MPD officers relive I-40 bridge protest

Police officers share perspective from I-40 bridge protest
Published: Jul. 14, 2016 at 10:27 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 14, 2016 at 10:28 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - While the "Black Lives Matter" protest on the I-40 bridge remained peaceful, it was not without moments of high tension.

One side pushed to be heard, while the other side pushed to safely reopen the highway.

The officers who were on the front lines of say it was a volatile situation, and they knew how important it was to keep their cool.

"They [officers] were all home with their families. I had been at home. Just turned the meat on the grill, first turn," Lt. Nathan Berryman of the Memphis Police Department said. "The phone rang and it was go time."

Suddenly, Lt. Berryman and Officer Malcolm Smith were among the dozens of officers racing to the bridge.

"First and foremost, is the safety, as far as the officers' concern and also the public," Officer Smith said.

It was a tough situation for them to be in, facing protesters who were protesting because of them.

"That they don't know you personally. If they curse and curse you out and call you everything but a child of God, that's not you," Lt. Berryman said. "They don't know who you are. They're cussing that uniform, and they're cussing what you represent."

Berryman said it's important for officers to remember that and to keep their cool.

"Keep officers focused and not too emotional. Make them not as jumpy. And that was my goal," Berryman added.

Smith and Berryman said it was tough for the black officers on the bridge as protesters tried to get into their heads, saying they were on the wrong side.

"My concern is the safety of the people, regardless of race, color, creed. That's not what we're here for. We're here to serve the great City of Memphis, basically, and anyone who is here visiting," Officer Smith said.

Since the bridge standoff ended peacefully, the officers acknowledge the protesters are, on some level, justified in wanting improvement.

"I would think so. There's always room for improvement," Smith said.

Smith and Berryman repeatedly said they fully support protesters exercising their rights. But, they said taking over the I-40 bridge, while illegal, also put everyone in danger. Their main focus was making sure everyone stayed safe.

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