'I Will Breathe' rally organizers condemn Saturday night's destruction, violence

Posted at 11:21 AM, Jun 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-01 12:21:46-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Saturday's destructive protests began with a peaceful rally organized by community leaders at Legislative Plaza.

Thousands of people showed up for the rally on Saturday afternoon and aside from a couple of incidents during the rally, it was for the most part peaceful.

Organizers said things got far out of hand when those crowds theft Legislative Plaza and went to other parts of downtown Nashville.

The protest featured several local speakers talking about racial justice, and was even attended by Mayor John Cooper.

Timothy Hughes of Equity Alliance, one of the organizers of the rally, said the rally itself at Legislative Plaza was a success, but he was disheartened to see what happened after the planned protest as those crowds marched to the Central Police Precinct, then to the Metro Courthouse and Lower Broadway, causing damage and setting fires along the way.

Hughes said the violence after the rally was not what Equity Alliance and other organizers wanted to see, and they certainly don't condone the vandalism and violence that followed in the hours after the rally at Legislative Plaza.

He said organizers saw what happened in other cities and they were aware and concerned that things could change here in Nashville as well.

"So, I would say that there was definitely a concern, and certainly an awareness, of the fact that there have been suspected interlopers and people who were present to essentially create unrest and destabilization to undermine the efforts and the work of peaceful protest all over the country," Hughes said.

Hughes, who is also a member of the Nashville Community Oversight Board, said police officers did a commendable job dealing with the violence and the vandalism that followed the rally at Legislative Plaza.

Equity Alliance is a statewide nonprofit that focuses on the civic and economic empowerment of the black community.

Co-Founders and Co-Executive Directors Charlane Oliver and Tequila Johnson issued the following statement on Saturday night condemning the violence that followed the rally:

"Our organization, in cooperation with other activists, held a peaceful rally today to protest the murder of Minneapolis resident George Floyd by police as well as to deliver a clear message to Metro and state government leaders that Tennesseans deeply oppose racism and police brutality. The event drew some 4,000 attendees and our staff registered over 300 new voters. It was a peaceful assembly.

It is our firm belief that those individuals defacing and destroying public property after the rally were not a part of the original event. The actions by this small group reflect neither the beliefs of the groups that led today’s peaceful assembly nor those of the majority of the attendees. This behavior dishonors the memory of George Floyd and other black Americans that have died unjustly at the hands of police.

The Equity Alliance condemns and disavows tonight’s violent rioting. We urge anyone feeling heartfelt, honest anger over the murder of George Floyd to direct that energy toward November’s election. The only true way to change our nation for the better is by taking up our civic duty as Americans and making it clear with our vote that we reject racism in all its forms."