The decisions by two separate grand juries to not indict the officers responsible for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner have inspired a bill that would prohibit all Tennessee law enforcement agencies from racially profiling citizens.
Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), who is co-sponsoring the bill with Rep. John DeBerry (D-Memphis), said the precise details of the policies would be left to each police and sheriff's department as long as they prohibit the detention, interdiction, or other disparate treatment of individuals based on race.
"Six in 10 white Americans have quite a lot of confidence in the police, but only three in 10 African Americans do," Kelsey said. "The Racial Profiling Prevention Act is not intended as an attack on law enforcement but rather an attack on discrimination. Having a clearly written policy prohibiting racial profiling will help officers do their jobs better and have confidence that they are following the law."
If passed, each law enforcement agency would be required to adopt a written policy by January 1, 2016.
The proposed bill comes on the heels of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's announcement of recently enforced anti-profiling guidelines that ban federal law enforcement agencies from using race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation as a factor during investigations, unless deemed relevant to a particular case.
Holder was in Memphis on December 9th to participate in the My Brother's Keeper local summit — an event inspired by President Barack Obama's new initiative of the same name that seeks to increase the country's number of successful black men.
The five-hour summit took place at the Hattiloo Theatre and brought together representatives from the city, Memphis Police Department, Shelby County Schools, and various nonprofit agencies.
Attendees participated in sessions about education, community outreach, employment, health care and justice.
The summit's moderator, Douglas Scarboro, said it's extremely important to place more focus on establishing ways to help young minority males overcome systemic barriers that could hinder success.
"Over the years, we haven't had enough intentional effort around men and boys of color and helping them be all that they can be," said Scarboro, the city's executive director of talent and human capital. "I think it's extremely sad that we've had the instances that we've had with Michael Brown and more recently with a number of individuals across the nation. I think what's the saddest is regardless of the standard of life, I think every African-American male has a story about some kind of interaction, whether correct or incorrect, [with the police]."
During the summit's final session, Holder condemned racial profiling, reflected on personal encounters with law enforcement, and discussed the new anti-trafficking guidelines.
Afterward, Holder traveled to the National Civil Rights Museum, where he encountered a crowd of people protesting police brutality and racial profiling.
As he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, the same place where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in April 1968, Holder was questioned through a bullhorn by Paul Garner, the organizing coordinator for the Mid-South Peace & Justice Center.
Garner inquired about several things including state and local officers being required to adhere to the new anti-profiling guidelines and officers wearing body cameras.
"We're waiting to see what kind of concrete steps are going to be taken by this administration, and how these new ideas and these new concepts about community-police relations will be applied here in Memphis," Garner said. "If we're going to talk about solutions, we also have to talk about history. We have to take into consideration a whole history of racism."