Thursday, December 1, 2016

Memphis Beats the Clock on Police Reform as Citizens Talk, DOJ Listens

One answer to the question, Who Will Watch the Watchers? is the Department of Justice.

But, did Memphis get in just under the wire on the U.S. Department of Justice’s review of the city’s policing practices?
DOJ's George Fachner: Just Listening
Click Photo to See Video from Listening Session
Just 13 days before the Presidential election, the city and the DOJ’s division of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) announced a collaborative and voluntary review and reform of police practices in Memphis. 

DOJ attorneys and career staff, especially in the Civil Rights division, are polishing their resumes in anticipation of a Trump administration that would neuter investigations into police abuses, hate crimes and more.  

Meanwhile, the show must go on, and five COPS staffers from Washington and three contractors who are part of the review team were in Memphis this week during the "assessment" phase of their project. The DOJ folks seem serious and methodical, taking things in and being circumspect in comments other than to explain their plan and process.  

A good sign is that they sought the locals' advice on where to eat and found their way to Memphis BBQ.  They were guarded in their comments about everything else, so we won't reveal too much here, except to say they reported BBQ was Central to their culinary experience, and it seemed BBQ was the One and Only thing they enjoyed most.  

Rules for the Rules Enforcers: MPD Policy and Procedures

Click to see MPD Policy & Procedures
The American Dialect Society annually designates a “Word of the Year.”  In 2015 the society picked “they,” when used as a singular, genderless pronoun.   For 2014 the society chose #blacklivesmatter, which is a hashtag, but close enough.

How did they miss “transparency?”  

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Police Oversight Board Validates Citizens Who Complained of Abuses

Citizen oversight of police in Memphis reached a milestone tonight as CLERB said citizens who were improperly arrested in highly visible cases were mistreated by police a second time when MPD internal affairs denied their
CLERB chairman Ralph White,
administrator Virginia Wilson, Paul Garner
complaints that police had abused them.

The Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board voted unanimously that Memphis Department of Police Services Inspectional Services Bureau --- aka police internal affairs – erred in rejecting the complaints of activist Paul Garner and Frayser resident Reginald Johnson.

Garner’s arrest and arrests days later at a Trolley Night hip-hop event led to a movement to bring back the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board, which had been secretly disbanded by Mayor A.C. Wharton’s administration in 2011. 

Garner, an organizing coordinator at Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, and John Holle were arrested for filming police in front of Manna House homeless refuge Oct. 21, 2013, although officers charged Garner with disorderly conduct and “obstructing a passageway.”  Holle, a Manna House volunteer, had just opened up for the evening meal when officers showed up looking for a man.  Holle told officers they could not enter the property without a warrant, which did not prevent police from searching the place but which apparently angered the officers.  Police confiscated Holle’s and Garner’s phones and at one point told them it was illegal to record video in Memphis without a film permit. 

Garner and Holle spent about 17 hours in jail and in police custody before the media found out and charges were dropped. 

Helping the citizen oversight board make a decision was a video taken by Holle which showed a Memphis officer saying, “I understand you’re videoing, and it’s on video, so we’re going to take you to jail for obstructing highway passageway.” 

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Freedom Rider Rip Patton Lends Voice to Who Will Watch the Watchers?

Freedom Rider Dr. Ernest Rip Patton Jr. in a Nashville recording studio narrates the trailer, introduction and closing sequences of
Click Photo to See Interview
our film.

Before laying down tracks, we interviewed Dr. Patton, and he reflected on how the Civil Rights era of the 1960s connects with today; his advice for young people today; his historic ride, and how his mother accidentally found out he was hundreds of miles from home being arrested.

On May 24, 1961, Patton joined fellow Tennessee State University students and others in boarding a Greyhound bus in Montgomery, Alabama, just 10 days after Klansmen had burned a Freedom Riders Greyhound bus in Anniston, Alabama, and other white supremists had beaten and bloodied those on a Trailways bus in Birmingham.  Just three days earlier, Montgomery's First Baptist Church had been attacked.

National Guardsmen with fixed bayonets stood in the aisles of the bus, assigned by the federal government to protect the activists, and helicopters flew the route Patton and the Freedom Riders took from Montgomery to Jackson, Mississippi.  There also were sharecroppers along the way, and Patton saw little kids waving and pointing, as if they knew the Freedom Riders and relief were on the way.

Patton and John Lewis took seats in the whites-only lunch counter of the Jackson Greyhound station.  Lewis, who has served as a U.S. Congressman from Georgia since 1987, got up to go to the whites-only bathroom, where he was arrested.  Patton was arrested at the lunch counter.   They and the others arrested were taken to notorious Parchman Penitentiary, where they were imprisoned for 62 days.

Patton was one of 14 TSU students who were expelled for taking part in the Freedom Rides.  Later, the university apologized and gave them honorary doctorates.

Patton tells his story to this day, and speaks to students and others around the country, on behalf of various educational organizations such as Facing History and Ourselves.  Patton also sings in the Nashville-based New Spirit and Friends choir.

More later.......

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Three years later, police oversight board to hear case of arrest for filming cops

Three years after it happened, a citizen who was arrested after he sought to take a picture of police at Manna House homeless refuge in Memphis will have his complaint heard by the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board Thursday Oct. 13, 2016, at 4 p.m. in Memphis City Hall, 125 N. Main St.
"I'm going to take you to jail for obstructing highway passageway." 

Paul Garner was arrested along with a Manna House volunteer who had objected to police entering the property without a warrant to search for a man.   Never mind that filming police is protected by the First Amendment as courts consistently have ruled.  Never mind about that search warrant business, that's Fourth Amendment. Memphis police even have a written policy that tells officers basically "hands off" citizens who film police.

Garner was told by police that he could not take a picture of their cruiser ID number because it was illegal to film without a permit.   Police then charged Garner and the volunteer with disorderly conduct and obstructing a passageway, since "pissing off the cops by saying no to a warrantless police search" (they walked past the volunteer and searched, anyway) is not a crime that is currently on the books.

Garner worked within the police department system and filed a complaint through internal affairs.  It took police six months to respond that Garner's complaint was "not sustained," meaning there was insufficient evidence to fault the officers.  The letter from MPD referred Garner to take his complaint up with the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board if he was not satisfied.  Following the system as  prescribed, Garner sought to contact the police oversight board only to learn it had been illegally and secretly disbanded by Mayor A.C. Wharton's administration in 2011.

In the citizen video which is excerpted from the real-time, Memphis-made documentary Who Will Watch the Watchers? six police officers are actually blocking a sidewalk, and two pedestrians have to walk around them as the police arrest an apparently homeless man.  Then, an officer tells the photographer that he knows it's on video, but he is going to arrest the man, anyway, for "obstructing highway passageway."

Garner and other aggrieved Memphis citizens later organized around Memphis United and campaigned to bring back the review board.

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MPD Policy on Filming Police: