Small Memphis protest mirrors state, national unrest over COVID restrictions

By , Daily Memphian Updated: April 19, 2020 3:58 PM CT | Published: April 19, 2020 3:58 PM CT

A small group protesting orders limiting public activity because of the COVID-19 pandemic gathered in Memphis Sunday afternoon, joining similar events in the state’s other major cities that mirrored protests nationwide by people growing restless with stay at home and safer at home orders.

The “Free Tennessee” protests were organized in Nashville with social media posts by the #FreeTN group. The Memphis group of seven was outnumbered by Memphis Police and media members outside City Hall.

Hal Rounds of Fayette County, who led the local group, blamed the small turnout on Sunday’s rainy weather.

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“Today, what we are looking at is the government overstepping its authority and subduing freedom,” Rounds said as he noted the 245th anniversary of the Revolutionary War battles of Lexington and Concord.

The city’s “safer at home” emergency decree suspends all city permits for parades, demonstrations or any kind of mass gathering. But police made no effort to break up the group.

The Memphis order, issued by Mayor Jim Strickland, is in effect through April 24, and similar orders in Shelby County’s suburban cities are being renewed by mayors on a weekly basis.

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“There is a legitimate concern about the virus,” Rounds said, as he talked through a face mask. “There are precautions that are appropriate to take. I’m not worried about that as long as what we are told is advice not orders. … It is not appropriate to say, ‘You will stay home.’ The statutes don’t authorize that.”

The group of seven were met by a line of six police patrol cars on Adams Avenue at North Main Street as well as several officers on foot and several patrols cars nearby.

As Rounds spoke an onlooker across the street shouted: “Please ignore this idiot” and walked away.

Police on foot watched from a distance and at one point urged those in the group to stand farther apart from one another, which they did.

Rounds said he believes the virus is a significant health threat. But other protesters said they believe the virus was present earlier and poses no significant threat.

“That’s when they told you it was here,” one protester responded when questioned about his beliefs and what medical experts have said.

A considerably larger crowd gathered outside the state Capitol in Nashville, where a crowd lined the sidewalk and waved signs as cars drove past honking horns.

Nationally, protests have popped up as the economic implications of a prolonged shutdown become more worrisome combined with people growing increasingly restless with being confined.

Protests during the past week have been staged in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Minnesota, North Carolina and Utah.


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Bill Dries

Bill Dries

Bill Dries covers city and county government and politics. He is a native Memphian and has been a reporter for more than 40 years.


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