Violence was averted and a powerful message was delivered by a group of protesters who assembled Monday on Court Square in McMinnville.
“Peace can be achieved and equality can be achieved without violence,” said organizer Nikky Pack, who was raised in Warren County. “The brutality, the attacks, all this needs to stop. We are for equality and we want the violence on all sides to stop. Anyone who is violent today is not with us.”
The local protest was one of many taking place across America in the aftermath of the death of Minneapolis resident George Floyd, who died on Memorial Day during an arrest. His death was ruled a homicide by medical examiners on Monday.
With a heavy law enforcement presence on Court Square, there were nearly as many officers on hand as the 100 or so protesters who assembled downtown. The majority showed up at the previously announced 6 p.m. start time, but the protest was moved up two hours and started at 4 p.m.
The last group of four protesters left just before 8 p.m., although law enforcement still maintained a presence to deter a flare up of activity.
McMinnville Mayor Ben Newman issued a citywide curfew for 8 p.m. Monday in hopes of deterring any unruly behavior. County Executive Jimmy Haley echoed that sentiment and encouraged all county residents to stay home for the safety of everyone.
The protest itself featured a short speech from Pack.
“We are tired of watching people get hurt. We are tired of watching people in pain,” Pack said from behind a megaphone. “We don’t want anyone to experience this kind of pain anymore and that’s why we’re here.”
Added protester Deandre Jackson, “We just want to be able to coexist and not live in fear. We don’t want all of this to have gone down and not mean something.”
There were 24 protesters who took part in what Pack called the 9-minute challenge. They lied face down on Main Street with their hands behind their backs. After a few minutes of lying mostly in silence, the group picked up a chant of “I can’t breathe” and repeated that chorus until the 9 minutes had elapsed.
Three or four people could not make it the entire nine minutes and got up. When asked how it felt to lie on the street like that, Pack said, “absolutely horrible.” She added, “but I think it sent a message.”
The peaceful protest was originally announced for 6 p.m., but it was moved up to 4 p.m. in order to take place in full daylight.
“In so many places, things seem to turn bad at dark and we want to prevent that here,” said Pack.
Protests have turned violent in other parts of the country and local officials organized a massive law enforcement presence to help discourage any improper behavior. Officers from McMinnville Police Department, Warren County Sheriff’s Department and the Tennessee Highway Patrol were all on hand to monitor the situation.
Only one protesters was asked to leave. He became agitated with another protester and flung his scooter toward him. When police suggested he leave the area if he planned to cause trouble, he walked away.
There was great uncertainly leading up to the protest and the overwhelming theme was to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
“I hope it stays peaceful,” said District Attorney General Lisa Zavogiannis on Monday afternoon. She took the precaution of hiring a company to board up her office on Main Street just in case things became unruly.
The company, 1-800-BOARDUP, is operated by Duane Williams who was in McMinnville doing the work at the DA’s office.
“We go from Kentucky to Alabama boarding up buildings mainly for storms,” said Williams. “This is the first time I’ve done one in case of a riot.”
Large trucks from McMinnville’s Public Works Department were used to block off Main Street at Magness Library and all other entry points to Court Square.
Yellow police tape was used to block off an area for protesters. Anyone who wanted to take part in the protest was allowed inside the police tape. Anyone who wasn’t protesting was kept away from the immediate protest area to prevent possibly aggressive bystanders from causing trouble with protesters.
Warren County Courthouse closed at 2 p.m. Monday as a precaution.
A joint statement from local law enforcement agencies was submitted to the Southern Standard on Monday around noon. The statement said officers were dedicated to providing an atmosphere where everyone could safety express their rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
The statement said, in part:
“Local law enforcement is committed to the safety of citizens conducting a ‘Peaceful Protest.’ Likewise we are committed to the preservation of life and property in our community. Law enforcement and other emergency services are taking the necessary steps to accomplish both.”