Front-running mayoral candidate A C Wharton accepted the joint endorsement of the Afro-American Police Association and the Memphis Police Association on Friday and in the process dismissed criticism from opponent Jerry Lawler as “just politics” and a “dangerous way to divide” Memphians.
Ironically, Lawler’s criticism, made earlier Friday, had itself invoked the word “divisive,” attaching it to Wharton for the very fact of announcing his dual endorsement by the two police associations. “Why should we be encouraging separate racial organizations?” the W.W. E. wrestler and commentator said. “Why do we even need an ‘Afro-American’ organization?”
Lawler made the statements after discussing his own efforts, in tandem with controversial civil rights figure Al Sharpton, to bring to Memphis the National Education Reform Tour, a joint initiative of Sharpton, former Republican U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
Asked his reaction to Lawler’s statements after receiving the police association endorsements at his Eastgate headquarters, Wharton said , “That’s just politics. It’s a dangerous way to divide us.” The Shelby County mayor further described Lawler’s complaint as “an attempt to deny reality,” maintaining that the members of the Afro-American Police Association “had a hands-on feel” for crime in especially challenged neighborhoods and needed the special recognition that their organization provided.
Tyrone Currie, president of the Afro-American Police Association, responded to Lawler’s criticism by saying, “It’s very disingenuous to make a statement like that.” Currie pointed out that young blacks in “disenfranchised” neighborhoods benefited from having role models they could identify with and that his association gave them a way of identifying with police officers and focusing respect for the law.
MPA president J.D. Sewell also defended the AAPA as a separate entity, saying, “They’ve been in existence as long as we have” and had proved their value to the community.
In his earlier remarks accepting the endorsement of the two organizations, Wharton had said, “I will stand behind them. I will be their biggest cheerleader.”