Mid-South nonprofit leaders demand action on police reform, economic justice

Updated: Jun. 29, 2020 at 2:11 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A group of nonprofit leaders criticized the way Memphis officials have handled several issues related to police brutality and accountability, economic justice and re-prioritizing the city’s budget.

Late Monday, Memphis Mayor responded to the nonprofit leaders. In a letter, Mayor Jim Strickland said the city has already implemented most of their demands and had made “significant progress in many areas throughout our city and within city government.”

Memphis Nonprofits Demand Action, an alliance of 150 nonprofit leaders, stood in front of Memphis City Hall Monday morning and said the steps taken so far by city leaders in these areas were not enough.

The group said they had given city officials until June 26 to commit to a series of action steps to address police brutality, policing, poverty, education and systemic racism.

The group said they asked Memphis officials to give the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB) greater power, including input on MPD training, policies and procedures; to include grassroots activists on the search for a new MPD director; to end money bail, court costs and other fines; to track companies that pay a living wage and request corporations sign a pledge to pay workers a living wage, and to enact citizen participatory budgeting.

Sarah Lockridge-Steckel, the co-founder and CEO of The Collective Blueprint, said city officials have responded with language of good intentions, but “no one has hit the mark.”

On the issue of police reform, the group is demanding more transparency and accountability.

“I think there’s a lot of announcements about things that could be or should be or things that will be pushed off into the future,” said Cardell Orrin, Memphis executive director of Stand for Children Tennessee. “We have specific demands…and we don’t see those things being met adequately from our city administration.”

Nonprofit leaders urge Memphis officials to take action on police reform, other issues

WATCH: 150 nonprofit leaders are urging Memphis officials to address issues of police brutality, over-policing, poverty wages, subpar education and systemic racism. Their news conference begins at 10.

Posted by WMC Action News 5 on Monday, June 29, 2020

Last week, Strickland and Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings announced major police reforms the city plans to or had already taken:

  • Adopting “8 Can’t-Wait” policies to reduce excessive force
  • Banning no-knock search warrants
  • Hiring additional part-time staff for CLERB, allocating $20,000 in additional funding to CLERB for marketing and communications and agreeing to review CLERB’s subpoena power as part of the City’s state legislative agenda
  • Posting opportunities on the City’s website for citizens interested in serving on boards like CLERB or Civil Service
  • Entered discussions with the Memphis Police Association on how to enhance officer accountability for using excessive force
  • Partnering with community activists to be involved in the police department’s implicit bias training

Strickland said the proposals were the outcome of a series of meetings city leaders had with clergy and community members.

“Over the last four weeks, I did a lot of listening and a lot of learning,” said Strickland.

Rallings said MPD already had most of the “8 Can’t Wait” policies in places and banned no-knock warrants. He also said MPD will adopt former President Obama’s 21st Century Policing Practices.

“I believe in re-imagining police, re-imagining law enforcement, re-imagining how we serve the great citizens of Memphis,” said Rallings.

One day after Strickland and Rallings announced the reform plans, a group of clergy leaders involved in meetings with city leaders said it fell “far short” of the changes they had requested.

The nonprofit leaders said they agreed with that assessment.

The nonprofit leaders said they asked MPD and the city council to develop a process to show data on violations of police policies and what actions the department had taken.

“It feels like deja vu where four years ago, we saw the same thing,” said Natalie McKinney, the executive director of Whole Child Strategies.

McKinney said city officials had promised to make several changes following the 2016 bridge protest but delivered very little.

“This is just a repeat of the same thing. There’s no action. There’s just a whole lot of words,” said McKinney.

On issues of economic justice, the group said there had been little progress on their demand to track wages and create a living wage pledge.

“Nonprofits can’t make up for our corporations paying our citizens poverty wages,” said Lockridge-Steckel.

With respect to re-prioritizing the city budget, the group criticized the amount of money spent on policing. They said a recent $9.8 million Department of Justice grant should be used for “non-policing tools” like crisis technicians and community health.

While much of Monday’s news conference was focused on what the nonprofit leaders saw as the city’s shortcomings, they also criticized county leadership.

They said while the Shelby County commission declared racism a pandemic in Shelby County, they said the actions taken by the county amounted to “lip service.”

Lockridge-Steckel said the group was still waiting and hoping to get a detailed response to their requests from the Memphis City Council, the Shelby County Commission, Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris, Director Rallings, Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner and District Attorney Amy Weirich.

The group said they will continue speaking out until the actions they're calling for are implemented.

Click here to read the open letter MNDA addressed to public officials.

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