VOL. 11 | NO. 1 | Saturday, January 6, 2018
Parks Closed By Police On Eve of Saturday Protest Plans
By Bill Dries
Memphis Police shut down two Memphis parks Friday, Jan. 5, in advance of planned protests Saturday by groups opposed to the Dec. 20 removal of Confederate monuments from both parks.
More than a dozen police cars were around Health Sciences Park and a single police car was in Memphis Park before 9 p.m. Friday evening. Signs were posted in each park at different entry points reading "Park Closed Today" and "No Trespassing" and warnng against loitering and carrying firearms.
The overnight presence is the first indication of the police strategy in advance of plans for protests by several groups include Confederate 901 -- a group that has announced plans to hold a car caravan that passes by both parks. Other white nationalist groups have indicated on social media that they plan to also protest Saturday in the city.
Both parks are owned by the private nonprofit Memphis Greenspace. The Memphis City Council voted Dec. 20 to sell both parks to the nonprofit for $1,000 each including the monument to Confederate general, slave trader and Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest in Health Sciences Park and the statue of Confederacy president Jefferson Davis in Memphis Park.
Memphis Greenspace had the monuments removed that same evening within hours of the council vote. Metal barricades were put up around the pedestals where the monuments once stood but yellow police tape around the parks came down soon after the removal of the monuments.
Memphis Police brass said earlier Friday they intend to preserve order Saturday while allowing for First Amendment expressions.
"We are not anticipating any acts of violence and expect everyone to act in a lawful manner; however, all citizens should be aware that there will be a strong presence of police, and traffic delays may be experienced in the downtown area throughout the day on Saturday," a Facebook posting by the MPD read. "In the event that large crowds gather, and it is deemed necessary, some roadways may be closed and traffic diverted."
Meanwhile, the Memphis Branch NAACP urged Memphians to ignore the planned Saturday protests.
“This rally or caravan is designed to increase the hate rhetoric that has suffocated the American people for too long,” said NAACP president Deidre Malone at a Friday, Jan. 5, press conference.
The press conference included leaders of other civil rights organizations and religious leaders. They joined the call for a boycott of the protests being promoted on social media by the group Confederate 901 and some white nationalist groups.
“Just as in Charlottesville, the purpose of this caravan is to entice public engagement in order to use that interaction for the purpose of violence, hate speech and divisiveness,” Malone said, referring to a white nationalist alt-right torchlight rally in Virginia last summer that erupted into violence between protesters and counter-protesters and left one person dead and more than 20 injured.
The call by the coalition of local groups to ignore the protests echoes the city administration’s position earlier in the week.
“It really takes two to pick a fight,” said Latino Memphis leader Mauricio Calvo.
There were similar calls in advance of courthouse step rallies in 1998 and 2013 by two different factions of the Ku Klux Klan from Indiana. The 2013 rally drew a slate of alternative activities at the Fairgrounds that the city organized with the Greater Memphis Chamber and Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau. Memphis United also organized a discussion about social justice at the Fairgrounds as well.
This time, Malone said the recent violence in Charlottesville as well as a shift in the city in favor of removing the monuments has created a different environment.
“Just because we don’t show up does not mean that we are scared. It just means that Memphis is focused on moving forward together,” she said. “What we wanted happened. The monuments are down. So we are focused on the future. That’s old news for us.”
Tami Sawyer, the founder of Take Them Down 901 who also heads the Memphis NAACP’s political action committee, also joined the call to ignore the Confederate group protests.
“Instead we have called for a day of service. We will be in the community,” Sawyer said. “We’re calling on all Memphians instead of giving attention … to outsiders with intentions to bring hate and racism to our city to show up and show we love and support and care for one another.”