LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Officer Galen Hinshaw heard the call over the radio. One of his fellow officers was in trouble.
A crowd of protesters had surrounded a police cruiser at the base of the Clark Memorial Bridge. The officer inside radioed for help as protesters — strobed in blue and red patrol car lights — banged on the car’s hood and windshield.
Hinshaw, a Fourth Division patrol officer and part of Louisville Metro Police Department’s Special Response Team, drove as close as he could to the scene. As he got out of his cruiser, he was immediately surrounded by protesters.
Some yelled profanities. Others balled their fists.
He made his way through the crowd wearing 40 extra pounds of safety gear — a baton, vest, helmet and body armor.
He was alone.
As the crowd grew, Hinshaw detoured to the front of Bearno’s pizzeria so he could keep his back to the wall. He needed a place to stop and reassess the situation — to be sure that nobody could get behind him. He also needed to keep an eye on his trapped colleague.
Overhead, a police helicopter kept watch and occasionally flooded the intersection with a spotlight. Sirens pierced the air, and protesters chanted ever louder.
Hinshaw’s nearest help was still blocks away.
The crowd moved closer, and the yelling got angrier. Protesters hurled questions at him.
“Are you one of the good ones?”
“How do you think we feel?”
One women screamed, “All gas, no brakes!”
He tried to respond but was drowned out by the cacophony of sirens and yelling.
“We do care, man, we do care,” he said.
Hinshaw tried to reason with the crowd.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry you feel this way,” Hinshaw yelled, trying to make his voice heard over the anger of the crowd.
The 32-year-old was scared.
It was only going to take one person, and everyone would jump in, he knew.
The Special Response Team trains once a month, but that hadn’t quite prepared Hinshaw for what was in front of him. If the protesters decided to attack him, there were just too many of them.
“Here we go,” he thought. “I’m preparing to be injured.”
Hinshaw kept his voice calm as he radioed in: “Charlie 12, this is a 10-30. We need help.” 10-30 is code for officer needs help.
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He watched people’s hands in the crowd, making sure nobody had a weapon and scanning for things thrown from protesters in the back.
It was at this moment that a man emerged from the crowd in a red University of Louisville mask covering the lower half of his face. He put himself between the closest protester and Hinshaw.
The Courier Journal captured the moment in a photograph that has now been shared across the nation.
Local entrepreneur Darrin Lee Jr. spotted Hinshaw and the advancing crowd and linked arms with the stranger in the red mask.
“Once I saw the guy with the red mask step up, I said, ‘I gotta step up,’” said Lee, who also runs a child care center. “It was reactive. I just went.”
He had no idea what would happen next.
“I really thought at that moment, ‘Protect him. It really isn’t his fault.'” Lee said.
Lee was also worried that Hinshaw would react and hit him from behind, so he turned to reassure the officer that they were going to protect him.
“He was looking nervous and scared,” Lee said. “If he panicked, then there was gonna be a war out there.”
Suddenly, the protesters seemed to turn on Lee. One man who had marched with him for nearly the whole protest was surprised. Another shouted in Lee’s face: “How can you protect him!”
Lee got nervous.
Ultimately, five men formed a human shield to protect Hinshaw. All of them strangers to one another. Nobody knew the name of the man to his left or to his right. Three were black, one white, one Dominican — all linking arms to keep harm away from Hinshaw, himself half-Pakistani.
“A human was in trouble, and right is right,” said Ricky McClellan, a factory worker from Old Louisville who was locked onto Lee’s left arm.
After reaching the bridge and watching some protesters throwing rocks at police cars, McClellan spotted Hinshaw as he walked around the group and thought, “Whoa, you’re by yourself?”
McClellan watched as the crowd around Hinshaw grew larger and louder. Then he heard Lee yell, “Lock arms! Lock arms!”
That’s when Julian De La Cruz saw the men locking arms and jumped in.
“I saw the guys link up and I saw a weak spot,” De La Cruz said, and took up a position on the end of the line.
He was nervous, scared.
“Things could’ve gotten really bad,” he said.
The entire scene lasted no more than two minutes.
It felt much longer to those who were there.
Hinshaw’s squad arrived, and Lee escorted him back to his unit. Hinshaw thanked him.
For De La Cruz, a local businessman, the moment was about accountability.
“If I can hold my brothers accountable, if I can march with my brothers and turn against them to say, ‘This isn’t right,’ that’s where the accountability comes in,” he said.
“In the end, that’s all that we are asking for,” said De La Cruz, whose uncle is a police officer. “What we need is for those great cops to hold their brothers and sisters accountable at all times.”
As proud as De La Cruz is of that night, he shakes his head and says that this shouldn’t be an extraordinary event.
“This should be the norm,” he said. De La Cruz also feels that media images of violence, vandalism and looting misrepresent Louisville and the protest.
“What happened that night with us linking arms was just one of many heroic acts that night,” he said.
He hopes that those are the moments that define Louisville.
“That is Louisville,” De La Cruz said. “Louisville showed up that night.”
“Nobody knew anybody but we just stood up and did that,” he said. “If the officer was black we would’ve done the same thing. He’s somebody else’s son. He’s somebody else’s loved one.”
Hinshaw has reached out to the men through social media and texts. But he’s looking forward to meeting them all and thanking them in person.
George Timmering, co-owner of Bearno’s, said he’ll buy the pizza when they’re ready to meet.
“Those guys, they saved me,” Hinshaw said. “There’s no doubt about it. And I am beyond thankful. If it wasn’t for them intervening and recognizing that I was in trouble and helping me, I am sure that I would’ve been assaulted in one form or another.
“If they didn’t intervene, something was gonna happen to me.”
Hinshaw continues to be moved by the moment.
“I’ve cried over that incident,” he said.
“It was a moment where strangers came together to help another stranger, and that stranger was me.”
Follow Michael Clevenger on Twitter: @mclevenger_cj