Protest at 201 Poplar results in several arrests

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A "Rolling Block Party" protest designed to draw attention to several issues around the city resulted in several people being detained by Memphis Police on Tuesday.

Protesters first shut down a section of road near the FedEx hub by dancing in the street to draw attention to wage issues at the shipping giant.

At 2:01 p.m., the group moved to the Criminal Justice Center downtown, drawing attention to Immigration and Customs Enforcement taking illegal immigrants into custody. They did a theatrical demonstration with one man dressed as an ICE agent and others lined up behind him shackled in chains.

As the chanting group crossed Poplar via a crosswalk, police moved in, taking at least five people into custody.

Organizer Al Lewis said this was not what the group had planned.

"The plan was just to come down and demonstrate and show – that’s why the people in the chains — to demonstrate and show what it looked like to have people chained out," Lewis said. "It was no intention to block traffic or the courthouse. I know that because I'm part of the organizing team. I know that wasn’t our intent."

Police say they asked the protesters to clear the area because they were impeding traffic. Those who "did not clear the street" were arrested, MPD said.

They were: Manuel Duran, 42; Keedran Towner (Franklin), 31; Billy Stegall, 61; Spencer Kaaz, 22; Guadalupe Escobar, 25; Elizabeth Vega, 51; and Zyanya Cruz, 28. All were charged with disorderly conduct and obstructing a highway/passageway.

Duran was a journalist covering the event for Spanish-language publication Noticias Memphis.

"It is important to remember that the leadership of MPD respects and welcomes the expression of the First Amendment rights to all citizens in a law abiding manner," MPD said in a statement on Facebook. "During any demonstration or protest, MPD’s lawful obligation is to provide public safety for every citizen. MPD will deny the unlawful destruction, looting and damage of all property. MPD will not allow a disruption in business, school, government and every day function of life and liberty by unruly protesters or unlawful protest."

Tuesday marked the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's delivery of his "Mountaintop" speech in Memphis, on the eve of his assassination.