Nashville Black Lives Matter Vigil Ends In Rainy Street March | Nashville Public Radio

Nashville Black Lives Matter Vigil Ends In Rainy Street March

Jul 8, 2016

A crowd that was too large to count — perhaps a thousand people — filled Nashville's Public Square Friday night for a multi-purpose gathering in response to high profile killings by police this week.

The event was rarely solemn, but instead fiery and infused with social justice issues ranging from race relations to affordable housing to the current presidential contest.

“I think (this is) why everybody’s so frustrated right now: We don’t know what words to put to articulate just what we’re feeling,” said organizer Joshua Crutchfield, 28, of Murfreesboro. “It’s a mixing of powerlessness, hopeleness, loss. And that’s why we thought it was important for us to come together.”

A half-dozen activists took turns talking through a small speaker system that could barely reach the edges of the crowd, which filled the lawn in front of city hall. But a fervent call-and-response system amplified the messages, line-by-line.

The service included reciting names of people killed by police officers and familiar chants popularized by the Black Lives Matter movement.

They decried police brutality, racism and what they perceive to be a failure to prosecute in officer-involved shootings.

“It’s not a public outcry until, unfortunately, it’s on tape,” Crutchfield said. “We shouldn’t have to have video proof of somebody getting murdered, every single time, for people to believe there’s a problem.”

Nashville Black Lives Matter began planning the vigil on Tuesday after the death of Alton Sterling in Louisiana. They changed hours later when news spread of another fatal police shooting, of Philando Castile, in Minnesota.

“We had to actually go back … add another name to the flyer,” Crutchfield said.  “There’s no words to adequately capture what that feeling is.”

The hundreds who gathered carried signs of grief and anger, along with pleas for peace. While race was often front and center, Monique McClain, a black Nashvillian, said it was all human life that brought her out.

“It’s about how nobody has any regard for human life, any side,” she said. “It’s not about a white thing, a black thing, an LGBT thing, it’s about human life. That’s all that matters to me.”

Others came armed with specific changes that they want to see, especially for policing. Kwame Leo Lillard, a longtime nonviolent activist, said he wants to see changes to officer screenings.

“The solutions have got to be with who they bring on and who they give a gun and badge to,” he said. “There are good people who want to be policemen, but the guys who want to hate and kill know they can get through the cracks.”

Carol Robertson, meanwhile, carried signs in favor of non-lethal weapons, such as pepper spray. Robertson, who is black, recounted the story of a white police officer who was well-liked in her Edgehill neighborhood when growing up in the 1970s. That officer, she said, was gunned down by a robbery suspect while he was working an off-duty job.

“Not all cops are bad cops. We got trillions of good cops that outweighs the one or two bad,” she said. “So we gotta remember, they're there for the people. They don't all make the wrong decisions. So we just need to keep praying and keep the faith.“”

After 90 minutes of speeches and chanting, hundreds of protesters moved from the public square, vowing to shut down Broadway.

Organizers kicked off the march with admittedly aggressive goals of "shutting down" streets, but conflicts were minimal. A team of volunteers served as security, escorting the crowd down the street and coordinating with police at intersections. Officers scrambled at times to divert traffic.

Yet confrontations were rare. Some onlookers taunted demonstrators, but the most common reaction was to roll video and snap cellphone photos.

One moment of tension pitted the volunteer security staff — in orange reflective vests — against passer-by Randy Reid, of Brentwood. He told WPLN he was having dinner when the march came past, prompting him to begin a chant of "blue lives matter" in honor of fallen officers.

“And I really got shouted down,” he said. “Black lives do matter. I think all lives matter. I started chanting 'blue lives matter' because of what happened last night (in Dallas) and I thought they were really going to attack me.”

The march ended near the Metro jail and police headquarters with wet protesters still chanting and Metro Police continuing to protect their path.

The vigil was organized by Black Lives Matter Nashville before a sniper targeted police in Dallas. The event was meant to honor the two black men killed by white police officers this week in Louisiana and Minnesota.

"Nashville is not immune to police militarization and racially biased practices," the group said in its vigil announcement.

The group called special attention to a campaign known as Operation Safer Streets, which it says had led to 4,000 traffic stops and 803 arrests of "black and brown" drivers. 

"So while Nashville may not have many cases of people of color being murdered by the police, MNPD is much more insidious by instead specifically targeting communities of color," the group said. 

The group noted that it "does not endorse unprovoked violence," and expected a "peaceful and powerful" demonstration.

Earlier Friday, Nashville Police Chief Steve Anderson said officers would be vigilant and visible during the event, but that it should remain open to anyone who wants to attend — with no security checkpoints, nor a special show of force.

The night before, Anderson decommissioned an officer who wrote a Facebook post about the killing of Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minn.

"It was a disservice to the city of Nashville. It was a disservice to this police department. It was a disservice to every individual officer on the street. It's something that can't be tolerated," Anderson said.

He was also joined at a noon prayer vigil by black ministers and city officials, who praised the work of Anderson as they stood with him outside police headquarters.