Safety concerns force Black Lives Matter to postpone press conference

Rallings addresses protests
Published: Jul. 12, 2016 at 4:25 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 13, 2016 at 12:59 PM CDT
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(Source: WMC Action News 5)
(Source: WMC Action News 5)

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - After a day of various protests around the city, Black Lives Matter organizers decided to postpone a Tuesday night press conference amid safety concerns.

Minister Devante Hill said he decided to postpone the press conference after talking with Memphis Police Department.

Earlier Tuesday, Memphis police officers detained two protesters who were blocking Elvis Presley Boulevard.

Dozens of protesters descended on the Graceland area. Traffic on Elvis Presley Boulevard had to be diverted to Dolan Drive.

The protesters held signs that read "Black Lives Matter" and "None of us are free until all of us are free." They also chanted that they planned to "shut it down."

One protester said police officers threatened to arrest people if they refused to break into groups of 20 or less or crossed the street.

Overall, Interim MPD Director Mike Rallings said six people were issued misdemeanor citations.

Organizer Frank Gotti said the protesters planned to walk up and down Elvis Presley Boulevard between Whitehaven Plaza and Graceland "out of respect for the police."

"What has Graceland donated to Whitehaven? Nothing but Elvis Presley stuff," Gotti said.

Among the crowd was the family of Darrius Stewart. An MPD officer shot and killed Stewart in 2015 after a traffic stop. Cellphone video shows Stewart physically fighting with the officer. The officer has not been charged and has since resigned from the force.

"I'm here today to demand justice for my nephew," Lola Stewart said. "I see signs with Darrius' name on it. So this represents the city and the Stewart family."

After the Graceland protest, the crowd dispersed with another one appearing miles away near E. Shelby Drive and Getwell Road. These protests have all been smaller than the one that shutdown Interstate 40 on Sunday night.

Monday night, Black Lives Matter supporters organized a town hall meeting with city leaders. That meeting did not go as smoothly as planned, and one protester sent a letter to Interim Police Director Michael Rallings saying Rallings "broke the trust."

Black Lives Matter protester Keedran Franklin, one of the panelists at Monday's meeting, sent the email shortly before the protest outside Graceland:

Dir. Mike Rallings

Memphis Police Department

This letter regards our agreement of July 10, 2016, which was the impetus for the termination of the citizens' occupation of the I-40 bridge at Memphis. You personally made the agreement with this group of citizens.

You failed to honor the agreement. While we made the concession of not meeting that night at 9:30 p.m. at the FedEx Forum, as agreed, you made the unilateral decision on the venue and the participants. You allowed those who had nothing to do with the agreement or the event that precipitated the agreement to control the meeting. You decided or allowed the decision to be made of who would speak.

While you honored your staff for keeping the peace, you failed to honor the citizens who also kept the peace. You allowed politicians, who have proven to be ineffective and/or unwilling to make positive changes in the city, to be seated in positions above the citizens with whom you agreed to meet, giving the appearance of honoring those who have not demonstrated true concern for the citizens.

Finally, the items you had agreed to discuss with us were not discussed. You made a mockery of our agreement. You broke the trust. This says to us that you are not a man of your word. While others sing your praises, we have data that you have proven to be less than praise worthy. We are disappointed.


The Concerned Citizens

Minister Devante Hill, one of the leaders of the "One Memphis One Vision" movement, said the protest is about more than Black Lives Matter. He said Hispanic people have come up to him since Sunday's protest to voice their support of the protesters' efforts.

"They represent the movement, so instead of 'Black Lives Matter,' the movement is One Memphis, One Vision, and that's standing for urban minority in the city," Hill said.

"Until we get answers and we get the justice that we deserve, the transparency we deserve, Memphis will no longer be a tourist attraction; it will be a place of civil unrest," Hill said.

When Hill was asked about the pop-up protests occurring around the city, he said they will continue to have protesters show up every day.

"We're going to corner Mayor Strickland—not to make him look weak, but to make him transparent," Hill said.

Hill also wants a investigation of MPD.

"If he (Strickland) is interested in building that trust and maintaining that trust between the community and law enforcement, then he will be open and transparent enough to invite the Department of Justice to come in and do a thorough investigation of the Memphis Police Department."

Hill initially wanted to hold a press conference Tuesday night to revisit the demands and revisit the "30 days no killing" decree, which failed less than 24 hours after it officially began. However, after speaking with MPD he decided it would be best to postpone the press conference.

Hill said he hopes to do the press conference Wednesday morning, but he felt tensions were too high Tuesday. He said he's postponing the press conference because he wants to promote safety and change, not violence.

"He's [Strickland] giving us political answers. He's giving us political propaganda, and we don't like it. We want answers, we want truth, and we want transparency," Hill said.

He said protesters will continue to push for transparency, and he expects it to come soon.

"I got a great feeling that he'll be transparent after tonight, and if not, the city of Memphis will see that we've elected someone who does not have 64 percent of the city's population's best interest at heart."

One of the movement's demands was for the immediate naming of Mike Rallings as permanent police director. Strickland said Monday he could not name Rallings as director just yet.

"He said that he was going to do a national search. We have used $40,000 of taxpayer money for this firm to go and search for candidates for the mayor to look through. Michael Rallings is one of those candidates," Memphis Chief Communications Officer Ursula Madden said. "We are in a contract with the International Association of Chiefs of Police. You know, we are also stewards of taxpayer dollars. It's our responsibility if we are into a contract. IACP hasn't violated any terms of that contract, so it would be on us. So we need to stick with the process."

Madden said there are legal and financial reasons that Strickland could not name Rallings as police chief until the process is over.

The Black Lives Matter Memphis chapter released a statement on Monday's town hall meeting, saying in part:

"We encourage those who attended yesterday's meeting to commit to this work for the long haul. All concerns and questions were not addressed yesterday, and we will continue to hold city officials accountable. We want to be clear that the onus cannot be placed on the backs of the Black people who are most affected by these conditions. As Jesse Williams said, 'the burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander.' We hope that community members will stand with us in continuing to press for sustainable change in Memphis, which includes police reform, educational resources, job security, a living wage, reproductive justice, and adequate housing, especially in Black communities."

Click here to read their full statement.

City councilman Berlin Boyd said he is willing to listen and talk with protesters.

"We are having the conversation to improve upon the lives of so many that have been forgotten about," Boyd said.

He said he is doing what he can on council to make changes in the areas of jobs, minority contracts, and cultural sensitivity training for officers--some of the demands presented by Hill.

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