Breonna Taylor. Tony McDade. Roy Nelson. Trayvon Martin. Sandra Bland.
These are just a few of the names Jordan Dodson shouted into a megaphone as she led nearly 200 protesters from Overton Square to the Cooper-Young neighborhood.
In a call and response, Dodson, a young community organizer, recited the names, breathing life back into innocent black people slain by law enforcement or white vigilantes, or who died under suspicious circumstances while in police custody. It was one of two protest marches held Friday night, the other one Downtown.
Dodson’s messages were many, but circled back to this sentiment: “Until we listen to the most marginalized voices, we won’t ever be free,” she said.
The death of a black Minneapolis man, George Floyd, at the hands of police sparked protests in Memphis, around the country and the world. Floyd, 46, died May 25 after police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for almost 9 minutes.
After 10 days of protests, Taylor was the focus on Friday. It was her birthday, and she would’ve turned 27. Taylor was killed March 13 by Louisville police officers, while executing a search warrant on the wrong home.
Dodson, along with a trio of co-organizers, took enforcement to task for the deaths. They said it is time to “defund the police” and reinvest in Memphis’ public schools and black communities.
Those messages transcended, as protesters encountered two separate incidents where drivers allegedly attempted to run their vehicles into participants of the peaceful march. The first incident, which occurred around 8 p.m., involved a driver hitting one of the protest group’s traffic marshals near Cooper Street and Young Avenue. That driver was later arrested by Memphis police officers.
In a later incident, a driver received only a citation from officers, because “they said that the driver did not make contact” with the protesters, said Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer, who spoke briefly at the rally.
On the corner of Union Avenue and Florence Street, Sawyer took the mic and announced the police case number for the latter incident. She encouraged attendees to contact the Memphis Police Department and demand that driver’s arrest.
“They all need to be taken into jail as quickly as you would take me right now if you could for standing in the middle (of the street),” Sawyer said. “If these kids decided to shut down every block in the city, they’d be within their right because when somebody tried to run their car and take some of them out, you let them (the driver) go.”
“These are your kids that are home, because COVID-19 closed their colleges,” she continued. “And they let these people go? I would be in jail. This would be no second question.”
Just shy of the 10 p.m. curfew, the demonstrators stopped at Union and Florence, stretching across the roads that were bare, other than scattered police cars. Mayor Jim Strickland has extended the curfew to today, from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m. Sunday.
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.