MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Five people were arrested Wednesday night during a protest against police brutality in midtown Memphis.
According to police, 21-year-old Katherine Pace was arrested for assault on an officer. An affidavit says she hit the officer in the back of the neck as he spoke to another protester on Union near McLean.
Four other people were taken into custody for refusing to clear the road or other criminal behavior, police say.
- 31-year-old Laura Mason, Obstruction of Highway/Passageway
- 33-year-old Dominic Vietti, Obstruction of Highway/Passageway and Inciting a Riot
- 21-year-old Joangela Sigala, Disorderly Conduct and Obstruction of Highway/Passageway
- 24-year-old Tony Liggins, Disorderly Conduct and Obstruction of Highway/Passageway
“I am aware that the citizens of Memphis want to be heard, and I support the expression of the First Amendment right; however, law and order must be maintained for the safety of all citizens," said MPD Director Mike Rallings in a statement Thursday. “Protesters cannot block roadways, assault officers, or disrupt others within our community. The officers of the Memphis Police Department have become accustomed to responding to protests within the City of Memphis, and our goal is to continue to respond professionally and provide protection and order for all citizens.”
The demonstration began around 7:30 p.m. Wednesday just outside the WMC Action News 5 building on Union, which is across the street from MPD’s midtown traffic division. Officers responded soon after where they say people were blocking traffic.
According to police, two opposing groups were gathered -- one in support of law enforcement and one protesting the recent death of George Floyd who died after a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota kneeled on Floyd’s neck during his arrest. That officer and four others were fired after Floyd’s death, and federal and local authorities are investigating.
At the Memphis protest, police brought in barricades to keep people out of the street and donned riot gear until the crowd dispersed hours later.
“My thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Mr. George Floyd," said Rallings. “There is no explanation for what we witnessed in Minneapolis. The level of force and the disregard of life that was shown sickens me. I understand the frustration that many are feeling, and I, too, believe that this incident should be thoroughly investigated and prosecuted by authorities. As a law enforcement officer, we must protect our citizens from harm and crime. If the line is crossed and if an officer becomes a criminal by violating the laws that he or she swore to uphold, that officer must be held accountable.”
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland released a statement Thursday about the protest the night before, saying he understands why Memphians are frustrated and that true police officers, including Rallings, share their frustrations. But the mayor said they put police and other protesters at risk by not wearing masks or social distancing.
“It’s right and understandable for people to express their frustration through peaceful protest; however, I wish last night’s protesters would have all had on masks, been six feet apart, and gone through the proper channels to ensure everyone’s safety," said Strickland. “By not doing so, protesters and our officers were unnecessarily put at risk. I’m proud of the Memphis Police Department and the way our officers conducted themselves last night.”
Strickland later reiterated his statement at the city-county joint COVID-19 task force briefing, saying people have a right to peacefully protest and he’s proud of MPD officers there who he said handled themselves “very well.”
Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer tweeted another protester, Tre Black, was also arrested during the protests. He was eventually released from police custody.