Activists say police escalated situation as Saturday night protests turned violent

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Several people are looking for answers after Saturday night’s peaceful protest turned violent.

Memphis Police said a large crowd gathered downtown after the protest. After several attempts to disperse the crowd, police say several people became irate.

Dozens of officers shielded with riot gear were at a stand-off with protestors Saturday night and several people were arrested.

Activists say the entire event could have been avoided.

“When I showed up, I saw a sea of Memphis Police Department cars,” said Hunter Demster, an activist who witnessed first-hand Saturday night’s disturbance. “If they can’t figure out that that in itself is escalation, we need new leadership.”

According to a statement by MPD, there was a large crowd in the area of Beale and Main Street after the first protest.

Police said after several attempts to disperse the crowd, the crowd grew irate and began jumping on squad cars. Additional officers were called in and a barricade was made to contain the crowd.

However, video shows a more detailed narrative.

“Everything that I saw in their statement, that I saw first-hand, does not match what I saw,” Demster said.

In the video, you see officers cover Beale Street, mounted on horses and covered in riot gear.

As officers moved towards the crowd, protestors threw bottles and rocks and then used the barricades to stop officers from proceeding before running down Beale Street.

Facebook video shows that, prior to the confrontation, a verbal altercation occurred between an officer and a protestor. 

“I said, ‘Do black lives matter to you?’ He said, ‘No, white lives matter a little more,’” a protester claimed. “I said, ‘Oh really.’ That officer then pushed me with both hands.”

That protestor, Darin Abston, is among the several people who were arrested.

Demster said that, despite what happened, the entire situation could have been avoided and he faults police for escalating the situation.

“It was on Beale Street at midnight on a Saturday night. That was a public street. We have a right to be there,” Demster said. “There’s nothing illegal about being there. There’s nothing illegal about using your voice.”

Memphis Police said they did not have a comment on the situation.

Police also said several shots were fired at officers Saturday night.

Demster said the people who fired those shots were not taking part in any of the protests earlier in the day.

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