In a move called an effort “to keep things peaceful,” Mayor Jim Strickland on Monday ordered a curfew beginning at 10 p.m. and stretching until 6 a.m.
The curfew exempts “essential workers” – as defined by the guidelines that restricted movement to curb the spread of the coronavirus – and those experiencing a health emergency.
No end date was given. The curfew restriction, Strickland said, will persist “as long as is necessary.”
Sunday was the fifth day of downtown-centered protests in Memphis and the most active for the Memphis Police Department and the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. On Monday activists kept the protests going, with one element employing drive-slow tactics to affect traffic flow on a bridge into Arkansas.
In Memphis and many cities across the nation, rage and disgust continue to percolate after video captured an officer in Minneapolis, Minn. applying a knee to 46-year-old George Floyd’s neck and sustaining that move while Floyd essentially pleaded for his life and died.
A medical examiner on Monday classified Floyd’s death as a homicide. Officer Derek Chauvin and three of his associates have been fired, with Chauvin charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. The other three officers have not been charged.
Civil unrest has gripped the country at a level that has prompted comparisons to the social turbulence in the 1960’s, particularly 1968 – the year Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in Memphis.
And it’s not just Floyd’s death. Police killed Breonna Taylor in her Louisville, Ky. home. Ahmaud Arberry was shot while jogging by armed white men claiming they thought he was a burglary suspect. Three people have been charged.
Those killings are references point on a timeline that some say extends back to slavery and which is dotted by deaths in multiple other cities, including Memphis.
Sunday’s protest in Memphis were peaceful at the outset. Late that night, things changed, with looting and property destruction reported in multiple locations and several arrests.
During a special update announcing the curfew, Strickland thanked Memphis protesters “conducting themselves in a peaceful and powerful manner. …
“I know that you are hurting and that you are angry and that you want change. I’m with you on that. …The needless death of George Floyd and too many other souls around our country serve as a constant reminder that we must do better.”
Strickland said in recent days he has been in conversations with an array of people, including activists about ways Memphis can do better together. He noted strides made to improve police-community relations, adding there is more work to do.
The curfew, he said, was a move to try to “keep things peaceful.”
The vast majority of protesters want to get their message across in “a peaceful, powerful and respectful way.” However, a second group wants destruction and chaos.
“We cannot let the second group steal the message to end systematic racism and take hope from the rest of us that love our city and want to bring meaningful and lasting change to a broken system,” he said.
MPD Director Mike Rallings said the Tennessee National Guard was on hand Sunday to support the efforts of local law enforcement and likely would continue do so for the immediate future.
Rallings, who spoke at Monday’s update, said he was an African-American man before he became a police officer, reiterated sympathy for George Floyd’s family and spoke again of ongoing respect for the right to protest.
“But last night we saw things take a turn for the worse,” he said. “As a lifelong Memphian I am asking mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters to reach out to your loved ones and talk to them.
“These acts of vandalism and violence, assaults on police officers cannot be tolerated.”