MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Protests have slowed across the Mid-South in recent weeks, but the city of Memphis may still be feeling an effect that can be traced to those protests.
Police Director Michael Rallings stopped just short of blaming protesters for the COVID-19 outbreak within the Memphis Police Department, but the implication was impossible to miss.
Just like the rest of the country, MPD has struggled in recent weeks with battling a spike in positive coronavirus cases.
“A number of my officers are infected with COVID or have tested positive,” Rallings said.
That number of positive cases in the department is currently 19.
Rallings brought the topic up Thursday after being asked a question about the peaceful protests that occurred across multiple weeks in June.
He cited some protesters’ treatment of officers.
“We spent weeks with individuals yelling in the face of officers, spitting at officers, and I hope that they did not spread COVID,” Rallings said.
For the most part, protesters stayed away from officers, and organizers handed out masks to help avoid coronavirus transmission, but containment is still an imperfect science.
The connection between protests and the sick police contrasts with evidence cited by the Shelby County Health Department just days ago.
“It’s not linked specifically to Memorial Day or the protests, it is about moving to Phase 2,” Shelby County Health Department Director Alisa Haushalter said. “And people being out and about and not wearing their masks.”
Director Rallings stopped short of asking protesters not to organize in the future, but he hopes a potential return to the streets will be done responsibly.
“We know that there is a lot of work to do, and we are fully committed to doing this very difficult and hard work,” Rallings said. “I only ask that the citizens of Memphis continue to support the Memphis Police Department.”
Protest organizers have not ruled out more protests moving forward.