MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Dozens of people gathered Wednesday night in front of the Midtown Memphis police precinct in support of justice for George Floyd, a man who died after he was pinned down on his neck by Minneapolis police officers.
Tre Black, 19, said they gathered on Union Avenue to express their right to protest after watching the video of Floyd just moments before his death.
Black said the only thing they wanted was to be heard.
“We can do better, and we’re not doing better, and that’s something that’s very frustrating to me,” said Black, who was among the people detained at the protest.
Black said things quickly turned hostile once counter-protesters arrived.
“That was the first sign that things weren’t going to go right,” Black said.
In efforts to separate the crowd, police used barricades.
“We were afraid that they were going to use a chemical agent,” Black said.
Black decided to sit down, saying officers repeatedly told him to get up, but he refused and was detained.
But Black, who has never been arrested, was soon let go.
“That officer was kind of enough to let me go without incident; some other people weren’t so lucky,” Black said.
Four protesters were arrested and charged with obstructing Union Avenue. Katherine Pace, 21, was also arrested and charged with assaulting an officer.
Black said this was never the intention of the protest, and protesters only wanted their message to be heard.
“I think when the police said it’s time to disperse, and it was an order, people were like, no, we need to be heard,” Black said.
Many of those arrested are still in jail and being held without bond.
The Memphis Police Department said in a statement it respects and welcomes the expression of the public’s First Amendment rights to all law-abiding citizens; however, it’s the department’s job to provide public safety.
“The level of force and the disregard of life that was shown sicken me,” Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings said of Floyd’s death. “I understand the frustration that many are feeling, and I, too, believe that this incident should be thoroughly investigated and prosecuted by authorities.”
Rallings also defended his department’s actions Wednesday.
“They will not allow any disruptions in business, school, government and everyday function of life and liberty by unruly protesters or unlawful protest,” Rallings said.
Rallings went on to say in his statement he understands protesters want to be heard, but they cannot block roadways, assault officers or disrupt others within the community.
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland also spoke out about the protest and the events in Minnesota.
“I understand and share your frustration with what happened in Minneapolis and other parts of the country; police director Mike Rallings shares your frustration,” Strickland said. “However, I wish last night’s protesters would have all had on masks, been six feet apart and gone through the proper channel to ensure everyone’s safety because by not doing that they endanger their fellow demonstrators and the police officers who responded.”