Monday, August 21, 2017

Memphis Becomes Next Battlefield of Americans vs. New Confederacy

Sons of Confederate Veterans Lee Miller of Memphis tells Dutch TV reporter that statue opponents are "domestic terrorists."  If you can't read Dutch, watch the video.

One case was dismissed and appearance dates were set for six defendants in Shelby County General Sessions Court Monday as statue opponents made initial appearances after being arrested Saturday.  

Attorneys for defendants framed the matter as First Amendment rights -- Nathan Bedford Forrest's statue was not being damaged, and nobody was hitting anybody.  Police charged in when citizens tried to put a "Black Lives Matter" banner around the horse's legs. 

Here is our story from DailyKos and below is our video sequence of the arrests and aftermath.

If you read Dutch, here is a story filed by a Dutch TV crew in town last week covering this story.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

CLERB Frustrated by Police Chief's Rejections of its Work

Frustrated by the police director’s rejections of their recommendations, the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board chairman and some members want to complain to Mayor Jim Strickland.
Using an interpreter, Elvira Morales shows CLERB
how an officer pulled her from her car

“Our board needs to meet with Mayor Strickland, and it would have to be a formal meeting open to the public,” said CLERB member John Marek at the board’s monthly meeting yesterday.  “If we have a police director who refuses to take our decisions seriously, we need a discussion with the mayor.”

Director Michael Rallings has twice rejected CLERB’s recommendations over the same four citizen complaints. 

CLERB sent four letters to Rallings in April stating the board disagreed with Inspectional Services Bureau (internal affairs) findings that police did nothing wrong in their encounters with complaining citizens.  In May, Rallings replied to each letter and basically recited the police officers’ assertions that the citizens, not the officers, were the cause of any use of force or arrests.

“We should be insulted,” CLERB Chairman Ralph White said at the time. 

Board member Casey Bryant, however, suggested that perhaps the board had not provided Rallings with enough details, and they decided to send more elaborative letters to the police director.  Then last month Rallings responded to those missives with basically the same rejection as before, according to White.  CLERB does not make letters, documents or copies of complaints and police reports available to the public. 

“We got the same letters from him the second time as the first time,” White said.  “He’s steadfast. He’s not moving.

 “We want to meet with the police director and the mayor and tell the mayor, he’s not listening,” White said.  “We’re spinning our wheels when you’ve got people who don’t care. 

“They’re playing their games:  He’s the police and he knows best. We’re saying he doesn’t,” White said.  “That’s why were fighting to strengthen subpoena power.”

CLERB listens to complainants in person and asks questions of the aggrieved citizens. But the board operates as an appeals body and can only review cases that have already been rejected – “not sustained” – by internal affairs.  The board can only make recommendations to the police director and has no authority to implement training or discipline. 

A sore point with CLERB members is that the board does not have autonomous subpoena power, such as citizen review boards in Atlanta and Knoxville.  No officers have appeared at any of the cases, which board members feel leaves unanswered questions at times. 

Since Rallings does not attend CLERB meetings – and apparently he does not look at video recordings made of the meetings – he misses out on hearing the citizens’ personal accounts, which have been compelling.  The board has rejected more than half of the citizen complaints, either agreeing with internal affairs that there was not enough conclusive evidence to find police at fault or that the citizens’ complaints did not fit CLERB’s scope of work – for instance, if citizens were seeking money damages. 

CLERB heard a new complaint brought by Elvira Morales, who used a Spanish-English interpreter to say she and her son were traumatized by an officer who grabbed her out of her car and “threw” Morales and her son in the back of a police car.  The incident sprang from a minor car accident and was acerbated because Morales did not understand the officer’s English, she said, especially when he began yelling at her.

The board moved to exonerate the officer – which in CLERB’s terms does not mean what it sounds like, that the officer did nothing wrong.  CLERB’s and internal affairs version of exonerated is that the event likely happened, but the officer did not violate MPD policy.  The board voted to recommend to Rallings that the officer receive sensitivity training.

Board members also discussed the difficulties that arise when there are language barriers and asked for ways police could better respond so that incidents such as reported by Morales are better managed.

Although the ordinance authorizing CLERB which was passed by City Council Nov. 3, 2015, calls for CLERB to have a user-friendly website, no such website exists approaching two years.  There are three websites searchable which refer to CLERB, but all are either out of date, inaccurate or both. 

Behind-the-scenes help gets a nod for all those talks about law enforcement

In the process of making a film, there are people who help in small or large ways but who have no paid or official roles.  That's why you see "Thanks To" or "Special Thanks" credits.  Not that everybody who deserves a "thanks" gets one!
Anne Kirkpatrick is sworn in
as Oakland chief March 1, 2017

Memphis native and now Oakland police chief Anne Kirkpatrick consulted with us while we were making the feature doc, Who Will Watch the Watchers?  We talked in spring 2016 about the city of Memphis search for a new police chief, and Kirkpatrick was interested in the job.  She was friendly, open and generous with her time, even if I called her too late at night for someone who was in the Eastern time zone -- not Pacific as I had expected -- and had to get up early the next morning to do her job training police chiefs for the the FBI.  

Kirkpatrick worked for the FBI, traveling to train command staff in U.S. cities, including Memphis, when the top cop job came open.  We talked about police practices, her philosophy and goals, and broader things that helped me shape a director's perspective while researching a film.  She enlisted me to keep her up to date on Memphis news related to the search. 

Kirkpatrick had been one of only two national candidates to be recommended to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel after a $500,000 search by the Chicago Police Board in 2015-2016. This followed the firing of CPD superintendent Gary McCarthy in the wake of the LaQuan McDonald killing by a Chicago officer.  Despite the costly, national search and the strong recommendations for Kirkpatrick and Dr. Cedric Alexander, who at the time was public safety director for DeKalb County, Georgia, Emanuel rejected the board's report and hired from within the existing Chicago department. But, he told Kirkpatrick at the time that he had a special role in mind for her.  

In June 2016 Kirkpatrick was named to head the Chicago's new Bureau of Professional Standards with the onerous task of cleaning up CPD and going beyond reform to "change hearts and minds," she said.  In January, Kirkpatrick left CPD to become chief of police in Oakland.  Many current and former Memphis police department police directors and deputy directors know Kirkpatrick, mostly from her sessions training them in Memphis.  Kirkpatrick told us she thought highly of the Memphis command staff, and the feeling was mutual, according to those she trained.  

When it came time for Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland to appoint a new director of police services, he hired Michael Rallings from within.  Mayors presumably are under much pressure to do that.  Nonetheless, Strickland had made a big deal out of the city conducting a "national search" for a new top cop to replace Toney Armstrong.  They hired the International Association of Chiefs of Police to recruit for the position, although there was a mysterious gap between the time Strickland announced the search in January, 2016, and when it officially was authorized in May, 2016.  The city said they spent $40,000 or so for the search fee and perhaps about that much more in time and expenses interviewing, lodging and entertaining candidates and meeting with the search entity.  

The city went through the charade of bringing four national candidates into Memphis -- for interviews, ribs at Rendezvous and an intro to the city -- even after Interim Director Rallings had already been annointed as the presumed heir to the position after his role in the Hernando DeSoto Bridge shutdown July 10, 2016. Perhaps Strickland thought he could have a learning experience that he could bank for the future by playing out this "national search."  

The mayor has not revealed to us any of his thought processes, however, nor has he ever responded to our interview requests. (MPD at least called us back and said officially "...we decline to participate" but wished us well.) 

The only time we got a call back from Strickland's PR team was after we talked to people at the International Chiefs of Police and they alerted Ursula Madden that we were asking questions. Madden called me in what I would describe as something of a frenzy.  We wrote a story and sent a link to Richard Ransom, then anchor at Channel 3.  Ransom did a "cop search" story every night that week, then got Strickland on the "Informed Sources" show for that weekend.  Within days of our calling out the city for foot-dragging and by late Friday afternoon, suddenly the search was up and running.  

At no time did the search firm contact Kirkpatrick.  Why not?  Let's underscore this.  The police search group did not contact a Memphis native and top-rated national candidate who trained existing Memphis police chiefs and command staff.  She was good enough to train us but not be one of us?

Nor did they contact Alexander, who was actually offered the CPD chief job by Emanuel -- who then reneged under pressure by Chicago aldermen.  At some point, we wrote an analysis about the Memphis cop search. Jerome Wright, then editorial page editor at The Commercial Appeal, contacted us about using it for their Sunday Viewpoint section. I realize that these types of pieces often are written by advocates or experts inside an industry or profession, who are pushing an agenda; but sometimes they are written by AP or actual journalists. For some reason, I had this idea I might be knocking a journalist out of money -- I was just writing as a journalist, not an "expert" on anything or someone pushing a position -- so I inquired if there were any compensation for the piece. Just asked. Unsurprisingly, that's the last I heard of it. 

We also talked with Alexander during this time, including about police practices and philosophical issues. Alexander had been a member of President Obama's Task Force on 21st Century Policing, and he wrote a book, The New Guardians: Policing in American Communities for the 21st Century. The President's Task Force made the point that officers should be guardians, not warriors.  

Alexander asked us to spend some time in Georgia, where we would have unlimited access to his department, he said, and make a documentary which he thought would be a good fit for CNN -- for whom he was a frequent law enforcement consultant.  We did not follow up on that offer, but we appreciated the thought.  Although Kirkpatrick and Alexander did not know it, those conversations helped as we made Who Will Watch the Watchers?  And we are thankful. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Memphis-Made Doc Set for World and Tennessee Premieres-- Asks a Key Question in the Trump Era

Paul Garner films police seconds before they arrest him on MLK Day 2017
Photo by Aaron Murphy, Hive Swarm News & Media
The Memphis-made documentary Who Will Watch the Watchers? will have its Tennessee Premiere Thursday Sept. 28 at the University of Memphis.
The film is set in the local and national context of 21st Century hot topics, such as filming police, Black Lives Matter, dissent in the Trump era and citizens getting “woke” to a society that leaves many behind.
The screening will begin at 7 p.m. in Room 250 of the Art and Communication Building, 3575 Central Avenue, and is free and open to the public.  There will be a panel discussion afterwards.  The screening is hosted by the Political Police Project under Honors Research Fellow Nic Bradley.
Who Will Watch the Watchers? will have its World Premiere in Los Angeles Sept. 15 at the Justice on Trial Film Festival.
Told as a real-time narrative, rather than an archival-type documentary, the film tracks the grassroots movement of Memphis United to revive citizen oversight of police through City Hall in an election year.  The film timeline reaches into 2017 and follows local and national events along the way.
 “This is a people’s story, a people’s history, of citizens trying to make change within the system and seeking to fix the police-community divide,” said filmmaker Gary Moore.  “The film examines the expanding ways we have seen police, due to dash cams and cell phones, and ways law enforcement and politicians counter free speech and deflect their own accountability.
“The film includes never-before-seen footage and some content that would not make it into mainstream media. ”
Filming took place over a three-year period and began after citizens were arrested while filming police, such as at Manna House homeless refuge and a Trolley Night hip-hop event.  It’s a roller coaster for citizens such as Paul Garner, organizing director at the Mid-South Peace & Justice Center, who was arrested for filming police, then led Memphis United in a movement to bring back the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board.   In the middle of the campaign, a Memphis patrolman shot and killed unarmed teenager Darrius Stewart after a traffic stop.  The film also spans developments such as the Hernando DeSoto Bridge shutdown in 2016 and the city’s February 2017 blacklist, or A-List, of citizens who were ordered to be escorted by police while in City Hall.
Civil Rights hero and Freedom Rider Dr. Rip Patton of Nashville narrates the opening and closing sequences of the film.
The film has not been rated by the Motion Picture Association of America.  It includes graphic violence and profanity.
Members of the discussion panel will be named later.
Audience members also will be invited to provide feedback and criticism to the filmmaker via a voluntary survey. 
Moore Media & Entertainment previously produced the role-reversal comedy short, "The Suburban Itch," and is developing for television two episodic dramatic comedies which could be shot in Tennessee: In The Pregnant Prick, a womanizing member of Congress changes his ways after he becomes pregnant -- due to global warming, scientists prove.  Second Coming is a what-would-Jesus-really-do series in which Jesus returns to Earth and exposes a televangelist and a crooked politician.