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VOL. 11 | NO. 1 | Saturday, January 6, 2018

White Nationalist Confederate Monuments Protest Draws Larger Police Presence

By Bill Dries

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White nationalist Billy Roper and a group of 11 other people were the only protesters near Health Sciences Park Saturday, Jan. 6, which drew a large police presence in advance. Roper and others in the group had to leave behind their shields, helmets and Kevlar vests by police order before entering a designated and cordoned off protest area. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)

A dozen white nationalists with Confederate flags were the only protest Saturday, Jan. 6, that got anywhere near Health Sciences Park and what’s left of the park’s monument to Nathan Bedford Forrest.

There were no arrests and the protest was peaceful.

The Shield Wall group led by Billy Roper gathered at Madison and Orleans as a massive police presence remained in the park nearby, which was closed to the public starting Friday evening.

Roper’s group carried shields and Confederate banners and wore helmets and Kevlar vests.

When police in the area spotted the group, police at the park closed all four streets around the park to all traffic and began erecting barriers across Union at Manassas and at Marshall that were backed up by large city dump trucks as an additional barrier.

Police created a “protest area” within that Roper and his group and a larger group of reporters entered after being searched by police.

Memphis Police mustered a large presence around Health Sciences and Memphis Parks Saturday, Jan. 6, after word of several planned protests over the Dec. 20 removal of Confederate monumens from both parks. Word of a group of a dozen white nationalist protesters near Health Sciences Park prompted police to close Union Avenue and begin erecting multiple barriers to create a protest area. (Daily News/ Bill Dries) 

Police would not let Roper and his group bring their shields or wear their vests in the area.

Roper balked at taking off his vest at the entrance.

“I’m allowed to wear a vest,” he told police who quickly radioed for clarification from police brass and were told he could not.

“We’ve got a lot of police out here to protect you,” a police officer told Roper, who remained unconvinced.

“I’ve got people on three rooftops,” another officer said.

After a huddle with others in the group Roper took off his vest. Two other members of the group stood in front and back of him going through the checkpoint and on both sides of him in the protest area.

There was a counter protest group in the same demonstration area numbering about a dozen people that showed up about the time Roper and his group were leaving.

Meanwhile, the Confederate 901 group that earlier in the week had talked of a car caravan past Health Sciences Park and Memphis Park – the two parks that Confederate monuments were removed from Dec. 20 – changed its plans to a counter clockwise ride around the interstate loop in a truck caravan waving Confederate flags and ending in Southaven. Police estimated about 50 vehicles participating and rode the loop for approximately two hours.

Roper’s group unfurled a banner a half block west of the western border of Health Sciences Park reading “Diversity = White Genocide.” Between interviews that Roper said were the main purpose of his group’s trip to Memphis, he snapped a photo of a billboard at the Manassas and Union intersection promoting the city’s observance of the 50th anniversary of the sanitation workers strike and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“We’re not going to go quietly,” Roper said. “We’re not going to be erased.”

In another interview he referred to “our founding fathers, who were white nationalists.”

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland watched the demonstration and police efforts with Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings at the police Real Time Crime Center.

Rallings declined to say many Memphis Police officers were deployed, saying it was “a very strong police presence.”

“If you pay attention to anything that’s gone on in the world in the last three years, there is definitely a threat – you saw it in New York a month ago – where people have used vehicles as weapons,” he said of closing city streets and the presence of city dump trucks. “We want to make sure we plan for any contingency.”

Rallings also said no group had applied for a protest permit with the city in advance of Saturday.

A command post by police took up most of the Juvenile Court parking lot on Poplar, a few blocks from Health Sciences Park. The police presence was also augmented by the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, Tennessee Highway patrol and officers from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation including the Fusion Center, a statewide intelligence database that aggregates information from local law enforcement agencies across the state.

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