NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Protesters and police officers clashed anew Sunday in Tennessee as demonstrations were held across the state in response to the death of George Floyd, sparking strict curfews and mobilization of National Guard troops in a handful of areas.
In Memphis, protesters made it onto Interstate 55, circumventing officers in riot gear who sought to block the group from getting on the artery near downtown Memphis. Protesters chanted “Black lives matter” and “George Floyd,” standing side by side to block vehicles as officers held clubs and pepper spray.
The group walked on the interstate before making its way back to the downtown area and the famed Beale Street, where protesters were met by officers wearing helmets and holding protective shields in front of the FedExForum, the NBA basketball arena and concert venue.
The demonstration marked the fifth night in a row people had met in Memphis to protest the death of Floyd, a black man who died last week after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck as Floyd pleaded for air.
The night before, Memphis police faced a standoff with a crowd after a peaceful demonstration was held at the National Civil Rights Museum.
Memphis police said protesters threw bottles at officers, who dispersed the crowd near Beale Street, the historic tourist district known for its blues bars. Police said people fired shots at officers on two different occasions at other locations early Sunday. No officers were hit.
A total of eight people were arrested. Protest organizers claim police escalated Saturday’s incident on Beale Street, which came two hours after the peaceful protest ended.
Elsewhere, Gov. Bill Lee announced Sunday that the Tennessee Highway Patrol and National Guard would be mobilized because of demonstrations in Murfreesboro — where a 7 p.m. curfew was put in place. Lee, a Republican, had previously authorized more than 300 National Guard troops to help assist with the Nashville protest, which turned violent after protesters peacefully met earlier that Saturday.
“The protests in Murfreesboro are no longer peaceful demonstrations but have escalated to overt threats to public safety and property,” Lee said in a statement.
A separate demonstration was also held in Chattanooga, where police tackled a small handful of people and arrested one of them when protesters removed a light fixture at the Hamilton County Courthouse, according to the Times Free Press.
The newspaper reports that sheriff’s deputies came out of the building with non-lethal weapons as the crowd yelled “Don’t do it” to those attempting to throw a banner at the top of the stairs of the courthouse.
Meanwhile, Nashville’s honky tonks and other businesses spent Sunday largely boarding up their smashed store fronts, as cleanup crews began scrubbing graffiti and removing debris.
According to Metro Nashville Police, at least 30 businesses and buildings were damaged after a peaceful “I Will Breathe” demonstration turned violent on Saturday.
Fires were lit inside and outside the city’s historic courthouse, and a statue of a former state lawmaker and newspaper publisher who espoused racist views was toppled.
Only until a 10 p.m. curfew was ordered did the protesters finally begin to disperse.
By Sunday, the same area was quiet with business owners covering up smashed windows as spectators somberly took photos of the destruction. Yet the emotions of the night were still being felt as one black man stood quietly holding one arm up watching the courthouse be cleaned.
Mayor John Cooper described Saturday as a “heartbreaking night” for Nashville, noting that the area had recently already been ravaged by a fatal tornado nearly three months before that shortly followed the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cooper ordered a new curfew of 8 p.m. Sunday night. He and other community leaders, lamented that most of the destruction centered around Metro Nashville Courthouse and City Hall, where multiple fires went off in and around the building after protesters smashed in windows and spray-painted obscenities along the walls and nearby structures.
“Our metro courthouse, iconic for its role in the civil rights movement, was the site of much of tonight’s reprehensible vandalism,” Cooper said. “Sixty years ago, 3,000 nonviolent protesters marched to that same courthouse in a milestone moment for integration and yet tonight that same courthouse was defaced and set on fire.”
In 1960, area college student leaders in the sit-in movement challenged the injustice of desegregated lunch counters in a confrontation on the courthouse steps. After the mayor agreed that it was wrong, Nashville became the first southern city in the U.S. to desegregate its lunch counters.
Metro Nashville Police tweeted that 28 people were arrested during the protest and four others were arrested after a 10 p.m. curfew was implemented Saturday evening.
Demonstrators earlier in the evening pulled down a statue outside the state Capitol of Edward Carmack.
Carmack was a politician in the early 1900s who wrote editorials lambasting the writings of prominent Tennessee civil rights journalist Ida B. Wells.
He was fatally shot in 1908 by a political rival.