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. 

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