Weekend protests, riots rock state

By: - June 1, 2020 7:30 am
Metro Police at a recent protest. (Photo: Alex Kent)

Metro Police at a recent protest. (Photo: Alex Kent)


Peaceful protests over the weekend in Tennessee cities, including Nashville, Knoxville, Memphis, Chattanooga and Murfreesboro turned violent in several instances, with police dispersing tear gas and pepper spray to disperse the crowds and public and private property suffering damage.

The Knoxville event remained calm, while both Memphis and Nashville had peaceful organized protests that devolved after dark into violence. In Nashville, leaders of The Equity Alliance, an advocacy group that was a key organizer of the “I Will Breathe” rally, issued a state Saturday night clarifying that the rioting that characterized the later event was not connected to the afternoon rally.

Historic Metro Nashville City Hall was set on fire and portions of the crowd moved down the Second Avenue and Broadway tourist district, breaking windows and stealing from stores before police enforced the 10 p.m. curfew set by Mayor John Cooper.

As of Sunday night, the Metro Nashville Police Department reported 28 arrests of individuals.

A spokesman for the city of Chattanooga said police there arrested 11 people, six of whom were not from the city. Two vehicles were set on fire and several downtown businesses sustained minor damage. Sunday night at a second demonstration, protesters converged on Mayor Andy Berke’s house, where, according to the Chattanooga Times-Free Press, they drew chalk outlines of bodies on the pavement outside his house with the words, “I can’t breathe.” Hamilton County Sheriff’s deputies deployed tear gas in downtown Chattanooga when several protestors tore light poles down.

The Memphis protest turned about 10:45 when, according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal, a protestor jumped on a police car. For more than an hour, protestors and cops faced off against barricades in downtown Memphis. Police arrested several individuals.

In Murfreesboro Sunday, police dispensed tear gas and stun grenades, known as “flash bangs,” into a crowd of protestors.

Cooper and Murfreesboro Mayor Shane McFarland have both declared states of emergency in their respective cities, and Saturday, Gov. Bill Lee authorized use of the Tennessee National Guard in Nashville.

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J. Holly McCall
J. Holly McCall

Holly McCall has been a fixture in Tennessee media and politics for decades. She covered city hall for papers in Columbus, Ohio and Joplin, Missouri before returning to Tennessee with the Nashville Business Journal. Holly brings a deep wealth of knowledge about Tennessee’s political processes and players and likes nothing better than getting into the weeds of how political deals are made.