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Nashville protesters set fires, topple controversial statue

May 31, 2020 GMT
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People gather at Legislative Plaza during a rally to protest the death of George Floyd, Saturday, May 30, 2020 in Nashville, Tenn. Protests across the country have escalated over the death of George Floyd who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on Memorial Day, May 25. (Larry McCormack/The Tennessean via AP)
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People gather at Legislative Plaza during a rally to protest the death of George Floyd, Saturday, May 30, 2020 in Nashville, Tenn. Protests across the country have escalated over the death of George Floyd who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on Memorial Day, May 25. (Larry McCormack/The Tennessean via AP)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Protesters in Tennessee’s capital set fires inside and outside a courthouse Saturday night and toppled a statue of a former state lawmaker and newspaper publisher who espoused racist views.

Nashville Mayor John Cooper declared a state of civil emergency after protesters set a fire inside Metro Courthouse. The flames were quickly put out.

Demonstrators also made their way down Broadway Street, famed for its plentiful honky tonks, as well as the historic Ryman Auditorium — known as the mother church of country music. A few small fires were lit near the the national historic landmark, which was built as a tabernacle in 1892 and restored in 1994, but those were quickly extinguished by firefighters.

Thousands had rallied near the state Capitol starting in the afternoon to protest police brutality and racism. The demonstration turned violent after darkness fell, with protesters breaking windows in government buildings and causing other property damage.

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Police deployed tear gas and began warning demonstrators that the protest was unlawful. Around 9 p.m., Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee authorized the National Guard to mobilize “in response to protests that have now taken a violent, unlawful turn in Nashville.”

Demonstrators earlier in the evening pulled down a statue outside the state Capitol of Edward Carmack, The Tennessean reported.

Carmack was a politician in the early 1900s who wrote editorials lambasting the writings of prominent Tennessee civil rights journalist Ida B. Wells.

He was fatally shot in 1908 by a political rival.

The protest occurred as demonstrators across the country protested the death of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man who pleaded for air as a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on his neck.

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