Protesters block Memphis Zoo parking; Cohen gets involved

A congressman Cohen and Memphis Police successfully negotiated an end to a sit-in of sorts by protesters who oppose parking by visitors to the Memphis zoo on a grassy area of Overton Park, reports the Commercial Appeal.

No arrests or injuries occurred by midday after Memphis police and U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, whose home borders the park, negotiated a middle-ground solution — just for Saturday — that allowed vehicles to park on about a third of the large lawn bordered by the Memphis Zoo, Memphis College of Art and Rainbow Lake.

Since receiving the backing earlier this month from the Memphis City Council, zoo officials had expanded zoo parking to cover most of the greensward on high-visitation days.

Several witnesses said the civil disobedience started midmorning when a woman in her 20s lay down in the dirt drive to block cars from entering the greensward.

Others quickly joined her, including musicians playing a mandolin, guitar, accordion and conga drum.

Police swooped in, but instead of making arrests and clearing a path, Memphis Police Maj. Dana Sampietro talked with Cohen and some protest leaders, including insurance agent Bill Stegall who lives in the adjoining Evergreen Historic Disitrict.

Facing a crowd of perhaps 200 protesters, Stegall used a squad car’s microphone to announce the compromise and encourage the protesters to accept it.

“First I want to say something about the Memphis police force,” Stegall told the protesters. “They have just been as nice…” The crowd roared its approval.