In a press conference at the National Civil Rights Museum on Thursday afternoon, a group of activists who organized Sunday night's Black Lives Matter-style protest on the I-40 bridge issued updates to the list of demands on city government that were first addressed at a community meeting Monday night at Greater Imani Church.
The group is calling itself "Coalition of Concerned Citizens," and it's made up of members of the AAFANTE Tribe, the Official Black Lives Matter Memphis Chapter, the Memphis Grass Roots Organization, HOPE: Help Our Proud Environment, and the New Black Panther Party for Self Defense & Inward Journey.
"The most dire situation we have is economic apartheid in the city of Memphis. There is a system that prevents young, urban individuals from having a piece of the pie," said long-time activist Joseph Kyles of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition at the start of Thursday's press conference.
The group is calling for an investigation into minority contracts with the city's Public Works department. They said that, currently, only 3 percent of its contracts are going to African-American businesses. On Monday night, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said he had increased overall minority contracts by 17 percent since he took over in January, but the coalition now wants an investigation into how much of that 17 percent is going to African-American businesses versus white female- , Hispanic-, or Asian-American-owned businesses. They would like to see 40 percent of the city's Public Works contracts going to African American-owned businesses.
The coalition is calling for more community policing programming and cultural sensitivity training for Memphis Police officers.
"The caveat to the cultural sensitivity training is that it needs to be led by local activists and organizers, preferably younger activists and organizers. The people who lead that should be vetted and be people who have a history of organizing and being engaged in that type of work," said the Rev. Earle Fisher.
They would like more city funding allotted for crime prevention and youth programming at community centers, specifically nine centers in North Memphis, Raleigh, and Frayser.
All of the above demands were made on Monday night at the meeting, but the investigation in the 17 percent of minority contracts was added following Strickland's remarks on that at the Monday meeting. After Monday's meeting, based on some of the concerns brought by citizens there, the group has added that they'd like the city to launch programming aimed at assisting citizens with suspended licenses and non-violent infractions.
The coalition said they're giving Strickland's administration 30 days to begin to address the above issues.
Strickland's office released the following statement regarding the demands, which the group said they'd send to Strickland right after the press event: "We’re looking forward to receiving the most recent list of requests presented by the coalition, and we’re looking forward to receiving the questions from Monday’s meeting. I’m always glad to talk to the people of Memphis about ways to make our city a better place for all, and we’re already hard at work at many of the same issues that have been in the conversation this week.”
There was no mention today of the demand issued Monday to hire interim police director Michael Rallings as permanent police director. The group had originally praised Rallings for marching with protesters on Sunday night, but on Tuesday, one member of the group issued a statement blaming Rallings for disorder at the community meeting (although the chaotic atmosphere seemed to have more to do with how the meeting was organized rather than anything Rallings said or did).