Protester says City Hall demonstrators unlawfully arrested after late notice from city

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — More than a dozen protesters were arrested Wednesday outside Memphis City Hall.

The city said the protesters were given enough notice that construction was beginning and they needed to move out, but protesters said that’s not true.

The city sent a statement that said public safety, which includes the protesters camping on Civic Plaza, is the city’s primary concern. A protest organizer said she thinks there’s more to the story.

After more than a dozen people were arrested for refusing to leave the plaza in front of City Hall, some protesters were released from police custody under the I-40 bridge with a citation.

“Due to a phased renovation and construction project that has been underway since 2019, protesters in front of city hall were given advanced notice to relocate,” a statement from the City of Memphis said.

Protesters have camped outside City Hall for the past two weeks, calling for police reform.

Jan Lentz, one of the organizers of the protest, said they weren’t notified to leave until around 4 p.m. Tuesday.

“Knowing how late in the day it was, it cut off our legal recourse to seek an injunction,” said Lentz, who is co-chair of the Memphis/Mid-South chapter of Democratic Socialists of America. “Memphis police showed up before 6 a.m., even though the notice said 7:30 in the morning.”

The city said construction is being done to make repairs to the City Hall roof.

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, construction was halted and resumed with cranes used to stage construction material on the roof,” a city spokesperson said. “Now, we must extend the barrier to complete the exterior demolition and finish the project.”

The city said protesters were given two alternative locations on Civic Plaza to continue their protests.

But Lentz said the city’s decision to move forward with construction with such short notice was an attempt to interfere with their First Amendment rights.

“It was an embarrassment to the mayor that we were calling attention to how much money is being spent on the police, which is 39% of our budget, and the fact the city’s not doing anything to address the homeless situation,” Lentz said.

Lentz said now their focus is on getting the rest of the protesters released from police custody.

Memphis Police responded to the incident Wednesday afternoon on Facebook.

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