Sunday, July 10, 2016

Black Lives Matter Protest Blocks Traffic Downtown

Posted By on Sun, Jul 10, 2016 at 10:47 PM

A Black Lives Matter protest that began with a rally at FedExForum turned into a massive march through downtown Memphis, eventually shutting down traffic on the I-40 bridge  and then winding down Beale Street to Second.
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The rally at FedExForum started at 6 p.m., but protesters eventually marched toward 201 Poplar and then the I-40 bridge, and by 7 p.m., traffic was at a standstill in both directions. Early on in the protest, Interim Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings made an appearance, and he locked arms in solidarity with some protesters.

By 8:30, the crowd had moved away from the bridge and began marching toward Beale Street. Police cars blocked traffic at intersections along the route to allow the marchers to get safely through. As the marchers paraded down Beale, a few tourists and onlookers from the street joined in. Others stood on the sidelines, snapping photos with their phones or raising their power fists. When an onlooker would raise a fist, several others in the march would raise their fists in response.

The marchers turned right onto Second, and the crowd stopped for about 20 minutes at the intersection of Peabody Place and Second, in front of the Flyer Saucer. People in cars stopped at the light at Peabody Place continually honked their horns, but it was unclear if they were honking in solidarity or because they were angry about being stuck in traffic. 

A couple men, who looked to be in their late 20s or early 30s, jumped on top of a car that was parked. One man grabbed an orange traffic cone to use as a megaphone, and he led the crowd in a lively chant of "No Justice, No Peace." Afterward, he asked everyone gathered to join hands. Many protesters grabbed the hand of their neighbor and raised their hands high.

A crew of men on crotch rockets drove down Peabody Place, but were stopped at the light by protesters. The crowd gathered around them, and the men revved their engines, creating huge clouds of exhaust. The revving of engines seemed to excite some protesters, and a few men took their shirts off and spun them around their heads like helicopters. But others ran away from the crotch rocket crew to escape the smoke and exhaust coming from their engines. It was unclear if the men on motorcycles — a mixture of black and white men — were revving their engines in a show of support or if they were just trying to break through the crowd. Eventually, the protesters moved away and let them pass, and the motorcycles turned right onto Second.

During the time the protesters were blocking traffic at Peabody and Second, very few — if any — Memphis Police officers were in sight. Most of the police were gathered a few blocks away at FedExForum, where the rally began. Eventually, the protesters turned around and headed back down Beale and back to the Forum, all the while chanting "No Justice, No Peace." They gathered on the Forum's plaza, and a woman, standing on a concrete platform, raised her voice to say she'd heard the police had threatened arrest, so she suggested the group march back to the I-40 bridge because "they can't arrest us all."

As she spoke, about 10 or so police cars and a Blue Crush paddy wagon drove down Third Street with blue lights flashing. That's when the crowd began heading back to the bridge. The protest broke up peacefully shortly after. 

The protests came in response to fatal shootings of two black men — Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile near St. Paul, Minnesota — last week by police officers in their respective cities. Also last week, five Dallas police officers were killed when a lone gunman ambushed the officers in a sniper attack after a protest there last Thursday night.

Mayor Jim Strickland released the following statement about the protest on Sunday night: 
“As a majority black city, I recognize that Memphis is part of a larger national conversation about race in America, and how some of our citizens feel disenfranchised. To that end, I am hopeful that our city will remain part of the conversation in a way that is respectful and recognizes our humanity.

“As Memphis mayor, I respect the Constitution and the right to assemble peacefully in protest. Tonight, the protests have been peaceful thanks to the great work of the Memphis Police Department, the Tennessee Highway Patrol and all of our partners.

“There will be an initial conversation tonight and we will have follow-up conversations in the coming days. We are here to fully support those conversations — and my door has always been open. But we want to do it in a legal way, as well. Let me be clear: you can exercise your First Amendment rights without breaking the law.”

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