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 a Minneapolis police officer, turned confrontational with demonstrators allegedly hurling profane insults, bottles and rocks at police officer.
While there were no arrests and no significant vandalism reported, after the march wound through downtown for about 2 hours, a standoff began as the crowd tried to encroach into the Morristown City Center parking garage, the after-hours entrance point for police officers.
The standoff lasted at least an hour before Police Chief Roger Overholt issued the order to disburse the crowd around 12:40 a.m. when aggressive behavior escalated into throwing objects.
One officer was hit in the leg with a rock, and one person reported he had been struck in the face by a protester, according to the police chief.
Overholt said in a prepared statement that he respects the rights of everyone to assemble freely and participate in peaceful protests, but what transpired in downtown Morristown Saturday night into Sunday morning went beyond peaceful protest.
“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.”
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. Some of the protesters allegedly “attempted to incite officers … by shouting profanities and derogatory remarks,” according to the MPD’s statement.
A different reaction
As 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 had another idea. They invited MPD and Hamblen County Sheriff’s Department deputies to stop by the church Saturday morning for coffee and doughnuts.
Using money they’d raised in yard sales, the group, coordinated by youth director Anna Branner, bought 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.
“We really appreciated the gesture and were happy to spend time with them,” said MPD Deputy Chief Michelle Jones. “We appreciate our relationship with the community and the support that has been shown to our agency.”