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Black Lives Matter Protest Prompts Complaint

Five people have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Memphis and Elvis Presley’s Graceland, saying they were discriminated against at a Black Lives Matter protest during the annual vigil commemorating the singer’s death.

Graceland owner, Elvis Presley Enterprises, and the city of Memphis are named in the complaint filed Wednesday in federal court in Memphis. Elvis Presley Enterprises didn’t immediately comment. The city declined comment Thursday.

The lawsuit claims several people were denied entry to the vigil by Memphis police because they are Black. It says others were asked to leave a public sidewalk after saying “Black lives matter.” Three people were arrested.

“The decision as to which citizens were allowed to attend the public vigil and which citizens were denied access to the public vigil, was based on the race of the citizens, wherein White citizens were allowed to attend the public vigil and African-American or Black citizens were denied access to the public vigil and surrounding areas, which are open to the public,” the lawsuit states.

Two days after the protest, state Sen. Lee Harris and state Rep. G.A. Hardaway relayed constituents’ concerns that African-Americans were denied entry based on racial profiling.

The protest coincided with a candlelight vigil last year at the singer’s home-turned museum, held every year on the Aug. 15 anniversary of his death. Fans of Presley line up outside the gates of Graceland ahead of the vigil, which starts at night and goes into the early morning hours. Visitors walk past the grave of Presley and his relatives, which are located on the grounds of the home.

Protesters, most of them Black, gathered on the street leading to Graceland, yelling slogans such as “Black lives matter.” The demonstration came at a time when racial tensions were heightened nationally following the killings of Black men by police in Louisiana and Minnesota and the shootings of five Dallas police officers in retaliation.

Officers armed with riot gear stood along concrete barricades and blocked about 60 protesters from entering the permitted area where Presley’s fans gathered on a public street. Officers allowed people who said they were going to the vigil pass through the phalanx. Most were White.

Graceland officials said they appreciated police efforts to “maintain the peace.”

The group is demanding a jury trial and unspecified damages.