A protester walks toward the steps of the War Memorial carrying a sign reading “Who Do You Call When The Murderer Is Wearing A Badge?” Photos by Ashley Benkarski

By Ashley Benkarski 

NASHVILLE, TN — Eight minutes and forty-six seconds.

A protester holds a sign reading “There’s No Such Thing As Someone Else’s War.”

That’s how long Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into George Floyd’s neck, killing the unarmed black security officer May 25 as he pled for his life with familiar words: “I can’t breathe.”

Those are the words Eric Garner uttered as officers held him in a chokehold in New York years ago, killing him.

It’s a story told too often, and citizens across the nation took to the streets in the week since Floyd’s death demanding justice. 

In Tennessee protests erupted throughout the weekend; Memphis, Chattanooga, Nashville, Murfreesboro and Knoxville all saw such action. A protest in rural Warren County Monday on McMinnville’s town square in the historic district saw participants lying down, chanting “I can’t breathe.”.

Thousands attended Saturday’s “I Will Breathe” rally at the War Memorial that culminated in a march through downtown Nashville. Mayor John Cooper declared a state of emergency that night, requesting the National Guard’s

Two protesters attend the “I Will Breathe” rally wearing shirts echoing the last words of George Floyd.

assistance as the march turned violent with fires set at City Hall and the historic Metro Courthouse and minor fights between police and protesters. Edward Carmack’s statue was toppled, buildings were graffitied and windows broken. A curfew was instilled every night in Nashville until Tuesday morning and a statewide curfew was issued by Gov. Bill Lee through the weekend.

Metro police reported 28 misdemeanor and two felony arrests related to the protest.

The event’s organizers condemned the violence, but added damage caused by outside agitators shouldn’t be overlooked.

There’s a sentiment among protesters that this time, the story is different–the killing of Floyd was so bold, so intentional, that the common explanations for such use of force do not apply. And if not for a bystander filming those last moments of Floyd’s life, the world may never have known the

Attendees of the rally gather at the War Memorial as it begins.

injustice committed.

Juregen, 13, said what happened to Floyd saddened him and the killings are proof that black people aren’t free in 2020. His sign read: “Black Boys Have Dreams Too.” 

“It’s exciting to see so many non-African Americans out here,” said Camron Hurt, an educator.  “It feels like we have you guys’ attention … Finally there’s a video where there is indiscriminate proof. And it seems like that’s what people needed, so you have it and now everybody’s rallying behind it. So what it means is maybe my next kid won’t know the same America I do.”

“We can joke about it but definitely knowing that white people were going to be here made me feel a lot safer,” he said, responding to being asked if the high attendance of white rallygoers served as protection against police aggression.

“Vote Trump out,” he concluded, noting the escalation of policies enacted by the administration. 

The three other officers involved in Floyd’s death were fired and Chauvin arrested and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Protesters said the unrest won’t stop unless the other officers are arrested.

The other side of the protester’s sign reads “How Many Deaths Will It Take Til He Knows 2 Many People Have Died.”

Floyd’s family wants a first-degree murder charge against Chauvin, but it’s unclear if it will be pursued–a first-degree murder charge has a higher standard of intent of malice, and juries typically haven’t sought such a charge against an officer due to its higher burden of proof.

That hasn’t stopped the Davidson County Grand Jury from indicting Metro Police officer Andrew Delke with first-degree murder for the July 2018 death of 25-year-old Daniel Hambrick, a black man shot by Delke, a white officer, while fleeing police at John Henry Hale Apartments. 

Hambrick was in the parking lot when police, suspecting his car was involved in an earlier chase, approached him and he ran. A transcript of Judge Melissa Blackburn’s opinion, obtained by the Tennessean, read:

“The Court is mindful of the fact that police work is stressful; that officers must make split second decisions and often act in a heroic manner. This does not justify the pursuit of a man suspected of no crime following the trailing of a car not apparently involved in any criminal activity. The decision to pursue Mr. Hambrick on foot seems from this proof to have been prompted by mere assumptions.”

Delke’s trial was reset due to COVID-19; no date was announced at press time.