Memphis police prepare for potential election-related unrest

Anxiety rising ahead of presidential election

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The uncertainty surrounding Tuesday’s presidential election has led to an increase in anxiety amid fears of potential civil unrest in cities across the nation.

Business owners in several major cities across the country are boarding up their storefront windows ahead of Election Day.

Gun shops have reported a surge in gun sales in recent weeks, including in the Mid-South.

The Memphis Police Department said it will monitor and respond to any situation that develops in the Bluff City.

“Officers will continue to conduct additional patrols in the area of voting locations and will respond to any calls that they may receive for assistance,” said Memphis Police Lt. Karen Rudolph. “Like all law enforcement agencies, we will monitor any situation that may arise and will respond accordingly.”

Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings says MPD is not aware of any election-related threats.

“We’re not aware of any threats to the election in Memphis, and we’re happy to report that during early voting, even with record turnout, that there were no serious incidents,” said Rallings.

To make sure the environment stays safe, Rallings says police will continue patrolling near voting sites and he says MPD is always prepared.

That’s why MPD, along with other city, county and state agencies, have been doing tabletop exercises to game out how to respond to different scenarios related to the election, including civil unrest.

“This has been a very odd year, so I think that we should be concerned and be prepared for anything,” said Rallings.

On Oct. 20, Memphis and Shelby County leaders tried to reassure citizens.

“There is fear and anxiety around what will happen around Election Day. But rest assured, there is lots of activity taking place right now to keep all of us safe,” said Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris.

Officials said they’ve already been involved with simulation exercises with TEMA on voter intimidation, voter suppression and civil unrest surrounding the election.

“Concerns have been voiced nationally and here locally regarding potential unrest, voter intimidation, and manipulation of votes during and after this year’s election,” said Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland. “The integrity of your vote will be maintained.”

The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office and MPD said they’re working with other county law enforcement agencies and the Shelby County Election Commission to ensure people are able to vote without fear of violence.

“We will be on the lookout for any disturbance or threats and give our officials the support they need at this critical time,” said Rallings.

The U.S. Attorneys Office and the FBI say they will also be closely monitoring the election in the Memphis area and will be on the lookout for any forms of voter intimidation.

GUN SALES SURGE

Gun sales have been surging nationwide, including in the Mid-South.

Greg Richardson, the manager at Classic Arms gun store in Cordova, says while it’s normal for gun sales to rise during election season, the pandemic, the George Floyd protests and the election are bringing out people you may not expect to buy guns.

“This goes beyond what we would expect in sales in a normal year,” said Richardson. “It says a lot all of a sudden you’ve got grandma and grandpa who are in their golden years are coming in buying a 12-gauge home defense shotgun, or are coming in and buying an AR-15 because they’re genuinely worried about what’s going on in the country.”

Gun training classes have also seen a surge in participants.

“I’ve seen a significant uptake in people taking gun permit classes. I’ve also seen it’s difficult to buy a gun because we’re sold out, and ammo looks like it’s almost doubled in price because it’s so hard to get a hold of right now,” said Donald Gregory, owner of USA Training Academy in Bartlett.

Gregory said he believes protests against police and fears that some politicians will try to defund the police are driving sales this year.

“I think that has scared the hell out of a lot of citizens,” said Gregory. “I think they realize at the end of the day if police aren’t there to protect them, who’s going to protect them? The answer is them.”

Last week, Walmart temporarily removed firearms and ammunition from its store floors. It said the move was to protect customers and employees amid rising tensions.

One day later, the Arkansas-based retailer returned the firearms and ammunition to its store floors.

“After civil unrest earlier this week resulted in damage to several of our stores...we asked stores to move firearms and ammunition from the sales floor,” the company said. “As the current incidents have remained geographically isolated, we have made the decision to begin returning these products to the sales floor.”

MANAGING ELECTION-RELATED STRESS

Dr. Shubi Mukatira, a psychiatrist with The Transformation Center in Memphis, says 2020 has taken its toll and the uncertainty surrounding the election only adds to the stress.

“Everybody is experiencing significant amounts of stress right now,” said Mukatira. “All of this has culminated into this flashpoint of stress, I think for our entire community, if not our entire nation.”

To manage the stress, Mukatira says you should limit your media consumption, spend more time with loved ones, take plenty of mental breaks, like going for a walk, and try to stick to a schedule.

"Sleep hygiene, regular meals, keeping a schedule is really, really helpful to keep our moods balanced, said Mukatira. “I think the main thing is just for us to all recognize how incredibly difficult these circumstances are. They’re really unprecedented and we are all experiencing a lot of stress and to really just have compassion for ourselves and for one another in the upcoming days and weeks.”

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