Three members of Homeless Organizing for Power and Equality (H.O.P.E.), a homeless advocacy organization, were cited for "obstructing a sidewalk" last night as they were leaving their regular Thursday night meeting at the Manna House on Jefferson in Midtown. Now the group is filing a formal complaint with the Memphis Police Department.
Members Paul Garner (the group's organizer and an employee of the Mid-South Peace & Justice Center), Marian Bacon (an advocate for people with disabilities through her work at the Memphis Center for Independent Living), and Edward Jackson (a homeless member of the group) were issued citations.
Garner said he was locking the gate at the Manna House, and the group of eight members were heading to two vehicles parked on the side of the road in front of the Manna House when a police cruiser heading down Jefferson made a U-turn and pulled up next to the group.
"He asked what we were doing, and I said we were leaving a meeting. And then he said, "A meeting on the sidewalk?," Garner said.
Garner informed the officer that the group had to cross the sidewalk to get to their vehicles (Garner and another member were providing rides for the members who didn't have cars). The officer then wrote citations for the three who were standing on the sidewalk. The other five members present were standing on the grass near the sidewalk, and they were not cited.
Bacon, who is disabled, said the officers would not allow her to sit down while the group was being questioned.
"Edward and Paul kept asking for their badge numbers, but they didn't want to give them up," Bacon said.
"When I asked for his badge number, he said, 'I'll give it to you when I write you a citation,'" Garner said.
Because of ongoing issues with what they perceive to be police harassment of the homeless, H.O.P.E. members have been instructed to always ask for officers' badge numbers.
The three members who were cited have court dates set for January 14th at 1:30 p.m. Brad Watkins with the Mid-South Peace & Justice Center said, although they are filing formal complaints with the MPD now, the Peace & Justice Center will also have a presence with the members on their day in court. The Peace & Justice Center is currently working on a separate effort to bridge community relations with the MPD.
The Flyer is still awaiting a response from the MPD.