While the Legislative Plaza has been partly occupied by Black Lives Matter demonstrators since Friday, June 12, Sunday marked the entrance of a different demonstration: a Back the Badge rally.
Organized by Chase Matheson of Shelbyville, the Back the Badge rally saw dozens gather at the far side of the Legislative Plaza, away from the State Capitol Building. The rally remained peaceful throughout, however, tensions rose as the two groups eventually squared off against each other in the center of the plaza.
Matheson, who runs a business selling politically themed T-shirts, decals and other merchandise, said that he supported police reform, but took issue with calls to “defund the police.”
“Personally, I support a lot of different police reform, but it's important that you back the police who are enforcing any reform that you want to come up with, because without them, whatever changes you make don't matter,” Matheson said.
“If you were to poll everyone out here, probably 80% of them would say that they don't like everything the police do, so we can agree on that. The problem is the rhetoric taken - it just creates more division. I felt that if we could come and be positive, not interfere with anybody that was already having a demonstration and just have our own, that we might be able to start a good dialogue to true reform.”
One of the organizers of the Black Lives Matter sit-in, Franklin resident Angel Stansberry, said that despite Matheson’s apparent solidarity with police reform, the Back the Badge rally and other similar demonstrations ‘misunderstand the point.’
“The mere fact that they're chanting 'USA, USA' means that they like the country just the way it is right now because it serves them, but they are not thinking about how it does not serve others,” Stansberry said.
“We have white people on both sides; we have no black people with them, we have no Asian people with them, no Native American, no Jewish - they're all white Christians, and most of them are older generations. I think that speaks for itself. I think their ideology is a dying one.”
Once the Back the Badge rally concluded at around 2:30 p.m., Black Lives Matter demonstrators headed to the steps of the State Capitol Building where they were met with a wall of state troopers.
Climbing the walls of the Capitol Building, state troopers and protesters stood just feet away from each other before the first arrest was made at approximately 2:58 p.m.
One by one, State troopers began the process of arresting more demonstrators, arresting a total of 39 people and three juveniles. The juveniles were issued citations and released to the custody of their parents, whereas the 39 protesters were charged with criminal trespassing, according to the Tennessee Highway Patrol.