MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - There are reactions across Memphis following a night of protests against police brutality.
Organizers had planned a silent protest Wednesday following the death of George Floyd while in the custody of a Minneapolis police officer.
But organizers said counter-protesters agitated the crowd. Now, they’re disappointed with the City of Memphis and Memphis Police’s response.
For hours, the area of Union and McLean in Midtown was blocked off Wednesday evening as hundreds of people came out to protest against the death of George Floyd and other high profile African American deaths.
“I can tell you, for starters, being a part of the solution doesn’t mean turning your back against those expressing their grievances,” one protester told police.
Organizers said about a half hour after a silent protest started, counter-protesters from the group Confederate 901 showed up and agitated the crowd. They said that’s when Memphis Police barricaded protesters.
Emotions increased on both sides due to national cases and circumstances closer to home.
“There were five or six murders over the Memorial Day,” one Memphis police officer told the crowd. “Is anybody excited about solving those?”
“I heard one officer say in the black community there is a lot of black on black crime,” Protest Organizer Ayo Akinmoladun said. “Which is true. We know that’s an issue in our community. However, when black people kill each other we’re held accountable.”
Police Director Michael Rallings called the killing of George Floyd sickening. In part, Director Rallings said this about Floyd’s death: “If an officer becomes a criminal by violating the laws he or she swore to uphold that officer must be held accountable.”
Mayor Jim Strickland also said after looking at the video of Floyd’s death he understands why people are angry in frustrated. At the Shelby County Health Department COVID-19 Task Force Meeting Thursday, he said he wish he had seen more social distancing.
“By not doing that they endangered their fellow demonstrators and the police officers who responded,” Strickland said
Organizers said their original demonstration had social distancing guidelines top of mind.
“At about 7:25, 50 Memphians stood six feet apart with their masks on,” Akinmoladun said.
Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer, who was at the protest, said she’s disappointed with Mayor Strickland’s response.
“It amazes me the Mayor of Memphis felt it was okay to get back to business but found a peaceful protest in violation of COVID-19 protocols,” Sawyer said.
Sawyer hosted a press conference Thursday afternoon with community leaders and protest organizers. She said five people were arrested at the protest.
“I call on immediately the release of the five protesters who were arrested last night,” Sawyer said.
Two of the five people have been released on their own recognizances. All five will be arraigned Friday morning.
“If it’s for a good purpose, to defend people, for people’s rights she will be there,” one of the arrested protesters mother, Angela Trillo, said.
Trillo’s 21-year-old daughter Joangela Sigala was one of the five people arrested following the midtown protest Wednesday night. Memphis Police said one of those arrested, Katherine Pace, was charged with assault. Sigala, Laura Mason, Dominic Vietti and Tony Liggins were arrested for charges from disorderly conduct to blocking a highway.
Trillo said as an immigrant from Venezuela she and her family have experienced racism, and her daughter has always fought against it.
“She said this is not fair. Not for me or for anyone. No one deserves to be treated different,” Trillo said.
Memphis police said for every protest “our goal is to continue to respond professionally and provide protection and order for all citizens.”
Mayor Strickland said he’s proud of the Memphis Police Department.
“I thought they handled themselves very well,” Strickland said.
During Thursday’s meeting hosted by Commissioner Sawyer she and others were critical of how Memphis Police conducted themselves. Many thought the counter protesters were given preferential treatment.