Violence has erupted at other “peaceful protests” around America over the past week, but free speech was the only thing being hurled Monday in McMinnville.
A group protesting the behavior that led to the death of Minneapolis resident George Floyd gathered on Court Square and showed buildings don’t have to erupt in flames to send a message.
The more than 50 law enforcement officers in the immediate area certainly helped to keep people on their best behavior. It was a coordinated effort that included officers from McMinnville Police Department, Warren County Sheriff’s Department and the Tennessee Highway Patrol.
“If this would have gotten out of hand, we were prepared for it,” said McMinnville Mayor Ben Newman. “Not every city and county has the relationship that we enjoy here where different agencies can work together and the coordination couldn’t have been better.”
Newman said several people have asked him about the vans that were in the downtown area on Monday, assuming they were in town to drop off protesters. Newman says it was exactly the opposite and the vans were carrying law enforcement officials.
Newman said the majority of protesters he came in contact with were local residents or people with ties to Warren County. He said a few people may have traveled from a bigger city to participate in the rally, but they were the minority.
Police Chief Bryan Denton says 51 officers were in the downtown area, according to his count. In addition to being visible on the street, they were also stationed inside Park Theater and City Hall so they would be nearby if needed.
“I’m so glad we live in a community where the emergency services have solid relationships and can come together on short notice to formulate and execute a plan,” said Denton. “We are grateful for the civility displayed by the protesters and onlookers. As always, the safety and security of the public is our goal.”
County Commissioner Joseph Stotts was among the elected officials on hand. He said the protest may have remained peaceful and without property damage, but it still has a cost.
“Protests in this manner can easily be considered a precursor to a possible violent act. It facilitates the conditions for it to occur and put our community in jeopardy,” said Stotts. “Secondly, yes many businesses downtown were forced to shut down and lose revenue because of this as well. Is this how we support our local businesses and business owners? Lastly, all of the time that our local law enforcement spent having to monitor this event cost us all extra money and more importantly time away from their own families. You can express your First Amendment right at home too. You don’t have to go block a beloved downtown fountain that many local children come to play around because you simply want to be seen and plastered on Facebook.”