As protests spread throughout the country in the wake of recent high-profile killings by police officers, Nashville is gearing up for its own demonstrations this weekend.
Organizers are planning to gather Saturday afternoon for a rally at the Tennessee State Capitol. They say the purpose of the demonstration is to show “solidarity to victims of police brutality and white supremacy.”
The protest is being organized in response to the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for several minutes, even as both he and bystanders said repeatedly that he couldn’t breathe. Thousands have taken to the streets in protest, and the four officers at the scene have been fired, MPR News reports. The officer who kneeled on Floyd was arrested this morning.
Many have also turned out in Louisville to protest the March 13 death of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black EMT who was shot to death in her own home during a police raid, according to WFPL.
And in Memphis, about 100 demonstrators blocked a busy downtown street Wednesday night, prompting officers in riot gear to form a barricade, WKNO reports.
Activists here in Nashville have also responded to these incidents, and many have pointed out that the city is not immune to tensions between black residents and police.
They note that just last week, a black man was killed in a shootout with police after he shot another, off-duty officer. And the city’s first trial of an officer charged with murder for an on-duty shooting is scheduled to begin next month, though it will likely be put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Politicians, police officials and local activists have been weighing in with their own reactions to the spreading unrest. Here’s what they have to say:
Gov. Bill Lee:
I think that what happened to George Floyd is horrific. I think it is heartbreaking. I think that it is preventable and unacceptable. I do think that the officers involved in that should be brought to justice for the loss of that life. I spoke with African American leaders today. I spoke with law enforcement leaders today. And, in our conversations, we all agree that the situation there represents a very disturbing trend across the country and that we have to be committed to recognizing and calling out police brutality where it exists.
I have a great deal of respect for and have long supported law enforcement and continue to do so. And I know that the law enforcement community, or certainly know and hope that they understand my appreciation for those men and women who put their lives on the line every day. But police brutality is not law enforcement. And police brutality should not be accepted in this state. And it shouldn’t be tolerated.
Sheila Clemmons Lee:
Sheila Clemmons Lee urged her followers on Twitter to remember her son, Jocques Clemmons, who was shot to death by police in 2017, and Daniel Hambrick, who was killed the following year. The officer who shot Hambrick, Andrew Delke, has been charged with first-degree murder.
— Sheila Lee (@Phatz1966) May 29, 2020
Metro Nashville Police Chief Steve Anderson:
Every officer in our police department and throughout the country should be emotionally shaken by what has occurred in Minneapolis. Words cannot adequately express my disdain over the actions that led to the death of George Floyd. The total lack of concern shown by the officer as he continued to hold his knee on the neck of Mr. Floyd as he repeatedly struggled to breath is unconscionable. Also intolerable is the lack of intervention of the officers who stood there.
Rev. Davie Tucker, a prominent local activist who helped form the Community Oversight Board, said on Twitter that “Nashville is Minneapolis” and called the police chief’s response to George Floyd’s death “morally disingenuous.”
This Statement by @MNPDNashville Steve Anderson is an insult and falls woefully short. Nashville is Minneapolis! Anderson is and has been the biggest obstructionist to policing reform in this city. This statement is “morally disingenuous”! https://t.co/VXy5yMKarv
— Davie (@tucker610) May 29, 2020
Fraternal Order of Police President James Smallwood:
Building trust between law enforcement officers and the community they serve is crucial to the pursuit of our mission to build safer and stronger communities. As officers, we have been entrusted with a great deal of responsibility that should never be abused. Days ago, we all witnessed a viral video of officers in another city who abandoned that trust. They’re indefensible actions violated the oath and tarnished the reputation that the brave men and women of law enforcement have worked so hard to attain. The actions of these few do not represent the heart of the many who selflessly serve, and certainly not those who serve the Nashville community.
The Nashville Fraternal Order of Police will continue to seek ways to build relationships and trust with our community so that they can see, first-hand, the real servants heart behind the badges of the many who serve Nashville today. It is only by continuing these efforts that we can hope to understand the perspectives of one another and move forward in our mission of strengthening the harmony our community enjoys.
Activist Theeda Murphy, who has pushed for body cameras and an end to Metro’s contract with private correctional company CoreCivic, says Nashvillians focused on Michael Floyd’s death shouldn’t lose sight of last week’s shooting of William Johnson, Jr.
— Theeda Murphy 🌑🌒🌓🌔🌕🌖🌗🌘🌑 (@hermit2017) May 28, 2020
Community Oversight Board member and Gideon’s Army staffer Jamel Campell-Gooch tweeted an extensive thread on policing in Nashville. He wrote about the role of neighborhood groups and deescalation tactics to keep community safe.
If you don’t accept the following as truth, the proceeding thread is not for you.
*A problem cannot be policed away.
*Access to resources w/o obstacles creates public safety.
This is a thread about SIMPLE alternatives to policing that improve public safety.
— Jamel Campbell-Gooch (@nashvillered) May 28, 2020
Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member.