What was billed as a peaceful demonstration in Morristown Saturday night to protest the killing of George Floyd - an unarmed black man who died under the knee of an allegedly homicidal Minneapolis police officer on May 25 – turned confrontational with some demonstrators allegedly hurling profane insults, bottles and rocks at police officers.
A 21-year-old Morristown man named Nathan Allen reported he was knocked unconscious at the Morristown City Center, and police have identified a suspect, 21-year-old William Cade Black, according to Detective Darrin Burchfield with the Morristown Police Department.
Police, including members of the Criminal Apprehension Unit, located Black Monday afternoon at the Bartlette Place office complex on West Morris Boulevard, but terminated the pursuit of Black’s gray BMW on West Andrew Johnson Highway because his reckless driving endangered the public and police, according to a police report.
The search for Black resumed this morning. When he’s taken into custody, he’ll face charges of aggravated riot, assault, felony evading arrest, reckless endangerment and driving on a suspended license.
While there was no significant vandalism reported during the demonstration, as the crowd tried to encroach into the Morristown City Center parking garage early Sunday morning, Police Chief Roger Overholt issued the order to disburse the as aggressive behavior and threats of violence continued. One officer was hit in the leg with a rock, according to Overholt.
The police chief said in a prepared statement that he respects the rights of all to assemble freely and participate in peaceful protests, but what transpired in downtown Morristown Saturday night into Sunday morning differed substantially from that.
“I think we owe our hats-off appreciation to the Morristown Police Department,” Mayor Gary Chesney said this morning. “They formed and executed a good game plan for public safety. They kept a peaceful-protest-turned-sour from escalating.
“These are the men and women who stand the line between those who obey the law and those who don’t,” the mayor added. “That’s the value of law enforcement. They’re the ones who are willing to do that, and you’ve got to have them.”
Members of the Hamblen County Sheriff’s Department and Tennessee Highway Patrol were on the scene. Members of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department and Jefferson City Police Department were nearby in case the tense situation erupted into violence, according to Chesney.
“I would like to thank all the agencies that assisted us in diffusing this situation without significant property damage or injury,” Overholt says.
Saturday afternoon, the police department became aware of a social media post encouraging people to meet downtown for a peaceful protest. The protesters numbered about 150 and marched through downtown chanting, “I can’t breathe” and “No justice, no peace.”
The protesters later blocked both entrances to the underground parking garage. They allegedly “attempted to incite officers … by shouting profanities and derogatory remarks,” according to the MPD’s statement.
A different reaction
As some protesters across the country and beyond clashed with police in bitter confrontations that resulted in arson fires, looting and the further and the loss of life, the youth group at Power of Praise Ministries in Morristown differed with those who distinguished themselves with riotous behavior.
The youth group invited MPD officers and Hamblen County Sheriff’s Department deputies to stop by the church Saturday morning for coffee and doughnuts.
Using money they’d saved from yard sales and other fundraisers, the group, coordinated by youth director Anna Branner, bought 16 dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts and coffee. The Rev. Renetta Sheadrick, Power of Praise Ministries senior pastor, transported the doughnuts from Knoxville to the church, which is located on Cherokee Drive.
Sheadrick says the youth department had provided doughnuts and coffee to law enforcement officials on a previous occasion, but with the anti-police protects spreading, the youth decided to move quickly and arrange Saturday’s event on the fly.
“What happened to that young man (in Minnesota) was unnecessary and unfortunate,” Sheadrick said. “It’s good to have their voices heard, however, looting and fighting are going against each other and the police departments. The good cops who are trying to help are the ones in the crossfire.
“(The protesters) are causing us to lose the good ones,” the pastor added. “They’re being stereotyped. The message is that we can protest, but don’t loot. These are innocent small business owners trying to take care of their families. They had nothing to do with it. They are hurting the economy, their neighborhoods.”
Sheadrick says the violent protests, ironically, could prevent youngsters who are contemplating a career in law enforcement and would make good police officers to choose another career out fear of repercussions they might face.
The Morristown mayor says he’s certain that a small minority of the demonstrators came to City Center Saturday night had bad intentions, but the Power of Praise Ministries youth group provided a stark contrast with those who tried to provoke police officers.
“We have to understand every individual makes decisions based on their education and personal life experiences,” Chesney said this morning. “However, history tells us that in times of turmoil, enough citizens ultimately realized that fair and reasonable enforcement of our laws, coupled with extending a hand of friendship, always seems to win out.
“Everybody gathered Saturday for a variety of reasons,” the mayor added. “Some were speaking about how they were unhappy the man died at the hands of a police officer. Some where there just to see what would happen. Some were there to act out and be a bad actor. You get all those folks together … that’s the challenge for police. It’s hard to distinguish which is which.”