Hundreds of demonstrators press against a police line in Memphis. Photos by Andrea Morales/MLK50

Sunday marked the fifth night that demonstrators marched in Downtown Memphis, joining protests across the country against police brutalization of black people — sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville.

Anticipating a sixth night of demonstrations, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland proclaimed a civil emergency on Monday because of “civil disturbances and violent protests” and announced a city-wide curfew from 10 p.m. Monday to 6 a.m. Tuesday.

The May 25 killing of Floyd, 46, happened in front of witnesses and was captured on video, as Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin held his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes while Floyd pleaded for his life. Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder and third-degree manslaughter, but three other officers who were there and did not intervene have not been charged.

Floyd’s death has ignited public outrage and sparked demonstrations all over the U.S. and abroad.

Demonstrations began in Memphis on May 27 with a small, silent protest organized by educators, but it grew contentious after two white men, identified as members of a Facebook group called Confederate 901, taunted demonstrators. Police shut down a part of Union Avenue, with the two counter-demonstrators on one side with police and the protesters on the other.

Protests continued through Sunday, growing in size and intensity each night, peaking last night as protesters split into two groups, with some heading to the Interstate 40 bridge. At one point, police and sheriff’s deputies in riot gear shut down the bridge. Other locations to which protesters marched over the weekend included the National Civil Rights Museum, Beale Street and City Hall.

On Saturday, police confronted demonstrators on Beale Street, using batons and shields to disperse the crowd. About 150 people were arrested, including Victoria Jones, executive director of The Collective art space in Orange Mound.

Jones was moving away from police, but was tackled by them, after Desiree Stennett, a reporter for The Commercial Appeal heard police identify her to be stopped and captured the moments on video.

County Commissioner Tammy Sawyer was among the protesters on Saturday, and led a group that bailed out Jones and other demonstrators.


Andrea Morales, MLK50’s visuals editor, has been at the demonstrations, including Sunday night’s protest that for several hours looped around Downtown Memphis. She was among those tear gassed. Here are some of her images.

Interstate 55

The National Civil Rights Museum

Just steps from the motel balcony where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated April 4, 1968, demonstrators resurrected the energy of civil disobedience. Here several people spoke, including Darin Abston Jr., right.

The night before, an onlooker captured Abston crouched on the ground downtown as a white officer struck him with a baton. He was arrested on charges of disorderly conduct, obstruction of highway or passageway, and resisting official detention.

On Beale Street

Throngs of protesters head down Beale Street, one of the city’s largest tourist attractions.

Riverside Drive

Police launched tear gas into the crowd. Veteran demonstrators were prepared with milk to douse the faces of those who were hurt, including Morales.

Outside City Hall


This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit newsroom focused on poverty, power and policy in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by the Surdna Foundation, the Racial Equity in Journalism Fund at Borealis Philanthropy, the Southern Documentary Project at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, the American Journalism Project, the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis, and Community Change.

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