VOL. 131 | NO. 163 | Tuesday, August 16, 2016
Elvis Vigil Draws Protest, Heavy Police Presence
By Bill Dries
The Black Lives Matter protest at Graceland Monday was noisy and at times tense but peaceful. The Memphis police presence was heavy.
Several hundred Black Lives Matter movement protesters massed south of Graceland Monday, Aug. 15, on the 39th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death as several thousand people gathered on the other side of a thick police presence for Graceland’s annual candlelight vigil.
The protest, pledged by the Coalition of Concerned Citizens and including veterans of the July 10 protest that shut down the Hernando DeSoto Bridge, was vocal and at times tense with two protesters handcuffed by police when they attempted to cross a police line at Elvis Presley Boulevard and Craft Road.
The heavy and early police presence was a contrast to a normally routine presence for the candlelight vigil.
Police set up a checkpoint for auto traffic at Bluebird and Elvis Presley asking motorist where they were going.
At the southern Craft Road end, police did the same with people on foot.
Jeffrey Wolfe was one of several black men who approached the police lines there at around 6 p.m. and was denied entry to the vigil as other mostly white citizens were also questioned and allowed to join the vigil.
“I’m not with the protest,” he said when stopped by police.
“Graceland does not want you here,” a police officer told him.
“I was profiled,” Wolfe said later. “I come to the vigil every few years. I love Elvis.”
City Council member Berlin Boyd said police appeared to be relying on the permit Graceland got for the vigil to deny entry to protesters or those they identified as protesters. That despite the vigil being open to the public.
Police also rounded up three other men, including political activist Randy Wade and Rev. Earle Fisher of the coalition who got a bit further.
Police directed all to a large fenced in area on the northwest corner of Craft and Elvis Presley bordering the southern end of the Graceland Plaza. About a dozen protesters were there at the outset.
A larger group of protesters then arrived and stayed in the intersection. Police at one point considered making the empty protesters’ pen the press pen, but abandoned the idea.
The police presence included several police vans and mobile homes and a special operations search and rescue vehicle that heavily armored officers carrying rifles emerged from at one point.
An hour into the protest, at around 7 p.m., a group of 13 white protesters who made it past the police lines and who had been waiting at least an hour began chanting “Black lives matter.”
They began walking toward the police lines and police briefly pondered whether to arrest them. Instead they let them through, herding them onto the other side of the police line in a funnel onto Craft Road.
Several other protesters were escorted out of the vigil area by police at around 9:30 p.m.
The protest remained noisy as the vigil program got underway but both settled into stationary positions with dwindling numbers as a steady rain got a bit steadier. Umbrellas sprouted outside the walls of Graceland and along the metal barrier that police moved into place at the Craft Road protest line.