After a peaceful vigil for George Floyd on Sunday, tear gas was deployed on Main Street in Murfreesboro near the entrance to Middle Tennessee State University.
The Murfreesboro Police Department says it was trying to disperse a crowd that had blocked an intersection. A building and an armored vehicle were vandalized, and two people were arrested for violating an emergency curfew order.
Murfreesboro police say a crowd of protesters blocked the intersection of East Main Street and Middle Tennessee Boulevard and were “almost hit by traffic,” that an armored police vehicle was vandalized and that a brick was thrown through the window of Whiskey Dix bar.
The conflict came after hundreds had turned out for a peaceful vigil at the historic Rutherford County Courthouse to protest racism and police brutality.
Protesters chanted and walked past businesses that had boarded up their windows as a precaution after vandalism in Nashville Saturday.
Once the protest had largely dispersed, a crowd gathered just outside MTSU. Just before 7 p.m., Murfreesboro Mayor Shane McFarland announced a citywide curfew effective retroactively. In a statement, McFarland sought to separate the incident from the vigil.
“The city is committed to securing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment,” he said. “At the same time, others have engaged in unlawful activities that endanger peace and public safety.”
Reporters on the scene say tear gas and flash bangs were used in an effort to disperse demonstrators.
More from earlier: Officers throw tear gas and a flashbang to disperses crowd near the MTSU sign. All of these protestors did was yell. We watched the whole scene play out. Just a bunch of yelling before the tear gas and flashbang were deployed. pic.twitter.com/EwwBjw5h4E
— Joe Spears (@joe_spears7) June 1, 2020
Police said later that one person was overcome by tear gas and treated at the scene, and that a second person was treated after a fainting episode. No police were injured.
Meanwhile, authorities say they initially sent an incorrect public safety alert to smartphones.
The initial message referenced a statewide curfew — which is not in place — and later issued a correction that the 6:30 p.m. curfew only applied to Murfreesboro.
Gov. Bill Lee issued a statement that the protest had “escalated to overt threats to public safety and property,” and that he would help enforce a curfew by authorizing the Tennessee Highway Patrol and the National Guard to assist as needed.
Nashville, separately, had its own 8 p.m. curfew in place on Sunday night.
The Murfreesboro confrontation came hours after a vigil commemorating George Floyd, the Minnesota man whose death has become a rallying point to demonstrate against systemic racism and brutality by the police.
Many of these recent protests have been set in much larger cities.
Stacy Brown, who’s from Memphis, says it was encouraging to see this type of demonstration in a smaller city like Murfreesboro. “Seeing that people here actually care, it says a lot. It makes me feel more at home,” she says.
Lifelong Murfreesboro resident, Fairest Oden, says she was motivated to participate because, as the mother of a black man with autism, she fears what could happen if he were misunderstood during an encounter with police.
“For our sons, I can say I’ve been on edge a lot. He’s 32 now but as far as going to school, riding through the neighborhood, walking the trail, you always have that in your mind,” Oden says.
The Murfreesboro demonstration remained mostly peaceful throughout the afternoon. There was an extended moment of silence during which demonstrators knelt in remembrance of the killing of Floyd.
Kim Alsup, another Murfreesboro resident, says despite the support she’s seen at the demonstration, she doesn’t expect the police-involved deaths to stop.
“Something has to give, and even though we’re doing this, it just… it’ll happen again. That’s the sad part about it. It’ll probably happen again, and I just don’t like it.”
This story was updated Sunday night and Monday morning to include new details.