Saturday, February 15, 2020

Court-Appointed Monitor Warns of 'Slippery Slope' in Memphis Police New Social Media Policy

The federal court-appointed Memphis Police Department Independent Monitor has objected to MPD’s proposed social media policy in a Jan. 8 letter to U.S. Western District Court Judge Jon McCalla.
MPD’s proposed policy, which was entered into the ACLU v. City of Memphis case record on Dec. 21, 2019, generally follows the FBI model and hierarchy of investigation and oversight. That represents a “slippery slope,” Independent Monitor Edward L. Stanton III told the court. The standards set by the Kendrick Consent Decree supersede the FBI’s model, Stanton wrote. Attorneys for the city of Memphis have the next move to make with the court, assuming they will argue that MPD’s newly crafted policy is adequate and conforms to the 1978 Decree and modern times. 
Stanton wrote:

Independent Monitor Edward L. Stanton III at Nov. 7 community forum

“Using the FBI’s protocols as a base for the City’s social-media policy would crest a slippery slope because the FBI is not bound by the Kendrick Consent Decree, and it was not so bound when it formulated its protocols. But the FBI’s demonstrated resistance to oversight and its spotty compliance with the comparatively minimal limits on its powers make the Bureau’s protocols a poor model for adoption by the City for a more fundamental reason. 
“As the Court has now stated on several occasions, the Kendrick Consent Decree provides protections above the Constitutional floor. (See e.g., Order, ECF No. 250, at PagelD # 8405.) The FBI has proven itself unwilling or unable to comply with obligations below that floor. Its protocols should not now serve as guideposts for the City’s social media policy or other efforts by the City to remedy violations of its own, greater legal commitments.”
The FBI policy on investigations, including citizens’ social media activity, generally is a three-level process. The first level called “pre-assessment” requires no supervision of agents, no actual evidence or no probable cause. Escalating levels of investigation are termed “assessment” and “predicative investigation.” 
In a Dec. 31, 2019, filing of comments, ACLU attorney Thomas Castelli had called the city’s proposed policy “confusing” and also cited flaws with an FBI “model.” Castelli wrote: 
“Because the use of the ‘Bob Smith’ account was specifically found by this Court to violate the Consent Decree, ACLU-TN believes it is extremely important that the social media policy include specific discussion of and references to the use of covert or undercover social media accounts.” 
McCalla found in October, 2018, that the city of Memphis had violated the 1978 Kendrick Consent Decree which forbade the gathering of political intelligence on citizens who were breaking no laws. At that time McCalla ordered the establishment of an Independent Monitor to review and guide MPD’s compliance with the Kendrick Decree.
City-retained attorney Mark Glover of the Baker Donelson law firm has petitioned the court to change the consent decree, claiming that it is outdated and will hamper law enforcement’s ability to combat crime. The city has even argued that the Kendrick Decree will cripple its Crimestoppers program. Judge McCalla has set a June 17, 2020, date for an evidentiary hearing on the city’s petition. 


The ACLU’s lawsuit was sparked by Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland’s so-called “black list” of citizens who must be escorted if they entered City Hall and was propelled by revelations that Sgt. Timothy Reynolds of MPD Homeland Security had posed as “Bob Smith” — self-described as a “fellow protester” — and had stalked social media accounts of “activists” and others. Reynolds became enthralled by his assignment and, among other compilations, made a power point report entitled “Blue Suede Shoes.” He made trips to Nashville to watch what he called a “Black Panther demonstration” and other actions and to study Metro Nashville PD responses to them. The city posted daily Joint Intelligence Briefings (JIBs) about citizens’ political activities and even disseminated those to large employers such as AutoZone, FedEx and St. Jude. 
McCalla has relied on Monitor team member and social media Subject Matter Expert Rachel Levinson-Waldman to inform the court on social media investigation policies of other federal agencies, such as the FBI and IRS. Levinson-Waldman has testified and provided charts and documentation to the federal court during the Monitor’s quarterly reports in August and November, 2019.

Social Media SME Rachel Levinson-Waldman, Deputy Monitor Jim Letten

“We are coming at this very much through a civil rights and civil liberties lens,” Levinson-Waldman told citizens at a Nov. 7, 2019, community forum. 
“In my humble opinion, the tricky parts of the consent decree are going to be played out in the context of social media and online communications,” Deputy Monitor Jim Letten said at the November forum. 
In McCalla’s Oct. 26, 2018, ruling, he noted that Memphis has the opportunity to be a “pioneer” and is in a unique position among U.S. law enforcement agencies to form policy “for the protection of privacy in the digital age.” McCalla wrote:
“Memphis is unique in having imposed a higher standard on itself by adopting the 1978 Consent Decree, but it is not alone in confronting the questions presented by modern surveillance. Every community must decide how to ensure an appropriate balance between public safety and protecting personal rights. That balance is determined not only by the text of the policies, but also by the actions taken to enforce them. By successful implementation of the Consent Decree, MPD has the opportunity to become one of the few, if only, metropolitan police departments in the country with a robust policy for the protection of privacy in the digital age. See generally Rachel Levinson-Waldman, Government Access to and Manipulation of Social Media: Legal and Policy Challenges, 61 How. L.J. 523 (2018) (detailing the widespread use of social media monitoring by police on lawful protesters).18 The Court recognizes this may be a heavy burden; being a pioneer usually is.”
Stanton’s letter to the court also references a 2014 report by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board which has reported on FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) abuses by the FBI. 
Thinking about FISA court — and complaints by the Memphis mayor and MPD that the 1978 Kendrick Decree is “out of date” — brings to mind former President George W. Bush complaining post-9/11 about the FISA law and the requirement of warrants for wiretaps. 
“It’s an old law,” Bush would argue with that smirk of his. “It’s from 1978!” 
The age of the law did not make it irrelevant, no more than the 1978 Kendrick Decree became irrelevant. Laws against murder, kidnapping, robbery, etc. are older than that, but we do not say they are outdated just because someone was injured with a weapon that did not exist in the 1700s.
Judge McCalla’s citation “Rachel Levinson-Waldman, Government Access to and Manipulation of Social Media: Legal and Policy Challenges:”
Independent Monitor Stanton’s Jan. 8 letter to the court:
ACLU filing Dec. 31, 2019:
MPD social media policy filed Dec.  21, 2019:
Civil Rights Concerns about Social Media Monitoring by Law Enforcement:
From Memphis with Love: A Model to Protect Protesters in the Age of Surveillance:…
In Tennessee, from New Market to Memphis, law enforcement turns on the victims:
Our Videos regarding MPD Independent Monitor Team:
“Monitoring the Police in Memphis, Tennessee”
“Through a Civil Liberties Lens: Monitor Eyes Police Watching Citizens’ Social Media”
“Memphis PD Monitor Forum: Highlights Reel”
Our previous related stories in Daily Kos:
Document dump released by the City of Memphis in June 2018:
Gary Moore operates Moore Media Strategies, founded nonprofit Citizens Media Resource, makes documentary and narrative films about social justice issues, and writes about First and Fourth Amendment issues as FreeSpeechZone in Daily Kos. 

Friday, May 24, 2019

Slicing and Dicing Citizen Oversight of Police in Tennessee and the USA

Toward the end of the day, standing at the back of the room, Community Oversight Board First Vice-Chair Jamel Campbell-Gooch expressed the takeaway from NACOLE’s regional meeting in Nashville May 17:
“Listening to everyone, we see there are so many different ways to go about this,” said Campbell-Gooch. In Tennessee vernacular, we might say, “More than one way to skin a cat.” By whatever description, this was not only a “takeaway” – it was an understatement. 
Leading officials of community police oversight boards from across the country gathered at Nashville’s main library for a regional meeting of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement. They came from Denver, Chicago, St. Louis, Atlanta, Washington DC, Knoxville, Memphis, Nashville and elsewhere for the one-day event. 
Nashville’s COB, voted into power by a public referendum in November, was the shiny, new player at the event. Many COB members and its newly appointed executive director, William Weeden, showed up to soak in whatever they could as COB establishes how they will operate. So did several community members whose activism through Community Oversight Now had launched the referendum.
What Campbell-Gooch meant was this: There are many different “models” for a community to operate a citizen board. Taking in the smorgasbord of how citizen boards operate, in all their nuances, was the day’s food for thought. 
A citizen board, for example, may take on the role of directly investigating every single citizen complaint about police abuses and mistreatment. An example would be the  Chicago Office of Police Accountability, which has a staff of 150, including 90 investigators, and an $18-million budget, according to its chief administrator, Sydney Roberts.  Citizen complaints first come directly through COPA. They fielded 4,200 complaints in 2018, she said, and 70 per cent of those they forwarded along to Chicago Police Department internal affairs.

Nicholas Mitchell of Denver, Sydney Roberts of Chicago and Nicolle Barton of St. Louis share their experiences with citizen oversight

COPA investigates such things as shootings by police, showing up alongside Chicago Police Department officers and command staff to interview witnesses, go to the hospital, etc.  Although Chicago had other oversight mechanisms prior to COPA, Robert’s office was established by ordinance in 2017 and after the 2014 police shooting of Laquan McDonald. That led to an investigation by the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division of CPD’s “patterns and practices” and a consent decree which became effective March 1.
At the other end of the spectrum in its authority and size was Memphis’ Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB), which has a staff of two and is allowed to hear citizen complaints only after police internal affairs has completed its investigation and notified the complaining citizens of its decision. CLERB Administrator Virginia Wilson represented the Memphis board and served on a panel at the NACOLE meeting.
While police unions, associations and Fraternal Order of Police fight citizen oversight tooth and nail, Knoxville Chief of Police Eve Thomas showed up at the Tennessee General Assembly in March to object to a GOP bill which limited oversight. The bill bans citizen oversight boards from having direct subpoena authority such as Nashville’s COB and Knoxville’s Police Advisory and Review Committee (PARC) have by local ordinance.

Knoxville Chief of Police Eve Thomas

Thomas also was the only active member of law enforcement to show up at the NACOLE event. She had some memorable insights.
“I had an ‘aha’ moment. My ‘aha’ moment was in 1994,” Thomas told the gathering.  “I made a stop. It was a gentleman of color. I was very professional.
“At the end, he said, ‘You were respectful. You did everything right. But you were rude.’”
Thomas was puzzled.
“You didn’t ask me how my day was going,” the man told her. 
I touched base with Chief Thomas again yesterday to make sure I understood her meaning.
“It was more of a realization of the need to be courteous and more thoughtful in my interactions,” she said, “rather than ‘business-like.’ I learned from this gentleman to put more emphasis on treating everyone the way I want to be treated rather than being sure I say the right things  -- in a robotic manner.”
Thomas said she was hopeful that today’s young officers will be less prejudiced than previous generations.
“They are great on the technology,” Thomas said. “The thing is, we have to train them how to communicate with people.”
However, it’s the young officers, such as in their mid-twenties, who seem to most often shoot young, black men who are trying to get away. Talking would have been a great option over shooting. In fact, a key characteristic of a successful officer is an outgoing personality. 
If the takeaway of the day was variety, there was consensus on many subjects, such as community outreach, opposition from the FOP and the race-based source of most complaints. 

NACOLE Regional Training and Networking in Nashville May 17, 2019

Nicolle Barton, executive director, City of St. Louis Civilian Oversight Board, was formerly a sworn officer, and she worked in the criminal justice system in the probation department in Ferguson, MO, when officer Darren Wilson murdered Mike Brown Jr. Aug. 9, 2014. As a former officer, Barton gives lie to FOP’s cliché complaint that only police can police the police.
“The FOP fought against us from the beginning. Our FOP rep had a physical altercation with an activist at a Town Hall meeting,” Barton said.
“They think, ‘Why would a body of citizens who don’t know anything about what we do tell us what to do?’”
Even worse: “During peaceful protests after (St. Louis) officer Jason Stockley was acquitted of murdering Anthony Lamar Smith, police had undercover officers in the crowd to watch citizen protesters. 
“Police maced and beat protesters – and even one of our own undercover officers!” Barton said.
“Continued community outreach is important,” Barton noted. “I attend public safety meetings, Town Hall meetings, neighborhood meetings. I am a member of the Association of Latin Professionals.”
Susan Hutson is the Independent Police Monitor in New Orleans, serving since 2010 to oversee the city’s consent decree with the DOJ.  She spoke about their mediation program between officers and citizens.
“At the heart of every single one of these conversations is race,” Hutson said. “The officer thinks, Well, you were walking around with your pants hanging down.”
Panelists also agreed that members of the community should be at the forefront of policy making.
“People should have a seat at the table on policy, not just a bunch of experts,” said Denver Independent Monitor Nicholas Mitchell.
“We need to meet the community where they are, where things are happening,” said COPA’s Roberts. “We need to establish those relationships ahead of time.”
Memphis’ CLERB and Nashville’s COB, among other oversight boards, have called on the Atlanta Citizen Review Board as a resource. CLERB investigator Arthur Robinson spent a few days in Atlanta in 2017 studying their process. We talked with Samuel Lee Reid II, ACRB’s executive director, during a break in the meeting. We will give him the last word, along with a link to our video interview.

ACRB Executive Director Samuel Lee Reid II

“These oversight boards grow out of something that happened,” Reid said. “And then the community demands it.” 
But later, apathy can set in, Reid said, “and the community moves onto something else… We have to keep the community engaged and our work fresh.” 
One example of outreach was a short video that ACRB produced, “Don’t Run,” urging citizens not to run from police. “Running away” has triggered an emotionally wrong and unconstitutional impulse in officers who have shot and killed non-violent citizens who were trying to get away. The list is long, but it includes Daniel Hambrick in Nashville, Darrius Stewart in Memphis and Justus Howell in Zion, IL.

Atlanta oversight board developed ‘Don’t Run’ video

ACRB also puts on know-your-rights workshops, which not only explain the rights citizens have, but the responsibilities citizens have.
“We do the know-your-rights workshops at libraries, churches. We will come to your family barbecue,” Reid said. “We will go anywhere, any time. That’s how important it is.” 
Our feature documentary, Who Will Watch the Watchers? examines citizen oversight of police, drilling down on the Memphis movement to bring back its CLERB, which had been secretly disbanded by Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton in 2011. The film also takes on profiling, filming police, the First Amendment in the Trump era and other contemporary issues.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

One Year Later, CLERB Still 'Testing' Subpoenas of Police

One year after voting to do it, the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board has been unable to obtain subpoenas of Memphis police officers who beat and maced Marcus Walker and his nephew in a 2011 cop “initiation.”

'They had just met President Obama,' Marcus Walker explains to CLERB member Casey Bryant April 13, 2017
Photo by Jacqueline Quintanar for Moore Media Images
CLERB chair Casey Bryant, who in March said she would resign if she had not taken action by the time of the next bi-monthly meeting, told CLERB members today that she had written a letter to Memphis City Council liaison Jamita Swearengen on April 18. Bryant said since then she had reached out to Swearengen with no results and that the next step in the subpoena process is for CLERB to petition the City Council directly. 

Walker said that police stopped him -- for no clear reason, even the police admit in their reports -- as he drove a family member home from work late one night in South Memphis. Then, they held him for about 30 minutes until other officers – who were just off their shift and on overtime – showed up putting on gloves.  

Walker said his nephew, 18-year-old Christopher Redmond, asked officers, "Why are you fucking with us?" One answered, "Because we're the police," and then dragged Redmond out of Walker's vehicle. Two cops beat and maced Redmond, who was coming home after getting off his shift as a painter. The officer who first held the three men then maced and knocked down Walker when he sought to get Redmond's mother. Walked called it a cop “initiation.”   

CLERB’s meeting came one day after Gov. Bill Lee signed into law a bill the Tennessee General Assembly passed to limit the powers of citizen oversight of law enforcement.

House Bill 0658 and state senate companion bill SB 1407 came on the heels of Nashville’s new Community Oversight Board being voted into law in a November public referendum. Republican legislators rushed to block citizens’ authority over law enforcement – who are paid by citizens to “protect and serve.” (Who’s the boss here? is a good question.) 

The bill states that oversight boards have no authority other than to make recommendations to law enforcement and that they may not issue subpoenas or compel testimony. 

The Memphis CLERB ordinance does not give the board direct authority to compel evidence and issue subpoenas, but it prescribes a convoluted process whereby CLERB goes through its appointed liaison from City Council, who then must present the request to the full council. 

CLERB had voted last May to begin the subpoena process as a “test case” of their authority – or lack thereof – to compel officers to appear. The vote was to subpoena four officers as Walker wanted the opportunity to question them face-to-face. Here is Bryant's letter to Swearengen.  She requests the appearance of two officers and a lieutenant who showed up later.

In a lawsuit against the city of Memphis after police beat two former University of Memphis football players on Beale Street on July 4, 2011, information was revealed about “choir practice,” frequent after-hours gatherings of Memphis officers to vent among themselves.  Walker said police actions from his experience reminded him of such a cop ritual as “choir practice” or “initiation.” 

“I would like to ask them (police officers) some questions, myself,” Walker said at CLERB’s May 10, 2018, meeting. Walker pointed out discrepancies in the time logs of police documents. 

“They said they only stopped us for 15 minutes. But it was more than an hour.”

As compelling as was Walker’s description of what happened to him, his son and his nephew in the early morning hours of June 3, 2011, MPD’s investigation documents were somewhat jumbled, and officers contradicted each other. The investigator led some officers to spend a lot of interview time insinuating that Walker’s nephew was an angry young man. Redmond was a back-seat passenger and was admittedly scared about what the police were doing with them, Walker said.

CLERB voted to sustain Walker's complaint and wrote to MPD Director Mike Rallings with some recommendations about training and discipline of the officers who were involved. However, like with every other recommendation CLERB has sent to Rallings, the police chief rejected it and stuck by his officers' stories of what happened.

“They had just met President Obama,” Walker told the CLERB board last May and when he first testified before CLERB on April 13, 2017. 

“Both my son and nephew went to Booker T. Washington, and they had shook the President’s hand. That gave them some hope. And I told that to the officers that night, Look how you’ve got these young minds looking at the police now.”

In today’s meeting, members heard no cases but engaged in some soul-searching about their mission; the rejection of every single one of their recommendations to the police chief, and how to gain credibility in the community. 

CLERB this year has gone to a schedule of meeting only every other month, and they state that the number of complaints they receive is down. That indicates that citizens do not know about CLERB or do not view it as having any authority to hold police accountable, Bryant said. CLERB was unable to conduct an official meeting in March because not enough members showed up to make a quorum.

“Our greatest selling point is, We are watching you,” said CLERB member Rev. Ricky Floyd. “We are like body cams for the police.”

Bryant said that she and city staff attorney Mary Grambergs, who is assigned to CLERB, met with Rallings and other police brass on Friday. Bryant said she felt it represented some level of progress to meet with police and hear the chief's perspective on CLERB. 

However, Bryant said that Rallings and the police are holding to the traditional cop line that no one but other officers are qualified to assess police conduct. Rallings said their inspectors go over every complaint "with a fine-toothed comb," and therefore are not going to accept any recommendations coming from CLERB.

"We already have sensitivity training," Bryant said Rallings responded to one recommendation that CLERB has made in the past. 

Some CLERB members opined that their presence and recommendations surely were being noticed by law enforcement, even if MPD never expressed public recognition of CLERB. 

In order to raise awareness of CLERB and engage the community, organizations such as MICAH (Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and Hope) could screen our documentary, Who Will Watch the Watchers? We offer the film as our gift to the community without cost to educational entities and community organizations. 

In spite of CLERB’s stumbles, citizen oversight in Memphis and every community in America remains the vehicle with the most potential to bridge the trust gap with law enforcement. It will be up to community outreach initiatives to bring along both citizens and law enforcement toward the goal of further legitimizing police authority. When law enforcement leaders turn the corner and acknowledge that citizen oversight gives them credibility and legitimacy, that will be a milestone.

In our Daily Kos stories since Nashville voted in its Community Oversight Board, we have offered some ways citizen boards could reach out to the community and the media. Community Oversight Now publicly screened Who Will Watch the Watchers? in October prior to the referendum in November. 

The National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE) will hold a one-day regional meeting and networking event in Nashville on Friday May 17. CLERB administrator Virginia Wilson will be a panelist for a session entitled, “A Regional Perspective on Oversight.”

Knoxville oversight board sponsoring workshops
Officials from Knoxville and Nashville also will participate in the NACOLE event as Tennessee now has three citizen oversight boards. Memphis was the first, launched in 1994 following a campaign led by former City Councilman Shep Wilbun and the police shooting of retired MLGW employee Jesse Bogard in Orange Mound. Knoxville’s Police Advisory and Review Committee (PARC) meets quarterly and has been sponsoring community workshops on citizen safety awareness. 

Nashville’s Community Oversight Board is the newest and is developing its policies and procedures. Recently COB appointed attorney William Weeden as its first executive director.

Gary Moore operates Moore Media Strategies; founded Citizens Media Resource nonprofit; makes films on social justice issues, and covers First, Fourth and 14thAmendment-related issues for Daily Kos. 


Sunday, March 3, 2019

On Uber Ride to Downtown Nashville, Watch for Those Political Potholes

On our Uber ride to the second Community Oversight Board meeting, I realized I had underestimated the division and rancor over this in Nashville -- apart from what the legislature was doing.

On Uber Drive to Downtown Nashville, Watch for Those Political Potholes

COB member Phyllis Hildreth (right) laments lack of trust at second meeting feb. 26, 2018

Sunday, December 23, 2018

The Year in Pictures: You Pick 'em

We got around in 2018. So did Freedom Fighters who boldly and bravely stood up for all of us.

It's the holidays, and we're allowed to do something just for fun. Recall these photos, these people, these events, the struggles. And rank your top 5 favorite photos – you know, like Ranked Choice Voting, on our Facebook page in "comments" – and we will tally the results and post the “winners’” next week.

Vote at this Facebook page 

Vote by whatever criteria you want – your rules. We had no rules for picking these – it was totally subjective (“It’s my party…” and all that). Some of these may evoke painful memories; we left out several that we thought might be too painful or sensitive to publish at this time.


1—Apparently, the “Gray Panther Party of Memphis” is a threat to public safety as this MPD surveillance van backs up to a fence to snoop. Nearby Fight for $15 organizers also were preparing a march from Clayborn Temple to City Hall on Feb. 12, the 50th anniversary of when the sanitation workers went on strike. The spy van, which is adorned with multiple cameras that can transmit to the giant video wall at the Real Time Crime Center, was conspicuous only feet away from organizers.

The city’s spy vans, Department of Homeland Security and the bumbling “Bob Smith” Facebook marauder spied hard. So hard that the ACLU won a lawsuit against the city for collecting photos and information on persons whom they identified as activists – even the mother of a police shooting victim and several citizens whose offense was buying movie tickets for teenagers. A Federal judge ruled the city was wrong and ordered the city to change its ways and come under the scrutiny of a court-appointed monitor.


2—Objecting that 50 years after Dr. King’s murder not much has changed for the better, citizens trekked to Tchulahoma Road outside FedEx facilities on April 3.

One day before MLK50 Day, with embedded media such as New York Times, The Guardian, BBC, LA Times, Daily Kos and local independents in tow, activists shut down the street for 25 minutes as part of a “Rolling Block Party” which was advanced on Facebook. The 12-car caravan “rolled” to the target location, “blocked” traffic, then had a “party,” dancing to music coordinated on every car’s radio as they baffled police, who did not interfere. They even got cheers from nearby FedEx employees, and one FedEx employee got out of his car to dance with a pretty protester.


3—Organized Crime Unit Lieutenant Pruitt points out Spanish-language journalist Manuel Duran, and other OCU officers close in to arrest him on April 3 in front of 201 Poplar, location of the Shelby County Criminal Justice Center and jail. Pruitt or another officer is heard saying, “Get him, guys,’ in Duran’s live-stream video, which survived his arrest and subsequent seizing by ICE for deportation.

Duran was wearing a press lanyard and covering a street theater demonstration against local ICE hold policies and ICE detention center abuses. Duran clearly was targeted, first by local law enforcement, then later sources told us that orders to seize him for deportation came “from the top in Washington.”

Yuleiny Escobar (left), who along with other women were acting as ICE prisoners and wearing chains, yells to police, “He’s a reporter; he’s a reporter,” and she and a tearful Zyanya Cruz (holding Duran) try to protect him from the cops’ clutches. They, Duran and six others who crossed the street within the cross walk were arrested. It was only 60 seconds from the time they stepped off the curb until police began making arrests. By comparison, the red light at Poplar Avenue and Danny Thomas Boulevard lasts 51 seconds.

4--Police objective was to shut down activists one day before MLK50 day and before any other actions could take shape later that day. In fact, a 6:30 p.m. action at the Hernando DeSoto Bridge had been hinted on social media and seized on by Tennessee Homeland Security and the Tennessee Fusion Center. MPD command staff already was pissed off about the road blockade at FedEx that morning. 

Police waved me off, pushed me aside and took my picture as I recorded the chaos in the street. My implorations to officers to “think this over” and “call a major” and “you’re hurting her” were useless in the commotion. On a personal note, this was my most disturbing moment from the streets in 2018 as I was helpless to protect mis amigas preciosas. The video has been used by national and international media and by Southern Poverty Law Center attorneys working to free Manuel Duran. 


5—As MLK50 week mercifully came to a close, citizens gathered in front of City Hall at a planned, official event on April 7. Mayor Jim Strickland spoke, but the crowd yelled at him and held signs demanding justice for Manual Duran, who had been arrested by Memphis police and then seized by ICE.

6—Later addressing the crowd outside City Hall on April 7 and holding aloft a photo of journalist Manuel Duran meeting with Mayor Strickland, supporters of Duran criticize police and the mayor for their role in arresting Duran and other non-threatening activists. Edie Love (red cap, left) delivered to Strickland the most exquisite excoriation of a public official that we have ever witnessed.  

As Love wraps up, Memphis COO Doug McGowen awkwardly joins the crowd in applauding while Strickland says to McGowen, “I don’t need this,” and they turn to enter City Hall before Love and crew walk past them.


Katherine Hanson, Ryan Barnett, Spencer Kaaz and Olivia Ramirez hurry up and wait at a January court appearance
7—After returning to Memphis from their Oklahoma and Missouri homes seven times for court appearances that mostly got postponed, the last of the cases against seven persons who had protested the Diamond Oil Pipeline on MLK Day 2017 were finally concluded on April 30. Oklahomans Olivia Ramirez (Osage) and Ryan Barnett (Muscogee) said their First Nation ancestries moved them to act in defense of the Earth and water. 

The seven had bound themselves to concrete-filled barrels and squatted in front of the Valero Refinery on the banks of the Mississippi River. “Water Protectors” they were called by environmental action organization Arkansas Rising. Ramirez, Barnett, Katherine Hanson of Missouri and Spencer Kaaz of Memphis refused to take the prosecutor’s “deal,” which asked them to pay $6,000 each as a sort of punishment for police and fire department deployments.

While their charges were down to a Class C misdemeanor of “obstructing a highway or passageway,” the lowest possible level of crime, they refused to take any deals and insisted on a trial – which kicked them up to Judge Bobby Carter’s court which hears felonies. Carter was clearly annoyed that he was having to deal with this.

“Next to my whole jail full of murderers, rapists, robberies and things that I have to get done… (your cases are) going to be a lower priority in scheduling,” Carter complained as he twice put off trial dates after the out-of-staters dutifully had traveled from afar. Finally, the four agreed to pay a $50 fine, which is prescribed for the Class C offense, and get on with life.

8—Pro bono attorneys Jason Ballenger and Josie Holland were also heroes from the drawn-out court drama. Michael Working and Joe McClusky also represented defendants without charging a fee, each lawyer taking one defendant.

9--Ramirez, Hanson and Barnett get ready for a group hug, relieved that their 15-month and several-thousand-miles ordeal is over. We followed almost every step of the courthouse machinations and have enough video and story to make or supplement a great documentary – if somebody will only fund us! Best quote from the courtroom slog came from a managing prosecutor who remarked to me, "They don't look like hippies." 


10—Keedran Franklin and Hunter Demster became prominent in local and national media as activists for social change. For standing up for everyday people and regularly criticizing local officials, they became targeted by police and the object of specious arrests. This photo represents a lighter moment before the two joined persons protesting Trump’s anti-Palestine policies at Poplar and Highland on May 25.

Franklin had come up behind me and acted like he was the police grabbing me. Funny, not funny. Moments later he did the same thing to Demster.


11—Supporters of Palestinian liberation deliver their message to a MATA bus – on which appears its destination: “AMER WAY,” short for American Way, a prominent Memphis thoroughfare. Many persons who rallied at Poplar and Highland on May 25 have family members in Palestine and implore the Trump administration to act more in an “American Way” toward refugees and persecuted peoples. Said differently, have we lost our American Way? It struck me as ironic -- anyone else?


12—When the sun came up on Aug. 6 at CoreCivic’s corporate headquarters in Nashville, their plaza and garage were decorated with signs decrying the for-profit prison corporation’s abuses. A huge sign read, “This Facility is on Lockdown,” and a woman suspended 30 feet in the air blocked the entrance. Other opponents of the former Corrections Corporation of America were chained together with their arms inside steel pipes and blocked underground garage portals. It looked like a scene from a movie set.


13--In the Trump era, do other self-dealing, bellicose politicians think they have some sort of cover?

In this Aug. 14 photo, citizen Bonnie Chidester (at podium) asks Memphis City Council Chairman Berlin Boyd (standing behind dais) to disclose the details of his part in a $24-million dollar development which benefited from a taxpayer subsidy. Boyd bristled at being questioned but did not have police throw Chidester out of City Hall -- as he has done others who criticized him during Council meetings in 2018.


14—“Watch this,” a middle-aged woman said to her friend before flipping me off at a Nov. 26 MAGA rally where Trump showed up to support Cindy Hyde-Smith’s U.S. Senate campaign. “Trump wants us to get rid of the media.” 

Admittedly, we went down there to interview the crazies -- and we were not disappointed on that count "He's one of us," truck drivers and working Mississippi people said of the alleged billionaire from New York; a "Q" conspiracy follower tried to explain the "Anons," and my producer heard the "N-word" tossed around casually, like one might say, "Pass the salt." 

15—Doubling down on Trump. This young woman wearing two MAGA caps declined to be interviewed, then persistently gave me the Evil Eye. Finally, after getting flipped off by several middle-aged women and hearing Trump fans discuss how they could hit us with their signs, I got it: Trump has inflamed his legions to hate the media to a extent I had not realized. Being a white guy with gray hair, wearing a black suit and red tie, gave me no cover in Trump Town, Mississippi, as my camera and White House press corps credentials made me a target. Before Trump arrived, a Secret Service woman pulled me and my producer inside the media pen. Only later did I consider it was for my own protection.

1—MPD surveillance van and “Gray Panther Party” Feb. 12
2—“Things are not OK” outside FedEx April 3
3—Organized Crime Unit targets Manuel Duran April 3
4—Police arrest street theater actors at 201 Poplar April 3
5—“Free Manuel” crowd yells at Mayor Strickland April 7
6—Edie Love rips Strickland, city officials April 7
7—Water Protectors grind through criminal court system April 30
8—Pro Bono attorneys Jason Ballenger and Josie Holland April 30
9—Water Protectors celebrate that case finally is settled April 30
10—Keedran and Hunter laughing over Keedran’s joke May 25
11—“American Way” on bus at Palestine liberation rally May 25
12—CCA on Lockdown Aug. 6
13—Bonnie Chidester challenges Berlin Boyd Aug. 14
14—Trump fan flips me off in Tupelo Nov. 26 
15—Trump fan gives media the evil eye Nov. 26

Last word from the wordy: Obviously, I did not take this photo, because I'm the one in the cop uniform. Here we put on a Know Your Rights Theater and Workshop at Cottonwood Apartments, which often has been targeted by ICE.