In the Trump era, are politicians and police becoming emboldened at cracking down on the First Amendment and those who criticize their policies?
In Memphis, it seems so.
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and the Memphis police have published a black list of political opponents who are not free to move about public spaces in the city.
The list of more than 80 persons includes political activists and persons who have spoken out about public policy or issues involving city government. Many of them do good works with young people in the community. Others appear for unclear reasons.
We are calling it the “A-List.”
The list even includes Mary Stewart, whose unarmed 19-year-old son was killed by police in 2015. Also on the list: a preacher who married a gay couple; leaders of a peace and justice non-profit; Black Lives Matter proponents; persons who have been arrested for filming and observing the police; an independent journalist, and environmental activists. Citizens who bought movie tickets for teens on New Year’s Eve even were spied on by Memphis police and put on the list — proving the adage, no good deed goes unpunished.
This, while the city and the Memphis Police Department are operating under a 1978 Department of Justice consent decree against political spying. MPD also has a policy against gathering “political intelligence,” and it has a policy against stopping people from filming the police and “express(ing) criticism” of police.
In a statement, the mayor’s spokesperson said the list includes persons who pose a “potential security risk” and who must be escorted by police when they are in City Hall. However, there is no indication that any of the politically targeted persons has ever committed, been arrested for or proposed any violent acts, nor does the city make any such assertion of a threat of violence.
Those named on the list are weighing their legal options.
Link to the “A-List:” www.documentcloud.org/...
Link to 1978 DOJ Consent Decree: www.aclu-tn.org/...
Link to MPD Policy and Procedures Manual DR 138: fnolan.com/…
Memphian Fergus Nolan, who was arrested for filming a police vehicle May 30, 2016, while he and others were supporting a greenspace action, discovered the A-List when police pulled him out of a City Council meeting on Feb. 7. MPD Lt. Albert Bonner looked in a binder and told Nolan he must be escorted by police whenever he set foot in City Hall.
On his way into the Jan. 17, 2017, City Council meeting, police chief Michael Rallings had greeted Nolan by name. During the meeting, Nolan made a public comment about the Overton Park Greensward, which caused council chairman Berlin Boyd to summon the Sergeant-at-Arms and tell the officer to keep his eye on Nolan. Charges against Nolan from the May 30 arrest were dismissed without costs, and his record was expunged.
Forty-three persons were named on four pages signed by Mayor Strickland himself on Jan. 4, 2017, after protesters had held a “die-in” on his front yard Dec. 19, 2016. However, most of those making the “A-List” did not take part in the “die-in.”
The document was headed, “Listing of persons barred from premises” and identified “267 Ridgefield,” Strickland’s personal residence. The document also says those on the list have been “ordered to stay off the described property,” although we have talked to several persons on the list, and no one says he or she has received any such notice.
Lt. Bonner has handwritten on the pages, “Also have to be escorted while in City Hall.”
The most appalling entry on the mayor’s list is that of Mary Stewart, mother of 19-year-old Darrius Stewart, an unarmed, back-seat passenger who was killed by a Memphis officer after a traffic stop July 17, 2015. Stewart’s sister Teri also made the list.
“I have never been to the mayor’s house. I don’t even know where he lives,” said Stewart.
In two other pages of the eight-page list, police on Jan. 17 named 14 persons who were either observing or protesting at the Valero refinery on MLK Day Jan. 16.
The list also includes 27 persons who are marked as “former employee,” or “harassment” and so forth.
The city and the police department have demonstrated extreme and costly overreaction to peaceful, public dissent during Strickland's tenure as mayor. In the wake of nationally viewed killings of unarmed black men last July, protesters shut down a portion of the Hernando DeSoto Bridge over the Mississippi River. While that action ended with no arrests, in response, police days later instituted what they called a “Level 3” alert, a show of force which included tactical officers armed and standing outside Kroger’s and Wal-Mart. Police said it cost them $1.9 million in overtime.
Police made a massive show of force at a protest outside of Elvis Presley’s Graceland last August 15 during an annual candlelight vigil attended by tourists from around the world, and they arrested several persons — whose charges all were dismissed in court. Police and Elvis Presley Enterprises officials allegedly blocked black persons from entering Graceland’s grounds at the public event, while allowing white persons free entry. That is now the subject of a federal lawsuit.
Police have followed persons campaigning for a $15 minimum wage, and on MLK Day Jan. 16 police blocked an Interstate ramp and the public street in front of Valero oil refinery while protesters, including some chained together in concrete-filled barrels, opposed the 440-mile Diamond Oil Pipeline.
Everyone arrested at the Graceland and Valero actions was placed on the A-List, even independent journalist Rachel Gay of Hive Swarm Independent Media, who has filmed environmental activists at Standing Rock and elsewhere.
About 30 Shelby County Sheriff Department deputies with zip ties formed a phalanx Feb. 15 outside courtrooms where some of those arrested at the Valero action had court dates. It was another display of overkill as there was no threat whatsoever as only two defendants and about five supporters showed up, and cases were continued until May 2.
The city’s targeting of non-violent dissenters reveals a bizarre paranoia on the part of the mayor and exposes the city to a possible class-action civil rights lawsuit based on First (free speech), Fourth (unreasonable seizures) and Fifth Amendment (due process) protections. (We are not attorneys and do not give legal advice.)
In October the Department of Justice announced it would conduct a "collaborative review" with the Memphis Police Department to assess practices and policies and make recommendations. The DOJ's George Fachner, who leads the Memphis project, is putting together a report outlining the scope of the MPD assessment. We have been in contact with the DOJ and will publish the DOJ's report as soon as it is available.
Link to story on WMC-TV: www.wmcactionnews5.com/…
Link to story in The Commercial Appeal: www.commercialappeal.com/…
This story also appears at www.WatchTheWatchersFilm.com. Who Will Watch the Watchers? is a Memphis-made documentary about filming police; Black Lives Matter; grass roots organizing, and trying to make change within the system. #WatchTheWatchers www.WatchTheWatchersChannel.com