MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A large group of protesters chanted loudly as they marched down streets Friday night in downtown Memphis, Tennessee, voicing their frustration and solidarity days after the death of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man who died after a Minneapolis officer pressed his knee into his neck as he pleaded for air.
For the second night in a row, a racially diverse flock of protesters gathered in front of the FedExForum, the basketball and concert venue near Beale Street in downtown Memphis. They walked toward the National Civil Rights Museum, the site where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed 52 years ago at what was then the Lorraine Motel.
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As they approached the museum, the protesters chanted “I Am a Man,” the rallying cry adopted by striking sanitation workers King came to Memphis to support in March and April 1968. Protesters knelt and had a moment of silence in front of the museum.
Police blocked some streets but their presence was minimal, and the protest remained peaceful. Local TV stations showed the protest live on the internet.
Floyd’s death, and the killings in past months of a black man in Georgia and a black woman in Kentucky, have led to violent protests in Minneapolis, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Columbus, Ohio, and peaceful demonstrations in other cities.
Four Minneapolis police officers were fired and investigations are underway after a white police officer was seen on video kneeling against the neck of Floyd. One of the officers has been arrested and charged with murder.
Earlier Friday, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland called for an investigation into whether an officer broke any rules after a video surfaced of a woman being knocked to the ground during a Wednesday protest related to Floyd’s death.
Strickland said on social media that he’s asked Police Director Michael Rallings to investigate “an event that occurred Wednesday night with one of our officers and a female protester.”
A video has been shared on television and social media that appears to show an officer shoving a woman to the ground. It’s not clear whether she was injured.
More than 70 people gathered outside the police precinct in Midtown Memphis and then walked down Union Avenue on Wednesday night to protest Floyd’s death. Police set up barricades and blocked the avenue. Officers later donned helmets, protective shields and other riot gear as the situation became increasingly strained and raucous late into the night.
Tensions were escalated by the presence of a man who was holding a sign referencing a Confederate group.
Wednesday’s protest ended with five arrests and no visible property damage. But activists have questioned actions by police, including a lack of coronavirus-related social distancing, using barricades to limit the mobility of protesters, and wearing riot gear.
Kimberly Dollar, who shot the video, said she did not realize she had captured the woman being knocked down until she got home from the protest and reviewed her Snapchat videos.
“I didn’t see anything that was crazy from my standing, so I’m not exactly sure why they brought out the riot gear,” said Dollar, a 32-year-old restaurant server. “Apparently there was a target they were going for, and that girl was in the way, I guess.”
In Memphis, Strickland has said he shares the protesters’ frustrations with the situation in Minnesota, but he criticized protesters who were not wearing masks and weren’t observing social distancing rules set forth in a city order because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“By not doing so, protesters and our officers were unnecessarily put at risk,” Strickland said in a statement Thursday.
The mayor’s statement also said he was proud of the way Memphis police officers conducted themselves.
The Shelby County Democratic Party responded, saying it was officers who put lives in danger by placing protesters behind barricades and failing to stay 6 feet (2 meters) away from protesters and each other.
Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer, a community activist, has alleged police were responsible for escalating the protest. Sawyer, who challenged Strickland in the last mayoral election, had demanded an investigation into the incident in which the woman was knocked down.
“I would love for the public to see a timeline on what that investigation looks like, and when the public will have a response on action,” Sawyer said in a phone interview Friday. “I would like the mayor to retract his statement that he was proud of the response of MPD.”
Sawyer spoke at the protest Friday night, pledging to support them from her position in county government.
“We can push the police from the outside and from the inside,” she said.
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