Two events held as Collierville sees first demonstrations

By Updated: June 09, 2020 10:59 AM CT | Published: June 06, 2020 9:41 PM CT

Protests moved to the suburbs on Saturday as two events – a bit smaller than than those the past week in Memphis – landed in the Town of Collierville.

The initial event was at Booya’s near Poplar and Market Boulevard, where a customer was profiled last week when he ate there. About 20 people attended that rally.

Later, some of the group joined others at the town’s W.C. Johnson Park, where about 200 people attended an informational rally regarding racial inequality.

See live video of Collierville protests

The protests were the first to reach the eastern edge of Shelby County since George Floyd died while in the custody of Minneapolis police on May 25. An officer knelt on the 46-year-old man’s neck for more than 8 minutes, and during that time Floyd died. 

The officer – Derek Chauvin – faces second-degree murder in the case, while the the other three officers on the scene are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.

The small protest at Booya’s drew about 20 people who stood on the sidewalk bordering Market Boulevard for about three hours as temperatures crept above 90 degrees. 

“Black Lives Matter,” and “No Justice. No peace,” they shouted. 

The reason for the protest involved Derrick Gray’s lunch at the restaurant last Wednesday. He was shopping in Collierville on Wednesday, May 27. He decided to grab lunch at Booya’s, saying he “wanted to support a local business.”

Booya’s usually writes what people are wearing or their name so employees can take its food to customers. But when Gray got his receipt it said “The Black People.” 

Gray held a sign Saturday that said “I’d like my receipt without prejudice,” and noted not enough has been done for his situation.

“At first I laughed it off, but when I told the manager, he didn’t really do anything ,” Gray said, later adding: “One white worker came out and said he was sorry. He started crying,” Gray said, noting he felt that apology was sincere.

“I’ve worked in food service,” Gray said. “You write down their clothing or their name.”

Gray had his meal refunded and received a $15 gift card. He hopes the owners make staff attend mandatory sensitivity training. Gray did not organize Saturday’s event, and said his cause for attending went beyond the incident.

“This is for injustice done everywhere,” he said. “Not just this business.”

At one point, one woman tried to take a picture, and protesters engaged in a heated verbal exchange. Soon after, Chief of Police Dale Lane and Assistant Chief Jeff Abeln arrived. About five other officers were also outside of the cars. Lane encouraged protesters stay on the sidewalk, but remain peaceful.

“We’re trying to make it safer for you all,” Lane told protestors of the police presence. “You all are making a difference.”

“We wanted to talk to Collierville (about systematic racism),” Romero Malone, organizer of the event, said. “People were afraid to come out here.”

“It’s about significant injustice,” Malone added. “It wasn’t just about the receipt. It was about the principle of the matter.”

“Every moment, every minute, every day of our lives have significance,” said protester Justin J. Pearson. “We want the same treatment while we’re living.”

A few people gathered next to Booya’s  to show support for the business. Signs said “No Jesus, no peace” and “The ‘Ville loves Booya’s.” A jeep with a blue line American flag blared country music.

“There was a claim made (racism) was systematic at Booya’s,” said Anne Hamilton, Conservative Women of Collierville president. “They don’t know what they’re talking about.”

She was disappointed some were calling for people to boycott the sports bar. The restaurant employs residents and local high school students, she noted.

“We agree that black lives matter,” she added. “We believe all lives matter.”

The people supporting Booya’s left around 2:15 p.m. The protesters abandoned a plan to march because of the heat. Some moved to the informational rally at W.C. Johnson Park. Tony Sims, a 2018 graduate of Collierville High, who attends Washington Univeristy, organized the event.

“This is amazing and overwhelming,” his father, Anthony Sims said as he smiled proudly at his son’s accomplishment. “He came home and said he wanted to put something together. We asked him if he was sure. He said he was, and he took off.”

Some of those attending said they’ve felt racially profiled. Others said they recognized their “white privilege” and felt African American voices should be amplified.

Sadie Young, 10, said she worried for her African American friend.

“It shouldn’t matter what color we are,” she said as she began to cry.

Attendees were encouraged to sign several petitions including banning chokeholds by law enforcement and police exhausting options before shooting. 

Betsy John wanted a petition and letter to go to Collierville School Board.

“We’re sending a letter from a cohort of former graduates asking for a statement about police brutality,” she said. “We also want them to acknowledge the role forming Collierville Schools has played in systematic racism.”

She believes the suburban school districts has played a role in taking resources from students in Shelby County Schools.

John said she wanted to push for “education equality” for all students in Shelby County.

“We’re doing something great for residents (of Collierville), but it doesn’t help some.”

Tony Sims told attendees the rally was “the first step” in change. He noted work was needed each hour of every day. 

“The unjust killings were the tipping point,” Sims said of his event. “I hope some words I said stuck.”

He saw some negative comments on Facebook as the event edged closer and he tried to clarify the intent of his event was to shine a light on police brutality and the effects of racism. He made it clear his event was not a protest. He wanted to hold a peaceful gathering. 

In Collierville, everyone has some privilege regardless of race, the younger Sims said. He talked to attendees about history and statistics showing the effects of inequality due to race. He also talked about how the statement “All lives matter” takes the focus off of the problem.

“I hope it causes some change in the community,” he said after the event.


Collierville George Floyd protests W.C. Johnson Park protests racial profiling Booya's Poplar Market Plaza inequality

Abigail Warren

Abigail Warren  is a lifelong resident of Shelby County and a graduate of the University of Memphis.  She has worked for several local publications and covers the suburbs for The Daily Memphian.

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