much as possible what was happening so people could see we are peacefully protesting while the murderers of this young woman are going to work,” she said. “They’re living their lives on vacations, while us that are trying to get justice for her and are not breaking the law are getting arrested.”
Smith said officers checked detainees’ temperatures and were asked if they were exposed to COVID-19. If they answered “yes” they were placed in cells with others who were exposed to the virus. She also said some officers practiced social distancing with masks, while others did not.
Inside the jail Smith said detainees who were menstruating were given access to one bathroom shared by men and women. Later as they stood inside the cell, around 40 women were expected to share one bathroom.
“The amount of humiliation is crazy,” she said. “The bathroom is just completely disgusting, like feces on the toilet. Feces on the floor. You would think there was a puddle of water, but it was urine.”
The group was also offered blankets, but Smith said she felt partial to decline after hearing there was a recent bedbug outbreak in the jail.
“If we touched it, we could be possibly bringing it back to our home,” she said. “I don’t want to even take the risk of infecting my children because of the inhumane conditions that’s going on there right now.”
Smith said the women leaned on each other in the difficult process.
“We took care of each other,” she said. “We laid on each other’s laps. I initiated a charades game. It was truly a moment of let’s create peace. Let’s create a unified sisterhood that’s going to keep everyone calm.”
Smith said she was thankful for the support of Until Freedom organizers who stayed at the jail until the group was released at 3 a.m. the next morning.
However, Steve Durham, the assistant director of the Louisville Detention Center refuted Smith’s claims in an interview with Page Six. Durham did acknowledge that he understands the concerns of large groups who are detained together.
“We clean and sanitize with bleach before the housing unit is occupied, but that when the space gets filled, it can get dirty from occupant use,” Durham said. “When we hear those comments about cleanliness, health care, or conditions of confinement, we inspect what those claims and where warranted we work to improve. Turning a concrete and steel housing unit into a comfortable setting won’t happen and like all the housing units in the jail, the detainees have to work with us to help keep their space clean.”
Smith shared that her recent arrests have made her more cautious about participating in demonstrations, due to the fact that she is a partner to her husband Mendeeces, and a mother to two children, 8-year-old son Omere and 5-year-old daughter Skylar.
“I don’t want to be arrested, but I do want to continue to fight,” Smith said. “I have a husband that I am in a partnership with as far as raising these children, and he’s very concerned and very worried.”