Editor's note: This story was updated and corrected. Gov. Bill Lee did not issue a statewide curfew Sunday night; Rutherford County officials said they mistakenly made that statement in an automated text.
Murfreesboro came under a state of emergency and curfew Sunday evening after what had been a peaceful protest reportedly turned violent.
The Murfreesboro Police Department said it deployed tear gas at the intersection of East Main Street and Middle Tennessee Boulevard near MTSU.
“A crowd of protesters was blocking the intersection and was almost hit by traffic,” the MPD said. “An armored vehicle was vandalized, a brick thrown through window of Whiskey Dix on Square. Curfew is in effect.”
Adding to the confusion, Rutherford County officials sent out an automated text message to cell phones in Murfreesboro saying Gov. Bill Lee had enacted a statewide curfew until 5 a.m. Monday. Ashley McDonald, a county spokeswoman, said there had been a misunderstanding from Rutherford County Emergency Management Agency.
Earlier in the day, hundreds had gathered amid a heavy police presence on the downtown square to protest and to hold a vigil for George Floyd, who died May 25 in an encounter with Minneapolis police. They marched around the square chanting slogans like “Black lives matter” and “I can’t breathe.” They held a prayer session for Floyd.
Many downtown businesses boarded up their doors and windows Saturday night and throughout the day on Sunday, even as protesters began showing up on the square.
The police had parked large trucks across many intersections downtown to block streets and control pedestrian traffic. Barricades were placed around the square, and access was limited to an area of South Church Street. A helicopter and drones provided aerial coverage, while snipers prowled the roofs.
After the protests turned violent, Murfreesboro Mayor Shane McFarland issued an order declaring a local State of Emergency for the city and a curfew that took effect around 6:30 p.m. until 5 a.m. Monday. There were conflicting reports that the order took effect at 7 p.m.
Even after 7 p.m., many protesters were walking around downtown. Carloads of people drove around downtown as well, and the two groups yelled obscenities at one another.
Two people, a black man and woman, stopped and spoke to the Murfreesboro Post. The pair, who did not give their names, said they had attended the peaceful rally on the square. They said they were present later when the teargas was deployed near MTSU, and that things had been peaceful. Before that, they said the Middle Tennessee State University police were “kind” and offered to escort the protesters.
The couple said outside groups came after the rally on the square and caused the problems.
“This is not what it was about,” the female protester said.
McFarland said about the emergency order, “As mayor, I recognize and fully support the right of people to peacefully assemble and demonstrate. The city is committed to securing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. “At the same time, others have engaged in unlawful activities that endanger peace and public safety. Safeguarding the lives of citizens, preventing significant damage to property, and protecting our law enforcement officers and emergency service providers is the reason I am declaring this local emergency.”
Gov. Bill Lee said, “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.”
Late Sunday night the MPD said:
Two people arrested for violating the Governor’s Emergency Curfew Order.
One person overcome by tear gas, treated on scene, refused transport.
One person received medical treatment after a fainting episode on Square.
No injuries to police.