Law enforcement rolls out safety plan
Murfreesboro Police and the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office will close downtown Murfreesboro to pedestrian and vehicle traffic this weekend, requiring all cars to be removed early Saturday morning in advance of a rally by white nationalist and supremacist groups.
As part of their security plan, the law enforcement agencies also urge local residents to avoid the Public Square during the White Lives Matter event, which is likely to draw opposing groups.
Most downtown businesses will close, some boarding up, as the large law enforcement presence is planned around the Public Square Saturday to keep supremacist groups from clashing with any counter-protesters.
The city of Murfreesboro issued a statement Wednesday saying law enforcement agencies involved will “ensure the constitutional rights and safety of citizens” at the event in which the League of the South is expected to be joined by affiliated groups between 1:30 and 4 p.m. It also expects individuals and groups to counter-protests.
“Teams of officers will safeguard the area,” Rutherford County Sheriff Mike Fitzhugh and Murfreesboro Police Interim Chief Michael Bowen said in a joint statement. “We ask everyone to maintain lawful behavior.”
The city statement says the views of the League of the South, which calls for establishment of a Southern nation, do not come from within Murfreesboro – a diverse, fast-growing city and home of MTSU – and don’t represent beliefs of the city and county government.
Still, it points out “the First Amendment provides a right to free speech and a right to peaceably assembly, and, thus, neither the city nor the county can legally prohibit the event. The city and county, however, have carefully planned various measures to preserve and promote public safety before, during and after the event.”
Said Fitzhugh and Bowen: “The city, county and its partners are committed to both the Constitution and public safety. Be assured, officers will take every step necessary to protect both. The slightest indication of disruption or violence will initiate immediate law enforcement action to uphold the rights of citizens and ensure their safety.”
The release points out many community residents “might feel compelled to witness the demonstrations, but it “strongly encourages” them to avoid the Public Square to reduce tension and avoid conflict.
Officers will close the downtown area within a one-block radius of the Public Square to all vehicular and pedestrian traffic at 3 a.m. Saturday or cars will be towed.
Counter-demonstrators are to be permitted to enter the Public Square area by South Church Street and South Maple Street only. It does not say where League of the South and its affiliated groups will enter.
But officers will search everyone in the vicinity of the rally site, and no weapons or masks will be allowed around the rally. A list of prohibited items is to be released before the event.
“We understand the temporary streets closures will inconvenience our residents and visitors,” Bowen said. “We ask you to pre-plan alternate routes, expect some traffic delays and be patient.”
Street closings include:
College Street between North Walnut and North Spring
East and West Main Street between Walnut and Spring
Vine Street between South Walnut and South Spring.
Walnut Street between West College and West Vine.
Maple Street between West College and West Vine
Church Street between East College and East Vine.
West Tommy Martin Drive between Vine and Northwest Broad Street.
Local government and law enforcement officials met recently with the Downtown Business Association to discuss the potential for violence with the League of the South slated to visit Shelbyville early Saturday and then come to Murfreesboro in the afternoon.
“We did not tell anyone they had to close down, but we are highly recommending that they do,” said Murfreesboro Mayor Shane McFarland.
The city statement did not say whether march permits were approved for the Alabama-based group, which is likely to attract other organizations considered hate groups, including the National Socialist Movement (formerly the Nazi party) and the Traditional Workers Party, all of which were involved in the Charlottesville, Virginia, protests this summer where three people died.
A League of the South spokesman says the rally will focus on restricting refugee resettlement rather than honoring war dead in the Civil War, the reason it stated on its permit application.
McFarland is concerned about the rally but believes it is being handled well.
“I could not be more proud and confident in not only our local law enforcement but our state and even our federal law enforcement. So I think, yes, they are planning,” McFarland said.
People who work on the Public Square are expecting hundreds of law officers from Murfreesboro Police, Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office, Metro Police and Tennessee Highway Patrol, in addition to other state and federal authorities, and equipment to prevent any confrontations such as those that led to the death of a woman in Virginia where groups protested the planned removal of a Robert E. Lee statue and attracted hundreds of counter-protesters.
Though downtown business people aren’t certain exactly what to expect, most area businesses aren’t taking any chances.
Holden Hardware, for example, will be closed and boarded up with plywood to protect its large windows on the southwest side of the Public Square, according to owner Rollie Holden.
“I’d rather over-prepare than under-prepare,” Holden said, noting he is taking the advice of law enforcement to prepare as if his business is located on the Gulf Coast with a hurricane coming toward it.
Several other businesses are covering their windows with plywood, too. But Mike LaMure, president of Liquid Smoke and The Humidor, said he is simply closing during the rally itself and will reopen afterward when the area is safe.
“Everybody needs their weekend fix,” LaMure said, referring to the vast array of cigars sold at the two businesses.
Because of the number of windows on his buildings, he isn’t boarding up. But he won’t open the doors until any chaos dies down, and he is postponing a musical benefit at Liquid Smoke for John Duffer, who is suffering from cancer.
“His cancer’s not going any time soon. Hopefully he’s not either. We’ll have that when we can,” LaMure said.
The businessman believes authorities will keep everything under control, but he points out other protests have turned chaotic.
“I’d feel really bad if somebody came up here to get a cigar and got hurt in all this,” LaMure added, noting it is “no great loss” for him to miss a few sales.
Countering the rally
An event called Murfreesboro Loves is slated for Barfield Park on Murfreesboro’s south side from 4 to 6 p.m. where people who oppose the supremacist groups are being encouraged to go for a family-friendly gathering. Pizza is to be served, and speeches are planned focusing on love for all people regardless of race, color or creed.
Groups such as homeless advocates Cold Patrol, Murfreesboro Muslim Youth, Rutherford County Interfaith Council, and Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment are following the advice of the Southern Poverty Law Center and holding the event in a location where they won’t clash with groups on the Public Square.
But people also could set up elsewhere in the city carrying signs with slogans such as United Against Racism and Rally for Love, Not Hate.
Meanwhile, Mayor McFarland and several ministers recently put together a Facebook video pointing out Murfreesboro’s strength comes through its diversity. The video includes James McCarroll of First Baptist Church on Castle Street, Corey Trimble of The Experience Community Church, Brady Cooper of New Vision Baptist, Vincent Windrow of Olive Branch Church, David Young of North Boulevard Church of Christ and Allen Jackson of World Outreach Church.
Separately, they say, “We detest inequality. We deplore prejudice and we denounce injustice. We’re a community that serves others and the world. We extend grace to those with whom we agree and to those with whom we do not. We refrain from violence of fist, tongue and heart. We are Murfreesboro and we stand together. We are Murfreesboro strong.”
Said McFarland in a phone interview, “I don’t know why they picked Murfreesboro. It’s not reflective of our community. It’s not reflective of the people who are in this community. …
“When we have our issues, we all will continue to work on. But Murfreesboro has been a peaceful and welcoming community. So, yes, it is concerning when groups from outside our community come in and create this much havoc. And our community is gonna be the one that’s left putting things back together when they leave.”
Many people are hoping for the best, and they say cold and rainy weather could hold down any crowd.
“Hopefully, it’ll be a very boring Saturday up here,” said Holden of Holden Hardware, one of the Public Square’s oldest businesses.