MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Memphis police showed up at Civic Center Plaza outside City Hall Wednesday morning around 6 a.m. local time to remove protesters who have been camped out for the past two weeks.
The city said the move was necessary to allow for renovation of the building's roof and exterior, and after a standoff, about nine demonstrators were led away in handcuffs starting about 8:41 a.m.
The demonstrators appeared not to resist the police officers as they were placed one-by-one into police vehicles, and the police appeared not to use hand strikes, tear gas, pepper spray, batons or similar use of force. Officers picked up one man and were carrying him before he started walking. Two other people were carried all the way to a truck by three officers each.
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Police took longer to remove one demonstrator named Salamander Pride, 27, who was attached to a fence as part of the protest. A city worker appeared to use bolt cutters to remove the bike lock or similar device that was attaching Pride to the fence. Four police officers then picked up Pride and put the demonstrator in a police car shortly before 9:15 a.m.
Demonstrator Theryn Bond was not arrested and told reporters that another person had been forcefully taken down to the ground at another point. Details on that incident were still unconfirmed and unclear shortly after 9:15 a.m.
Earlier Wednesday morning, the government gave notice that anyone who did not leave the area could be arrested, and the situation had developed into a standoff, with a small number of demonstrators defying orders to disperse.
At 8:25 a.m., about 25 to 30 demonstrators were in front of the entrance to City Hall. At 8:41 a.m., police officers walked up to them and began detaining protesters.
A barricade had been put up around the plaza and police are not allowing anyone to enter the area that was not already inside when the fences were put in place.
The detentions followed a standoff of more than an hour. Shortly after 7:30 a.m., Memphis Police Department Deputy Chief Paul Wright told The Memphis Commercial Appeal, part of the USA TODAY Network, that the demonstrators could relocate to nearby parts of the plaza, including a spot near a group of international flags.
Hello, from Memphis City Hall as protesters and MPD are at odds about clearing Civic Center Plaza. About a dozen people are still inside barricades, including one person chained to the fence outside the building.
Posted by The Commercial Appeal on Wednesday, July 1, 2020
A recorded voice was telling demonstrators to disperse. Someone shouted back an expletive. One group of demonstrators remained right in front of City Hall with arms linked, apparently waiting for arrest, but shortly before 8 a.m., the police hadn't moved in.
At least two demonstrators had attached themselves to a chain-link fence outside City Hall.
They said their names were Salamander Pride, 27, and Aaron Copeland, an unhoused 18-year-old. They said they were ready for anything and that this is too important for them to give an inch. They spoke about the crush of capitalism, and said they have no other options.
Right at 8 a.m., the police department ordered media to get out of the immediate area, just across the trolley tracks. Journalists could still see what was happening and demonstrators were still chanting.
Shortly before 8:30 a.m., some activists were talking to MPD Deputy Director Mike Ryall.A chant arose from the plaza: “Why are you in riot gear? We don’t see no riot here.”
Activist Theryn Bond was in a heated discussion with city chief operating officer Doug McGowan and Ryall, demanding to know what organizations he had donated to that support Black people in Memphis.
The detentions began moments later.
The campout had arisen from a broader set of protests related to the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis. A group of demonstrators led by the local democratic socialist party had set up numerous tents on the plaza immediately outside the seat of Memphis government, and on Sunday had even begun planting crops in grass nearby: a group of tomatoes and cantaloupe plants.
Some of the people involved in the campout said they have no homes.
Activists’ demands are that $30 million be defunded from MPD, $10 million put toward public education, $10 million toward public transit and $10 million toward ending homelessness.
Around 7 a.m., several protesters gathered in front of a fence covered with “Black Lives Matter” and other signs, some asking each other whether they were prepared for arrest. Those who didn’t want to risk arrest were encouraged to leave the area.
Joey Scott, who camped at City Hall for four days tore down the idea to vacate before the 7:30 a.m. clearing time. "It is important to go directly to the seat of power to have our voices heard," Scott said.
Protesters' eviction from the Civic Center Plaza comes after a notice of construction was posted Tuesday. The notice indicated the plaza was marked as an "egress path" as construction was being made to City Hall's roof and exterior.
A copy of the notice was shared in a release by the Tennessee Poor People's Campaign. According to the release, the notice was posted after 4 p.m. Tuesday.
"This action will negatively impact the unhoused families who have been forced to consider this home and depend on the volunteers who provide healthy meals, face masks and other essentials to the women, men and children facing homelessness," according to the release. "This also comes as hundreds of families face eviction due to the expedited processing of evictions which began last week."
Police arrived at the plaza and said that the group should move the encampment Tuesday night, Jan Lentz, one of the protesters, said by text message. Lentz, co-chair with the Memphis-MidSouth Democratic Socialists of America, has been part of the protest.
Chunks of material have fallen off the exterior of City hall, and for more than a year, a chain-link fence has stopped pedestrians from getting too close. In May 2019, Mayor Jim Strickland told WMC that the renovations would cost millions of dollars.
Construction at City Hall was scheduled to begin Wednesday and continue on weekdays between 7:30 a.m. and 5 p.m., according to the notice shared with The Memphis Commercial Appeal.
Protesters have stayed outside City Hall since June 16, when the Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Hope and Change (MICAH) posted a list of demands. Since then, organizations including the Poor People's Campaign and the Memphis-MidSouth Democratic Socialists of America have remained outside City Hall.
The text of the City of Memphis' notice of construction:
The City of Memphis will be renovating City Hall. Renovations include repairs and replacement of the roof and exterior marble panels. All members of the public should read and abide by this Public Notice.
LOCATION: 125 N. Main Street
TIMELINE: Construction will being on July 1, 2020 and last until completion. Standard workhours will include 7:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, barring weather or other unforeseen circumstances.
WORK AND SAFETY ZONES: Work and safety zones will be established as illustrated. Fencing will be erected to secure all equipment and to create a safe distance from the work zone. Ingress and Egress zones to allow for an emergency exit from City Hall, as required by Fire Codes, will be established and marked. Emergency vehicle access will be maintained at all times.
No obstructions of the Ingress/egress or emergency vehicle access will be permitted; any obstructions will be removed.
ALL PERSONS SHOULD KEEP AWAY FROM FENCING.
See emergency egress paths highlighted in green above. The emergency "evacuation points" are indicated by "EP" above. These are subject to change based on construction requirements and status. Means of egress shall be maintained throughout the construction project.
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This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Memphis protesters ordered to vacate City Hall area by Memphis police