Memphis Police take a different approach to Union Ave. protesters

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Memphis Police Department's response to the protests on Union Ave. Wednesday night marked a stark contrast to protests last summer.

Last June, officers responded to unrest in Frasyer after the shooting death of Brandon Webber by U.S. Marshals. They did not engage protestors, who pelted them with bricks and bottles.

But Wednesday night, MPD took a new approach and with new equipment. Memphis Police pushed and pepper-sprayed protestors in Midtown when the demonstration about the death of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police and allegations of police brutality in the Bluff City entered its fourth hour.

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Activists told FOX13 the show of force was unnecessary.

"An officer in riot gear pushing a woman. Like that is not a controlled situation. That is not how you try to maintain order," said community activist Theryn Bond.

Wednesday night’s police tactics were much different than the scene almost a year ago in Frayser. Officers were ordered not to engage protestors who threw bricks at them after U.S. Marshals shot and killed Brandon Webber, a fugitive wanted for violent crimes, including shooting a man five times.

FOX13 asked Bond whether she though what happened in Frayser was in the back of the officers’ minds.

"Absolutely. I think Frayser was. I think Minneapolis was," she said.

The Frasyer unrest injured two dozen officers, many of them not equipped with riot gear. Some didn’t have enough. Others had equipment that was old and ineffective.

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FOX13 spoke with law enforcement analyst Mike Collins.

“It was a tarnish for their department because they appeared to be unorganized for an agency as large as they are,” Collins said.

Wednesday night officers had on new gear and were better equipped.

Some of the new tactical equipment came from a $110,000 purchase FOX13 Investigates first reported in June of last year, days after the Frasyer unrest.

MPD bought new masks, face guards, shin pads, and shields, and it appeared officers had them on last night.

"I would hope that they would have the training that goes along with that equipment,” said Collins. “You received the equipment, surely you would have to have the training that goes along with it."

FOX13 emailed Memphis Police to ask who gave the orders to use pepper spray on the protestors.

Was it the director or one of at least two top deputy chiefs on the scene?

We will update that information as soon as MPD replies.