On August 15, the day before the anniversary of Elvis Presley‘s death, fans gathered at his Graceland estate to participate in a candlelight vigil. The vigil ended up making it on the news, but for different reasons than you’d expect.
As reported by Fox News Entertainment, protestors associated with the Memphis Coalition of Concerned Citizens, Black Lives Matter, and other groups planned to “Shut Down Graceland” during the week of remembrance in Elvis’ honor. According to leaders of the protest, they picked that week in particular because they felt it would draw the most attention to their cause and message. The leaders also had a specific reason for selecting Graceland as the protest site, claiming,”it demonstrates one of Memphis’s most common forms of financial inequality and because the site has ties to…the death of unarmed teen Darrius Stewart.”
The protest was one of several to occur at Graceland in a short period of time. Previously, several protestors were detained in front of Graceland for blocking traffic. Following that protest, community leader Frank Gottie claimed that protestors were instructed to stay away from the Elvis Week events.
“Elvis Week must be really important, because I got a lot of phone calls,” said Gottie. “Homeland security and everybody. [They said] don’t go to Elvis more than 20 deep, you can’t go there. But how they going to say that when it’s welcome to the public?”
The protestors continued with their plans to attend the vigil. WM Action News 5 reported that three people were arrested at the protest. Two of the protestors were arrested for criminal trespass, while the other was arrested for criminal trespass, disorderly conduct, and inciting riot.
WM Action News 5 also reported that Memphis Police officers blocked the protestors from getting close to Graceland. The police department said that Graceland security made the final call about whether or not to let people inside for the vigil.
Now, Elvis Presley Enterprises and the Memphis Police department are being sued in relation to that night.
According to WATE ABC 6 News, five people filed a complaint in federal court stating,“they were discriminated against and not allowed to participate in the vigil because of their race.” The lawsuit claims that the Memphis police and Elvis Presley Enterprises kept blacks from entering the vigil while they allowed whites inside. In addition, the lawsuit claims that those who chanted “black lives matter” on the property were asked to leave by police.
Fox 13 News out of Memphis obtained part of the lawsuit, which reads:
“The Plaintiffs were subjected to discriminatory treatment on the basis of their race in a place of public accommodation, when they were denied equal access to the public candlelight vigil at Graceland, and the surrounding sidewalks, streets and businesses on August 15, 2016. The Plaintiffs were denied equal access to the grounds of Graceland and the public sidewalks and streets surrounding Graceland, which are open to the public, through a conspiracy between Elvis Presley Enterprises (the entity that operates Graceland) and the Memphis Police Department, in violation of their federal and state Constitutional rights and the laws of the United States and of the State of Tennessee.“
As of press time, Elvis Presley Enterprises has not responded to reports about the lawsuit.