Protestors Face Off With Law Enforcement At County Courthouse; Tear Gas Used After Incident On Balcony; Lee Mobilizes Guard And Seeks Further Investigation Into Nashville Unrest

  • Sunday, May 31, 2020

A crowd of some 100 protestors did minor damage at the Hamilton County Courthouse on Sunday night, but left after tear gas was lobbed into a balcony area. Chattanooga Police said afterward the tear gas was thrown by the Sheriff's Office and not the city police. City Police also said they were not given warning that the tear gas was going to be used.

In another tense night in downtown Chattanooga, some in the group knocked off a light post at the historic building, prompting the move to force them down.

A witness said, "They were on the steps of the courthouse on the jail side on Walnut Street. Some of the protesters went to the top of the steps and were pulling on a banner that was strung between two light posts.

"The posts were not very well supported and one started teetering when they were pulling on the banner. The original intent did not appear to be vandalism other than taking down the banner.

"Law enforcement ran up the stairs and threw the two to the ground and handcuffed them. People got upset.

"Some of them started approaching the officers. Many, many more officers came up the steps to hold them back. There was a little tussle at one point, but then everyone was staying back while officers were pointing very large guns at the crowd - maybe rubber bullet guns? maybe tear gas?

"Then a couple of minutes later they fired the tear gas and everyone dispersed temporarily and went back around to the other side of the courthouse."

Just as quickly, the protestors headed back toward Coolidge Park, where speakers on bullhorns had been denouncing the action of Minneapolis Police in the death of George Floyd. A number of those in the crowd held signs denouncing racism.

In North Chattanooga as midnight approached, members of the National Guard joined with law enforcement at the intersection of Market Street and Frazier Avenue. They stood at the edge of the street holding weapons and wearing riot gear.

Protestors milled around and periodically there were sounds that appeared to be fireworks that startled the crowd.

Earlier in the standoff at the courthouse on the Georgia Avenue side, protestors on their knees had chanted "Hands Up. Don't Shoot."

There was an earlier protest on Sunday afternoon at the County Courthouse with local activist Marie Mott exhorting a small group.

Mayor Andy Berke, who had not commented following a night of violence and 11 arrests on Saturday, issued this statement on Sunday night, “We encourage everyone in Chattanooga to exercise their First Amendment rights and express themselves in a safe way.”

Following incidents of violence in downtown Nashville, Governor Bill Lee announced Sunday that the Tennessee National Guard will remain mobilized across the state and that the Department of Safety and Homeland Security, in coordination with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and local law enforcement authorities, will launch an investigation into unlawful incidents that occurred overnight.

“The right to peaceful protest is foundational to our country, but the violence and vandalism that occurred in Nashville last night was unlawful and tears at the fabric of our community,” said Governor Lee. “We have reason to believe that many of those involved in unlawful acts are not Tennesseans and we will be working with law enforcement to investigate this further and bring those responsible to justice.”

National Guard personnel are now mobilized across all three Grand Divisions to assist state and local law enforcement. The Tennessee National Guard stands ready, in partnership with local law enforcement, the Department of Safety, and TEMA, to ensure order and safety are maintained in the supported areas for as long as is warranted by the situation.

In addition to support from the Guard, Governor Lee has authorized the continuation of a curfew in Nashville and will support similar measures in other Tennessee cities as requested.

Curfew in the downtown Nashville area and Urban Services District of Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County will be effective 8 p.m. CDT on Sunday and will continue until 6 a.m. CDT on Monday.

The curfew will not apply to law enforcement and fire department personnel, first responders, and other officials assisting with maintaining public safety, including medical personnel in the performance of their duties, and any other persons lawfully on the streets and in public places with permission from law enforcement personnel.

Governor Bill Lee also issued the following statement:


“The protests in Murfreesboro are no longer peaceful demonstrations but have escalated to overt threats to public safety and property. I support Mayor McFarland’s 7 p.m. curfew and have authorized both the Tennessee Highway Patrol and the National Guard to provide support on the ground in restoring order for the safety of our citizens.”


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