About 50 protesters blocked traffic at the intersection of Poplar Ave. and Danny Thomas Blvd. at around 1:15 pm Saturday and called for police reform following the death of Tire Nichols.
The peaceful “Justice for Tire” protest, organized by Black Lives Matter and Decarcerate Memphis, began near the Shelby County Court House and the group marched down Adams Ave. before ending up at Poplar and Danny Thomas. Protesters chanted “Say his name. Trye” and “Justice for Tire Nichols.”
The Memphis Police Department posted a tweet around 2 p.m. saying the lanes near and around Danny Thomas and Poplar were closed. MPD has asked drivers to avoid the area and take an alternative route. Memphis Police told protesters they would clear the intersection around 8:30 p.m
Protesters held their ground well into the night, with more than a dozen still at the intersection at 10pm and some dancing as officers watched.
“Who’s gonna handcuff us while we dance?” asked activist Paula Burress.
The protests dispersed around 10.40pm on Saturday, with a protester exploding a smoke canister after holding the intersection for more than nine hours.
The protesters have five demands: pass the county- and city-level data transparency bill; terminate pretext blocks of traffic; put an end to unmarked cars and plainclothes officers; end of task forces and specialized units; and remove the police from traffic enforcement. Protesters also paused for a three-minute moment of silence for Tire Nichols.
“We know we are not safe right now,” said activist Amber Sherman. She and other protesters, including activist Hunter Demster, have urged others to show up at meetings of the Memphis City Council and Shelby County Commission next week.
“This is what will keep us safe, taking tangible action will keep us safe, not giving any more money to the police,” Sherman said.
Activist LJ Abraham encouraged protesters to settle down and invite friends to join them. At around 2:30 pm, about 35 people remained at the Poplar-Danny Thomas intersection, with blankets and hand warmers being passed around. By around 3:30 the number of protesters had dropped to 25. Some protesters were kicking a soccer ball, while others set up a fire pit.
“I love you guys so much you’re out here shutting everything down, making their lives as difficult as they’ve made ours every day,” said Veda Sterling, the aunt of Alton Sterling, who was shot and killed in 2016 by two police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She was holding a sign that read “Justice for Tyre: Disband Special Units Now.”
The protests in Memphis coincided with a memorial service for Nichols in his native California. More than 100 people gathered at a Sacramento skate shop to honor Nichols, who was an avid skateboarder.
“It was the light we all needed when we were in the dark,” said Nichols’ friend and fellow skateboarder Ryan Wilson.
Nearly five years after Sterling’s shooting, the East Baton Rouge Metro Council approved a $4.5 million settlement for Alton Sterling’s family to settle a wrongful death lawsuit.
Also among the protesters was the family of Atlanta’s Jaylin Keshawn McKenzie. McKenzie, 20, was killed by Memphis police officers in December after officers chased him along with three other men who authorities said were armed. They got out of a vehicle and ran to the 4700 block of Cochese Road. MPD said McKenzie turned and fired at the officers, one of whom returned fire and shot him dead. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is investigating the McKenzie shooting.
Meanwhile, at least 50 people, many with skateboards and roller skates, gathered around 3 p.m. Saturday in front of the National Civil Rights Museum. This meeting is highlighting Nichols’ love of skateboarding. Protesters, including newly elected State Representative Justin J. Pearson, D-House District 86, are on their way to the I AM A MAN Plaza and plan to end up in Court Square Park.
At approximately 4:45 am, approximately 15 skateboarders, arriving from Poplar Ave., joined Justice for Tire protesters who blocked Poplar and Danny Thomas. Their arrival drew applause and signs of agitation from the demonstrators.
Nichols’ death remains under investigation by the FBI and has led to the firing, arrest and indictment of five former Memphis police officers. Those officers were charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, two counts of aggravated kidnapping, two counts of official misconduct and one count of official oppression, court documents show. A sixth Memphis police officer was fired on Friday.
Earlier this week, three Memphis Fire Department employees were fired from the department linked to Nichols’ death.
Commercial Appeal reporter Lucas Finton contributed to this report.
Gina Butkovich covers DeSoto County, storytelling and general news. She can be reached at 901-232-6714 or on Twitter @gigibutko.
This article originally appeared on Memphis Trade Appeal: The Death of Tire Nichols: Protesters Blocked Traffic in Memphis