Monday, April 23, 2018

Charges dropped against 'street theater' actor who cited ICE prison abuses

Charges were dismissed today against a second defendant who was arrested April 3 while participating in a “street theater” performance dramatizing ICE prison abuses.
Zyanya Cruz: Charges Dismissed   Moore Media Images

Charges of disorderly conduct and obstructing a highway or passageway against Zyanya Cruz were dismissed in Shelby County General Sessions criminal court after attorney Jason Ballenger successfully argued the warrant charging her was defective.

On April 5, charges were dismissed against journalist Manuel Duran, leaving seven of nine defendants remaining from the MLK50 week action. Duran was detained in Shelby County jail even after family members posted bond, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents picked him up for deportation upon his release.

Police arrest Zyanya Cruz April 3    Moore Media Images
The affidavit citing Cruz stated she was in a group taking part in an "unauthorized event," but it was vague and did not specify what Cruz did exactly to give officers probable cause to arrest her, explained Ballenger, who is working pro bono on behalf of several defendants from the MLK50 week action. The next court appearances for the other defendants are scheduled for various dates in May and June. 

DID LOCALS ASSIST ICE?
Southern Poverty Law Center attorney Michelle Lapointe, in a press conference last week in Memphis, accused Memphis police and the Shelby County sheriff of cooperating with ICE to arrest and hold Duran. MPD and the sheriff contend they do not cooperate with ICE and do not hold prisoners for deportation.
Journalist Manuel Duran live-streams April 3
Moore Media Images

Duran continues to be held in LaSalle Detention Center, a facility owned by private prison multinational GEO Group Inc., in Jena, Louisiana. Attorneys from Latino Memphis and Southern Poverty Law Center are working on his behalf, with petitions in Louisiana Western District federal court for his immediate release, and in Atlanta immigration court to hear his case.

Duran was the only journalist arrested, among local media and international outlets such as the New York Times, the Guardian and the BBC, which were present at the “Rolling Block Party 2:01 at 201" action to highlight abuses within ICE detention centers. Among other things, the for-profit prisons have been accused in lawsuits of forcing prisoners to labor for pennies a day, then charging them for food, water and toiletries. (The address of the Shelby County Justice Center is 201 Poplar.)  

Activists further were highlighting systemic problems which remain, even 50 years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered in Memphis April 4, 1968, such as a cheap labor economy and the racial wealth gap. 

WHAT WOULD MLK DO?
Answering the hypothetical question, “What would Dr. King do?” to commemorate MLK50, an ICE agent actor was leading 10 female “chained prisoners” across the street. Within 60 seconds after they entered the crosswalk at 201 Poplar, members of MPD’s Multi-Agent Gang Unit (MGU) and Organized Crime Unit (OCU) began making arrests.

The duration of the stop light at the next block east of 201 Poplar, at Poplar and Danny Thomas Boulevard, lasts 51 seconds.


AND WHAT IF?
After succeeding at getting Duran's criminal case dismissed, criminal defense attorney Ann Schilling posed this question:

“This was a peaceful demonstration. What would have happened if the police had let them finish walking down the sidewalk?”

Friday, April 20, 2018

Knoxville Police Chief Slams Anti-Immigrant Bills amid Spotlight on Tennessee

Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch says proposed legislation in the General Assembly that would require police to cooperate with federal immigration officials poses numerous problems for law enforcement.



Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch
Photo by Calvin Mattheis Knoxville News-Sentinel
Rausch is the first police chief in Tennessee to respond to a survey request from Citizens Media Resource about HB2315 in the House and its companion bill SB2332 in the Senate. The educational non-profit is polling chiefs of police in Memphis, Nashville and Chattanooga. 

Tennessee made national news this month for a raid on a meat packing plant about 60 miles from Knoxville in East Tennessee which resulted in 97 workers being detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and for the seizure in Memphis of journalist Manuel Duran after he was arrested by police while covering a "street theater" action to point out abuses in ICE detention centers. 

"I have made legislators from my area aware of my concerns," Rausch said.

Rausch cited potential "racial profiling complaints" and said the legislation would create "unreasonable and improper requirements" on local law enforcement. 

Here is the Knoxville chief's response to our survey: 

Manuel Duran reports minutes before his arrest April 3

RACIAL PROFILING
"One challenge with the bills as written is that they could potentially create racial profiling complaints by forcing local officers to ask about status. Local officers have no reason or need to inquire about status unless it is during arrest.  Then, it really is not a necessary question as it will be determined in the jail.  

"Currently, the only authority to enforce status is with the Federal Government.  When a person commits a criminal offense they are generally arrested, depending on the level of the offense.  The jail then has to determine who they are and that is where their status will be discovered.  The notification to Federal Authorities is then made.  

'UNREASONABLE AND IMPROPER'
"The bills would set unreasonable and improper requirements on local law enforcement.  Another challenge is the bills create a complaint system that is unreasonable and unnecessary.  For example, if a resident calls in that a house next door is harboring undocumented persons and they demand a police response.  We will advise them that unless a crime is or has been committed then we will not respond as we have no authority to do anything about status of an individual.  

"They then can call their legislator and have an investigation opened on the agency, since we did not respond and they could claim we are a 'sanctuary city,' which we are not.  We cooperate with Federal Authorities by apprehending anyone that has an outstanding Immigration warrant on file and make notifications to them.  An investigation into not responding to the scenario given is a waste of resources.  
Memphis Organized Crime Unit officer waves off our camera
as police roughly arrest citizens dramatizing ICE abuses
                                          --Photo by Moore Media Images

"There is nothing a local law enforcement agency can do in this case of a neighbor making that call.  

"Lastly, Tennessee passed a law in 2009 that made it illegal to be a 'Sanctuary City,' so there is no need for this legislation.  It creates unnecessary confusion and extra work that is not necessary."

Knoxville is one of two Tennessee cities -- Memphis being the other -- that has a citizen police oversight board. Unlike Memphis' Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board, Knoxville's Police Advisory and Review Committee (PARC) has autonomous authority to issue subpoena's. PARC and police administration have reported citizen complaints have declined during the board's existence. Rausch said he had reached out to legislators in Knox County to express his opposition. 

ON MONDAY CALENDAR
The House Finance, Ways and Means committee has the bill on its calendar for Monday, April 23. The bill was on their agenda Wednesday, but the committee did not get around to it.

"The schedule is kind of crazy right now. So, the clerk's office is doing the best they can," said an aide to Rep. Charles Sargent (Brentwood), committee chairman and one of the bill's sponsors. 

HB2315 has 68 sponsors in the House and nine sponsors for its counterpart, SB2332, in the Senate. Of the 22 members of the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee, 14 have signed on as sponsors. 

The caption for HB2315: Immigration - As introduced, prohibits state and local governmental entities and officials from adopting sanctuary policies; authorizes Tennessee residents and members of the general assembly to submit complaints to the attorney general; provides that violations subject entities to ineligibility of state moneys; requires law enforcement agencies to enter into memorandums of agreement with federal officials concerning enforcement of federal immigration laws. - Amends TCA Title 4; Title 7; Title 8; Title 9; Title 38; Title 39 and Title 40. 

Monday, April 9, 2018

Southern Poverty Law Center Joins Legal Action to Free Memphis Journalist; Vigil 6 p.m. Tonight

Latino Journalist Manuel Duran reports from an action, minutes before he was arrested in Memphis
Photo by Moore Media Images
Why did Multi-Agency Gang Unit choose Manuel Duran?   Photo by Moore Media Images
The Southern Poverty Law Center has joined with Latino Memphis to begin the legal battle to fight the deportation of Memphis journalist Manuel Duran.

“SPLC successfully filed a motion to reopen his immigration case,” said attorney Christy Swatzell of Latino Memphis.

The Atlanta Executive Office for Immigration Review, a division of the Department of Justice, will review the motion.

“Latino Memphis and the SPLC plan to give every last effort to fight his deportation, but there are no guarantees,” Swatzell said.

Officer waves away our camera while roughly arresting
Yuleiny Escobar  Photo by Moore Media Images

“It is important to remember that without the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office continued cooperation with ICE, Mr. Duran would not be fighting for his freedom from behind barbed wire, hundreds of miles from his home in Memphis,” Swatzell said.

Meanwhile, supporters are planning a candlelight vigil in Memphis for Tuesday night at 6 at El Mercadito, 3766 Ridgeway Road.

BIZARRE ARREST

Bill Stegall as ICE agent actor, "prisoner" Yuleiny Escobar
Photo by Moore Media Images
Duran was arrested Tuesday April 3  -- one day before the MLK50 anniversary in Memphis – while wearing his press credentials and reporting outside the Shelby County Justice Center. Duran was covering a “street theater” action against ICE prison abuses. Charges of disorderly conduct and obstructing a highway were dropped by Shelby County prosecutors two days later, but not before Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents filed an “ICE hold,” or detainer warrant, and took him from the Shelby County Jail upon his release.
"Chain gang" of ICE "prisoners"
Photo by Moore Media Images

Duran was fast-tracked for deportation by the Trump administration, which likely has begun targeting journalists among its harsh immigration policies, and sent directly to LaSalle Detention Center in Jena, LA, bypassing the routine steps of being detained in a Memphis facility for a few days, then transported to a facility in Mason, Tennessee, about 30 miles outside Memphis.

Officer grabs Zyanya Cruz
Photo by Moore Media Images
Sources advised us that orders specifically to seize Duran had come from “the top,” meaning high up in Washington. Other reports indicate that the Trump administration is gathering intelligence on journalists who cover political subjects that negatively portray Trump and his policies. We believe it is likely that Duran was targeted while he was on the street – not just after he was arrested – while FBI and other federal agencies were in Memphis for the commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s murder April 4, 1968.

CHILLY RECEPTION FOR THE MAYOR
Mayor Jim Strickland faces an angry crowd
Photo by Moore Media Images
After a chilly, windy march on Saturday April 7 from St. Mary’s Episcopal Church to City Hall, shouts of “Free Manuel” rang out from the crowd as Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland spoke. Strickland was challenged to respond to the arrest of Duran and brutal arrest of three women who were near him. Police pulled their hair, dragged them on the street, twisted their arms and grabbed their breasts in making the arrests.

Strickland did not say a word, and after he was scalded in remarks by Edie Love of Standing Up for Racial Justice, Strickland turned away from the crowd and went inside the warmer confines of City Hall.

Although Duran’s family had posted bond at about 9 Tuesday night, he was held in custody – the only one of nine defendants to not be released after Tuesday’s street theater.  Female actors were chained together and led by an ICE agent actor to call attention to forced labor put upon persons who are imprisoned as allegedly being undocumented immigrants.

DOING HIS JOB
Duran was not acting in a disorderly manner or disrupting traffic or anyone, as we personally witnessed, while he filmed actors after they had crossed Poplar Avenue at a crosswalk, then were heading east on the sidewalk.

Defense attorney Ann Schiller gathered video evidence and presented it to the Shelby County District Attorney’s office Thursday morning. The prosecutor agreed that there was not sufficient evidence to prosecute the charge, Schiller said, and the charges were dropped.

Attorney General Amy Weirich, in a rare move, put out a statement about the suddenly high-profile case:

CASE DISMISSED
“This office has dismissed misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and obstruction of a highway or passageway filed Tuesday against Manuel Duran. There was not sufficient evidence to go forward with prosecution. This ends any legal issues Mr. Duran has with this office." 

Duran was brought from the jail to court on Wednesday morning, but the only “offer” on the table from the prosecutor’s office at that time was a guilty plea. Since there was already a 48-hour detainer warrant in place, Schiller asked to put off Duran’s arraignment until Thursday, reasoning that the additional day to work out a better deal would still come within the 48-hour window.

“He was not even part of the protest,” Schiller said. “He was not rude to officers. He was not fighting them.

“All of a sudden, for some reason, they take him into custody.”

FORCED PRISON LABOR
Activists, including the Memphis Coalition of Concerned Citizens, had helped to organize the action to bring attention to private prisons’ profit motives in housing ICE detainees, even allegedly hiring them out for pennies on the day to corporations such as Victoria’s Secret, Sprint and Wal-Mart.

“This was a peaceful demonstration,” Schiller said. “What would have happened if the police had let them finish walking down the sidewalk? I can’t give you a reason why he got taken.”

Schiller and Division 7 Judge Bill Anderson said there appeared to be two plainclothes ICE agents inside the courtroom when Duran’s case was adjudicated.

“We are not holding him on an ICE hold,” Ferrell said Thursday morning before Duran’s case was dismissed. “We are holding him on charges by MPD. We don’t hold people on ICE detainers.” 

After Duran’s case had been dismissed, Farrell said, “I understand there was an ICE hold.” Farrell had failed to mention that when we first spoke. Nonetheless, ICE agents snatched him fairly soon after his case was disposed of, presumably before he would have been processed out of custody under normal conditions.

“There does not appear they (local law enforcement) are required to hold persons on a detainer warrant,” said Swatzell.  “There is nothing that requires them (Shelby County sheriff) to cooperate with ICE.”

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Net Neutrality is Not Some Geeky Concept: It's the First Amendment Itself

NATIONWIDE DAY OF PROTEST TO PRESERVE NET NEUTRALITY, AKA THE FIRST AMENDMENT Dec. 7, 2017
Net Neutrality is still an obscure term for a lot of folks. Under Obama, the FCC put Internet providers in the same Common Carrier II class as the phone companies and protected the public. Think of it this way:
Telephone as Common Carrier utility. The phone rings, and you answer it and talk to your mother or whomever you wish about anything you wish. You pay for the service, but the phone company does not charge you more to speak to one person over another, or does not require that you must speak to certain persons or that you must not speak to certain persons or companies.
Telephone as Not Common Carrier. The phone company can dictate to whom you speak, whom you call, who can call you, and can charge you different rates depending on who it is. The service that transmits your call also determines the content of your call -- what you talk about and with whom. Wouldn't you be outraged if in the middle of a conversation with your mother a phone company recording broke in with a commercial, or stated your mother was not a preferred content provider, or required you to pay a premium to speak with her or certain others that the phone company did not "own?"  
Now, apply that to the Internet. That's Net Neutrality.  
Current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is a former Verizon attorney! WTF? Under Obama, the public got protections from abuses by the Internet Service Provider (ISP) cartel, and the First Amendment and the people were put ahead of these corporations.
Under Trump, the Giant ISPs such as Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, Time Warner, having paid millions to lobbyists and other to buy Congress, are about to have their way and shed any limitations on what they can get away with.
The Internet is the most democratic device we have now in the U.S. -- the electoral process has lost the voters who have been cheated and gerrymandered out of a voice. If taken over more completely by the ISPs, the Internet will become cable TV. Less will be free, and they will push their own programming (think Comcast which owns NBC favoring NBC's years of content) at the expense of others -- think Netflix getting their transmissions interrupted by the likes of Comcast, which has happened. 
The Internet is the last level playing field, where regular people have a chance to speak and compete.Internet Equal Rights, aka Net Neutrality, is supposed to protect democracy, freedom, First Amendment and the public interest -- not narrow corporate interests, which are already stinking rich enough and do not need extra government handouts.


Friday, November 24, 2017

Chipping Away at the First Amendment in Memphis, Tennessee

“No single encroachment upon liberty, considered alone, ever seems worthy of great effort to destroy. Ultimately, the established precedents justify the greater invasion, and the aggregate of these tyrannies become unbearable. Then comes the revolution…”

Free Speech for Radicals: Seven Essays 
--Theodore Albert Schroeder

When the First Amendment is conquered and handed over to der Trump or such a future embodiment, it will not have happened with advance notice, parades in the street, or Blue Angels flyovers. It will be death by a thousand cuts.

This is what we are witnessing in America, especially since Sept. 11, 2001, and now primed for acceleration in the Trump era.

The City of Memphis is not exempt.

A recently proposed replacement of the current “Parades and Public Assembles” ordinance, Chapter 12-52, has drawn attention, partly because it has been pitched as less than what it is.

Link to newly proposed ordinance:

Link to existing ordinance which would be replaced:

“This only applies to parades and races,” City Council member and ordinance sponsor Reid Hedgepeth told the City of Memphis Public Safety Committee on Tuesday when only committee members Worth Morgan, Hedgepeth and Mativius Jones were in attendance. The ordinance passed unanimously out of committee and will begin its three-reading trek through the larger City Council on Dec. 5. 

Friday, October 20, 2017

Trump-Sessions Block DOJ's Review of Memphis Police


The Department of Justice collaborative review of the Memphis Department of Police Services is dead in the water almost a year after it was announced with much fanfare.

MPD has entered a downsized deal with the office of Community Oriented Policing Services as the Trump administration has neutered the DOJ's efforts to improve community policing in Memphis and 14 other U.S. cities.
AG Sessions: "Course Correction"
New York Daily News Photo

Attorney General Jeff Sessions last month declared that the COPS office would pull back its Collaborative Reform Initiative for Technical Assistance (CRI-TA) program which works with law enforcement agencies to recommend ways the agencies could improve policing practices and police-community relations.

What's left of the COPS office work with MPD is an offer of "technical assistance" --basically a menu of training that MPD may request -- such as police response to mass demonstrations, officer safety and wellness and problem-solving techniques. 

What's gone are the findings and recommendations that COPS was to present to MPD, then to follow through with monitoring and assistance during the two-year project. Toward the goal of preparing that report, the COPS team had worked hundreds of hours, including trips to Memphis, and time was invested by MPD and community organizations that had met with COPS. 

No such reports will be released to the public now, confirmed Valerie Jordan of the COPS communications division. "We're not going to give out that information," Jordan said. 



SHIFTING INTO REVERSE, SEMANTICS AND ALL
Director of Police Services Michael Rallings on Oct. 12 signed a whittled-down "Memorandum of Understanding" between the COPS office and the Memphis Police Department for the “Collaborative Reform Initiative for Technical Assistance.”  This document “supersedes and replaces” the "Memorandum of Agreement" executed by Mayor Jim Strickland on March 3, 2017. Notably, the city of Memphis itself is not a party to this document as the October MOU is not signed by Strickland.

Both documents are linked here:



Comparing the two documents simplistically -- beyond one being an "agreement" and the other an "understanding" -- the March agreement has a list of 17 commitments on the part of the city, and the October understanding has five.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Maneuvering the Minefield of Bureaucracy and Confederates

Confusion and delay often are the tactics of an institution trying to resist change, and here are two pieces of confusion and delay we seek to clear up:

The City of Memphis request to remove the statue of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest will be adjudicated by a simple majority of the Tennessee Historical Commission -- not a two-thirds majority as citizens may have understood from recent media reports.

And, despite a letter from the Tennessee Historical Commission executive staff to city officials stating they would not be taking up the city's request at its next meeting, the commission members may do so if they please.
Will THC keep Memphis beneath the boot of the Rebel general?

The commission meets in Athens on Friday, and the first item on the agenda includes public comments, and the second item is to consider the city's request of a waiver of the 2013 Tennessee Heritage Act, which pulled authority from cities and into the state's hands on removing or renaming military-related artifacts. The commission is expected to hear from Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, #takemdown901 activist Tami Sawyer and citizens who may make comments. A provision of the Act allows for local jurisdictions to petition the commission for a waiver of its rules and permission to move or rename such artifacts.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Did Memphis Arrest People for 'Engaging in Public Protest?'

Police Move in to Arrest Citizens who Oppose Confederate Statues in City Parks
Memphis city attorney Bruce McMullen's statement that officers did not arrest citizens for protesting but for "violating the law" at a Confederate statue protest raised eyebrows when he made the remark and has raised the hackles of those who were arrested Aug. 19.

After citizens sought to place a "Black Lives Matter" banner around the horse's feet on the Nathan Bedford Forrest statue in Health Sciences Park, police arrested seven persons.  Five were charged with "disorderly conduct" and two with "obstruction of a highway/passageway."  Those are typical "catch-all" charges officers use when no more specific violations have occurred.

At a panel discussing removal of this and one other Confederate statue in public parks in Memphis, McMullen, the city's chief legal officer, stated:

"I don't think the city has ever arrested anybody for engaging in public protest.  People that were arrested were arrested for violating the law."

Which begs the question: What law?

Four of those cases have been dismissed in court -- two for "defective warrants," which in legalistic terms means the arresting officer made an error on his affidavit. It may be something simple, such as the wrong date or address was written down. In these cases, however, the flaw was more fundamental. The affidavits did not describe any behavior on the part of the citizen that was a basis for the charge.  The remaining three cases are awaiting preliminary hearings.

Besides officers and command staff from the Memphis Department of Police Services, also present and participating in arrests were officers from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center Campus Police and Parking Services. An officer who swore to two charging affidavits stated: "An unlawful protest was underway." 

Those are two of the cases still pending.

Some of those arrested have posted on Facebook, asking the city to explain what laws were violated. That's a good question which deserves a good answer, doesn't it?

Officers take Scott Prather to the ground after he walked away from the NBF monument Aug. 19
Prather's charge of "disorderly conduct" was dismissed in court



Below is a video clip that includes McMullen's remarks on that panel, held Oct. 3, 2017, at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.  Other videos and stories from Citizens Media Resource, Daily Kos and Who Will Watch the Watchers? are linked at the bottom.


Slow Road or Rad Road for Memphis to Remove Confederate Idols?

Memphis is Latest Battlefield at Crossroads of Rebel Statue Removal

Nathan Bedford Forrest Monument is about Domination, not History


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Slow Road or Rad Road to Removing Rebel Statues?

Before police swoop in to make arrests, statue opponents unfurl a Black Lives Matter banner 
State Sen. Lee Harris says the city of Memphis could apply political pressure to get Confederate statues removed from city parks by putting a fence around the parks or by not cutting the grass.

“That would create national news,” Harris said. “I don’t know any politician who does anything unless you box them in.  Politicians are not as courageous as you think.”

Harris made the remarks at a forum, co-sponsored by the Black Law Students Association, at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law yesterday.

Harris was joined on the panel by City of Memphis Chief Legal Officer Bruce McMullen; private attorney and attorney for Memphis City Council Alan Wade, and private citizen Tami Sawyer, who has spearheaded the #takeemdown901 people’s movement to remove a statue of former Confederate President Jefferson Davis and a statue of former Rebel General Nathan Bedford Forrest from two city parks. 


As Bruce McMullen explains how the city has never arrested anyone
for protesting, Tami Sawyer goes from eye roll...











To amused...

To miffed...


To, Whatever 




The Tennessee General Assembly passed laws in 2013 and 2016 which shifted power from municipalities themselves to the Tennessee Historical Commission when it comes to renaming city parks and removing Confederate monuments.  Gov. Bill Haslam, who appoints THC members, had officially implored the commission to vote at its Oct. 13 meeting on the city's request to remove Forrest’s statue in Health Sciences Park, formerly Nathan Bedford Forrest Park. 

However, the THC recently said that matter would not be on its agenda.  City of Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and McMullen have said they will attend the meeting and encourage the THC to grant the city’s request. 

McMullen and Wade said the mayor and city council are committed to removing the statues, but they want to exhaust all administrative and legal measures, including taking the matter to the Tennessee or U.S. Supreme Court if necessary – rather than the city simply taking it upon its own authority to remove them.


Above: We go all C-Span Lite, with minor editing, to bring you a video of the panel discussion at University of Memphis law school. 

CITY MOVING WITH DELIBERATE SPEED
Sawyer expressed skepticism of the city’s level of commitment to get the Rebel monuments out of public space, and at times tensions rose between Sawyer and city attorney McMullen.

McMullen said public sentiment was part of the city’s appeal to the Tennessee Historical Commission, which prompted Sawyer to ask if the city would acknowledge that about 5,000 citizens had signed a petition that has been delivered to the mayor.

McMullen started, then appeared to be searching for an answer, as Sawyer reframed her question and pressed, “Will you acknowledge publicly that we sent to the mayor a petition with 5,000 signatures in support of the waiver?”
Rev. Earle Fisher rallies the crowd
at Aug. 19 rally to oppose Rebel statues

“You said that four times, “ McMullen retorted, before agreeing they had received the citizens’ petition.

At one point Sawyer outlined the timetable of the THC’s quarterly meetings and noted that the matter would still not be acted upon by the THC when national attention came to Memphis April 4, 2018, upon the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Let me correct one point,” McMullen said.

“You can’t correct me; you may edit,” Sawyer replied. 

ARRESTING TAKE EM DOWN 901
During a rally Aug. 19 at the Forrest statue, Memphis police arrested seven citizens – some of whom were standing on the marble monument while others attempted to place a Black Lives Matter banner around the feet of Forrest’s bronze horse, King Phillip. 

Sawyer blasted the city for abridging citizens’ freedom of speech, and McMullen claimed no one was arrested for protesting but rather for “violating the law.”  It is unclear which law or laws the city attorney thought were broken or were being prosecuted upon citizens as police charged the catch-all disorderly conduct in all but two cases, and four cases so far have been dismissed in court. The remaining three cases have yet to receive a preliminary hearing.

Arresting officer affidavits in two cases specifically cite: "An unlawful protest was underway."

After that action, Mayor Strickland put out a statement criticizing statue opponents for being “divisive,” and he later convened several local preachers and others for a photo opportunity showing his support for removing the monuments.  In this gathering Strickland did not include Sawyer or others who were on the front lines of #takeemdown901, such as Rev. Earle Fisher, and he called the effort to remove the Confederate statues “our drive.” 

Sawyer says the time is now to remove the statues, and she cited the city’s history of not following laws – such as to integrate schools in the 1950s – when laws conflict with public sentiment. 

MONUMENTS TO INTIMIDATION
“These monuments were put there to intimidate African-Americans,” Wade said.  “That is the very reason they should come down….

“The continued presence of this monument – Forrest notwithstanding;  he was the general and you can laud all his accomplishments – but it’s not about who is there. It’s about why it is there. And it is there to demean African-Americans and continue to perpetuate this distinction in our culture and wealth and everything else.  The continued presence of that thing is a thumb in the eye of our citizens, saying we are still in control and you will never catch up with us.

“That’s the important thing to keep in mind from a social point of view. But as a legal thing, we are going to fight those out,” Wade said. "We believe we have a great likelihood of succeeding." 

“We have made contact with all levels of government that are connected with this effort – the governor, the city and county mayors, city council, the historical commission -- and we have delivered petitions to them with about 5,000 signatures,” Sawyer said.

“This was never a specific attack on Mayor Strickland, and while we sit here and laud his efforts, that’s great, but the protest and the actions were to make a public push for removal and to bring this to the forefront of the administration and city council to have them removed,” Sawyer said.

THE CITY’S PRECEDENT TO SHUN THE LAW
“As we think about this not just in the legal context but in the historical context, when we go back to 1954 and we were ordered by the Supreme Court (Brown vs. Board of Education) to integrate schools with all deliberate speed.  And it took seven years for schools here to be integrated. And it took 13 parents to file a lawsuit through the NAACP legal defense fund for their kindergarteners to be the ones brave enough to integrate these schools.  The schools they integrated are either closed today, or they are a hundred percent black and Latino, or they are a hundred percent low income.

“In 1951 there was a legal standard to integrate schools and to insure there was no separation,” Sawyer said, “and that there was equality in schools. Our city government chose to ignore that law, because that’s what they thought was right.  And our city government then chose not to engage in the process they were required to do.  Because that’s what they thought their people wanted.

“So I continue to push, as the activist on the panel, and say if the people are saying this is what they want, those that the people have asked to represent them have the power and the right to be radical in making this change.”

Harris said that the movement to take down the statues has gained momentum in contrast to the city’s struggle in 2012 and 2013 to rename the parks that contain the monuments.  When the Tennessee General Assembly passed laws in 2013  and 2016 that usurped the authority of cities to control the monuments, Gov. Bill Haslam “did not have political courage.  He has a way to go, but he has come a long way, and he is now for their removal." 

Harris noted that when he was a member of city council they considered renaming it "Ida B. Wells/Nathan Bedford Forrest Park," awkwardly combining the journalist who exposed lynching atrocities with the slave trader and first Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan.  We have supposed how they might have then altered the monument (see photo). 
Can you imagine...?


A RADICAL PATH?
“We can take a radical path,” Harris said.  “We can close the park, put a fence around it.  We are probably a long way from doing something like that, but that’s a national news story.  That would put so much pressure on the governor and the Tennessee General Assembly.

“We can stop maintaining the parks.  Don’t cut the grass, because the state has said we don’t have control over our parks,” Harris said. “Let it get six feet tall.  That’s another national news story.  To be sure, it hurts us, but it really puts the pressure on Nashville.  There are a lot of levers to be pulled that we haven’t pulled quite yet.”

Sawyer spoke of the racial wealth gap and education inequity between African-Americans and Caucasians in Memphis, and she said the effort to remove the Confederate symbols highlighted those issues. 
Under the boot of the Rebel general


“We don’t go away when the statues come down.  We will continue to bring attention to the racial inequality in this city,” Sawyer said.

There was no audience Q-and-A opportunity, although we had our question ready for the city attorney:
As Baltimore took away its statues and a city official called it putting them under "protective custody" against vandals, how much is Memphis paying to have 24-hour police protection for the two statues, and would it not be better and cheaper to put them in "protective custody" for their own safety?