Treatment of Memphis protester sparks calls for apology, change

Treatment of Memphis protester sparks calls for apology, change

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - As protesters blocked Union Avenue in Midtown Memphis on Wednesday night, a young woman named Molly joined the demonstration, upset about the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbrey and Breanna Taylor.

Video of what happened to her at the hands of a Memphis police officer quickly went viral. And now city, county and state leaders are demanding action from Mayor Jim Strickland and a change in how Memphis police handle protests.

The video is shocking. A Memphis police officer appears to use his shield to knock Molly out of his way. The force of his shove was so strong, Molly flew several feet up into the air before hitting the pavement.

“I went there to protest police brutality,” Molly told WMC Action News 5. “And that’s exactly what I experienced.”

Molly said she was recording video of a fellow protester getting arrested when another group of MPD officers arrived on the scene. She turned to get video of those officers, in riot gear, batons banging on their shields as they walked toward the demonstrators. Then she turned back around to continue recording the arrest. Moments later, she said she was lying in the street.

“I was shoved with his shield,” she said “He pushed it up against me and I hit the ground. I wasn’t even facing him. I didn’t even know he was coming. I didn’t expect it. I was completely blindsided.”

Mayor Jim Strickland on Thursday criticized protesters for not wearing masks or following COVID-19 social distancing guidelines. He also praised the MPD’s response.

“I want to say how proud I am of the Memphis Police Department,” he told reporters “And particularly, those officers who were on the scene last night. I thought they handled themselves very well.”

Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer, during a Zoom conference with other black leaders, including G.A. Hardaway, chairman of the Tennessee Black Caucus, called for a change in the way Memphis Police deal with demonstrations.

“I call on the Memphis mayor to denounce the actions of the Memphis Police Department for the excessive use of force against residents of Memphis last night,” she said.

The Shelby County Democratic Party also “condemned the use of force on non-violent protesters,” and called on Mayor Strickland and Director Rallings to:

*Disavow the actions of the MPD that escalated the peaceful protest to a conflict between officers and citizens

*Immediately release those who remain at 201 Poplar and provide a full accounting of the whereabouts and activity of the detainees

Five protesters were arrested. SCDP and Sawyer say some were held without charges, unable to bond out of jail.

As for Molly? She said she’s OK physically. She has a large scrape on one arm. But emotionally, She’s still shaken up and processing what happened to her. She’s still deciding whether to file a complaint with MPD. One thing she is certain of? She said she won’t let that officer’s behavior keep her from speaking up for injustices, including hers.

“I don’t feel protected by police,” she said. “And I know a lot of people who don’t. I still want to stand up for people that are scared and feel unprotected because there is no excuse for what happened. No excuse, at all.”

WMC Action News 5 reached out to both Mayor Jim Strickland and Memphis Police Director Mike Rallings for specific comment about that officer’s actions. Late Thursday, neither had responded.

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