Several hundred people gathered in Downtown Memphis Sunday for a Black Lives Matter rally, then marched up a ramp and shut down traffic on the Interstate 40 bridge over the Mississippi River.

Traffic was at a standstill on both sides of the bridge by about 7 p.m. as the crowd on the bridge swelled to more than 1,000.

The rally began at FedExForum, but after about a half hour, those gathered started marching north on Third Street toward the Pinch District, then made their way to the I-40 bridge from Front Street near the Cook Convention Center.

As the marchers walked up the ramp to the bridge, police who had been following and blocking traffic tried to block the marchers’ access to the bridge with officers and with cars. Several hundred had already made their way up to the bridge, but police were able to turn the remainder back.

Ultimately, however, the marchers had blocked westbound traffic on the bridge, then spilled over to block the eastbound lanes as the crowd swelled to more than 1,000.

Memphis Police deputy director Mike Ryall said the demonstration had been “very peaceful so far. Our main goal here is that no one get hurt. They definitely have a right to voice their opinion. I came through and everyone was polite.”

By 8 p.m., the crowd had thinned to about 200 as gathering dark clouds threatened rain. But the protesters were still blocking traffic in both directions.

Earlier in the day, a group of legislators from the Tennessee Black Caucus urged everyone to remain calm and to reject violence.

“The Tennessee Black Caucus is issuing a clarion call to remain calm. Let’s keep calm and trust law enforcement. Violence is never the answer,” said Brenda Gilmore, a state representative from Middle Tennessee and the chairwoman of the caucus.

A Confederate-themed rally took place at Health Sciences Park Sunday afternoon while a Black Lives Matter rally was planned for outside FedExForum at 6 p.m.

Both rallies come on the heels of a week of racial turmoil that has left at least seven people dead and wracked the country. On Tuesday, police officers shot and killed Alton Sterling outside a Baton Rouge convenience store. Video of that incident has outraged many across the country.

The next day, outside St. Paul, Minnesota, other officers shot and killed Philando Castile as he was apparently reaching for his permit to show that he was allowed to carry a concealed weapon. A video of the aftermath of that encounter also outraged many.

Both Sterling and Castile were black; the officers who shot them are not.

Then, late Thursday night, a black man said to be angry over those killings opened fire on a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas. Micah Johnson is said to have deliberately targeted white police officers. He killed five officers and wounded several more.

In a press conference before a planned forum on criminal-justice reform at First Baptist Church-Broad, the Black Caucus also urged that police officers receive increased racial sensitivity training, that independent review boards be implemented for police and that body cameras be standard gear for officers.

“We need a change in gun laws and policing policies that could have prevented another family from losing a father, from losing another black man and from losing another police officer,” Gilmore said. “Every life is important.”

At Health Sciences Park in the Medical Center, more than 100 people gathered — many in Confederate regalia, some on horseback — to commemorate the birthday of Nathan Bedford Forrest, who is buried in the park.

A heavy police presence stood watch over the event, although police reported no trouble. Someone had also cleaned off the “Black Lives Matter” graffiti that had been spray painted on the base of the park’s Forrest statue.

“(I’m here) to honor Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest and to honor my ancestors, too,” said Adam Stafford, 30, who drove in from Joelton, Tennessee for the event.

Check back later for further developments.

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(c)2016 The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.)

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