Editor’s note: Covering protests in 2020 requires different approaches and sometimes different rules. MLK50: Justice Through Journalism is committed to bearing witness and documenting history, but will follow as closely as possible the Authority Collective’s call in “Do No Harm: Photographing Police Brutality Protests.” In order to reflect the voices of the resistance and also protect people from retribution or surveillance, we offered participants the option to not show their faces in portraits and use their first names only.
On a sweltering June evening, nearly 400 people gathered outside the National Civil Rights Museum to learn about their rights as protesters, network with local community leaders and activists, and create a plan to push forward the messages of equality, justice and peace.
Led by the Memphis Coalition of Concerned Citizens, the Memphis Activism Calendar and the Official Black Lives Matter Memphis Chapter, the three-hour civil disobedience training session Thursday evening came on the heels of a nationwide outcry over George Floyd’s death. Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died May 25 after Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis police officer, knelt on his neck for almost 9 minutes.
Floyd’s killing, captured in a viral video, followed the March 13 shooting death of black EMT Breonna Taylor, 26, in Louisville by police executing a search warrant on the wrong home, and the vigilante-style killing of black jogger Ahmaud Arbery by white men in Brunswick, Georgia, on Feb. 23.
During the workshop, attendee Anya Jones spoke in front of the large crowd, sharing her plea for change. “This is my family’s life on the line,” said Jones, a black mother, who found out about the session from a friend. “My husband is 6 feet 2 inches, 200-plus pounds. So, when [the police] see him, he’s an automatic threat to them — automatic. They don’t know his kind heart. They don’t care how smart and intelligent he is.
“They don’t care that my son feels like he’s going to be an engineer that travels the world and builds things for people. They don’t care about my son, who’s 4 and is turning 5 next Wednesday; his name is Judah and he really feels like a king.”
MLK50: Justice through Journalism spoke to attendees like Jones, who looked at the training session as an opportunity to understand the fundamentals of organizing and how they can offer support and participate.
“There’s actually a lot of people from different [races] and [colors] that actually support black lives and (I want them to know) that they’re actually not alone in this.” — Hudaifa
It is possible for us to get together and have a conversation and allow people to have a seat at the table. I’m going to share it (the training) with the people closest to me that aren’t here tonight because I feel like that’s important. It’s my duty now that I have this information to share. We’re so passionate, and we just want to go out on the front lines, but there’s a lot of organization behind it, which is something that I don’t think I’d ever acknowledged or really truly understand. Passion is great but when you add it with a little precision and planning, like it can go a really, really long way. — Aerial
I could do more and be a voice and not be afraid about getting myself out there. — Cannille
It’s not about me. It’s about listening, moving and growing. You can’t get offended about everything. — Tia Patrick
It’s really easy to kind of exist in those worlds — to be friends with black people and then also be silent when white people are complaining about the riots. … For me, I just feel really like it’s time to stop. I might not change anybody’s mind, but if I’m silent, I’m definitely not going to change. It is just time to start talking, which for me, that’s what this is about. — Janie Oliphant
When I heard about the George Floyd thing, just being black in America, I could just relate to everything. I felt like it (protesting) was the right thing to do. I think it’s just important. — Adam
Occasionally, protests become photo ops. I wanted to be a part of a protest for change. When they focus on staying consistent and safe, the things that need to change won’t. We have to make people uncomfortable and push people in order for the change to happen. We can be peaceful without being compliant. — Huey
Protest isn’t something I thought was helpful for me. Since we’ve been in this lockdown, I have been unable to unplug. Being sheltered and seeing all those names, seemingly back-to-back, made the kettle pop. I see myself on the front lines if need be. I want to get more ideas, creative strategy to dismantle and disrupt. Seeing the youth out here makes me excited. Memphis is a hub in all senses. — Honey
Real talk: It’s like everybody should be treated equally. — India
F. Amanda Tugade is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms.
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.