Friday, August 23, 2019

Group Hopes to De-Criminalize Poverty

Posted By on Fri, Aug 23, 2019 at 2:06 PM


A Tennessee organization is looking for community-sourced solutions to the criminalization of poor Tennesseans.

Free Hearts, an organization led by formerly incarcerated women, seeks to provide support, advocacy, and education to families impacted by incarceration. The group’s ultimate goal is to keep families together or reuniting them.

The organization is asking the public to complete a survey to help generate community-based solutions to decriminalize poverty in Tennessee.

“#ItsNotACrime to be poor, but the state of TN has made it a crime to be poor and working-poor,” the survey introduction reads.

Dawn Harrington, executive director of Free Hearts, said that the survey will help identify new Tennesseans who want to join their efforts to end the criminalization of the poor and “transform our state into one that is just and equitable for all.”

The survey will be open through October 4th. Those who are interested can also send a 1-minute video on the criminalization of poverty to the group.

Free Hearts, along with the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, helped push for a recently-passed state law meant to help parents facing incarceration stay with their families.

The Primary Caretaker Bill, which became law in July, requires that courts factor in someone’s caretaker status when handing down sentences. The idea is for the caretakers to be offered a community-based alternative to incarceration.

Free Hearts with Gov. Bill Lee as he signs the Primary Caretaker Bill - FACEBOOK/FREE HEARTS
  • Facebook/Free Hearts
  • Free Hearts with Gov. Bill Lee as he signs the Primary Caretaker Bill

The group has since been talking with Gov. Bill Lee’s office about solutions to the criminalization of poverty. The organization was asked to present solutions to address the issue and other policies related to poverty and criminal justice.

The survey is a step in that direction. Harrington said the group wants to build on the work it’s done for caregivers, by looking for alternatives to parts of the system it says criminalizes poverty, such as bail and pre-trial detention.

“It is our belief that participation is the first win and in order to propose solutions to a problem that affects so many of us, we must get input and buy in from Tennessee across the state on their ideas and organizations that already exists that they believe are effective,” Harrington said.

To incentivize participation, Free Hearts will enter all survey participants or those who create videos in weekly drawings through October 4th for a chance to win a $500 gift card.

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Attorneys General Plan to Curb Robocalls

Posted By on Fri, Aug 23, 2019 at 12:00 PM

  • Dreamstime
Tired of robocalls blowing up your phone? So is the Tennessee Attorney General.

State AG Herbert Slatery said Thursday that he and 51 other attorneys general and 12 phone companies have adopted a new slate of protocols to fight robocalls.

“Robocalls are uninvited, a breach of privacy, distracting, and generally a menace,” said Slatery. “This agreement should better protect Tennesseans from illegal robocalls and enable this office and other attorneys general to investigate and prosecute offenders.”

The new plan would install call-blocking technology at the network level, give consumers free call-blocking technology for their phones, and implement new technology that would ensure callers are coming from a valid source.

Phone companies will assist in the effort by helping to identify bad actors, notifying law enforcement if they find them, tracing the origins of robocalls, and requiring call traceback identification.
“The principles offer a comprehensive set of best practices that recognizes that no single action or technology is sufficient to curb the scourge of illegal and unwanted robocalls,” said Henning Schulzrinne, professor of computer science at Columbia University. ”I hope that all parts of the telecommunication industry, both large and small, will commit to rapidly implementing these principles and work with state and federal authorities to make people want to answer their phone again without fear of being defrauded or annoyed.”
  • YouMail RoboCall Index

The group is comprised of attorneys general from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The coalition of companies includes AT&T, Bandwidth, CenturyLink, Charter, Comcast, Consolidated, Frontier, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular, Verizon, and Windstream.

If your phone rang in Memphis last month, it was a scammer 40 percent of the time, according to YouMail, host of the RoboCall Index. So, how many calls are we talking here? Nearly 15 robocalls were made every second here last month.

  • YouMail RoboCall Index
  • YouMail RoboCall Index

The No. 1 robocaller in Memphis last month was Intelliquent, reminding you to pay your credit card. Other robocallers included prison-call consents, payment reminders, debt collectors, and straight scams.

Memphis ranks 28th on the RoboCall Index with nearly 40 million calls last month. No. 1? Atlanta. More than 187 million robocalls were placed to callers there last month.

See all of the data here

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Downtown Business Owners Urge Tom Lee Park Renovation

Posted By on Fri, Aug 23, 2019 at 11:02 AM

Owners of nearly 70 Downtown businesses support the renovation of Tom Lee Park - ALDO'S PIZZA PIE'S, CATHERINE AND MARY'S, THE MAJESTIC GRILLE (FACEBOOK)
  • Aldo's Pizza Pie's, Catherine And Mary's, The Majestic Grille (Facebook)
  • Owners of nearly 70 Downtown businesses support the renovation of Tom Lee Park

Owners of well-known Downtown restaurants — Aldo’s Pizza Pies, The Majestic Grille, Catherine and Mary’s, and more — say they, and nearly 70 Downtown businesses fully support a renovated Tom Lee Park. (Read the letter in full at the bottom of the story.)

The group made public Thursday a letter of support it sent to Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland in June. The letter urged Strickland to move ahead with the Mississippi River Park Partnership’s (MRPP) $60 million plan for the park.

That plan adds contours, trees, facilities, and more to the now-wide-open Tom Lee Park. The plan was unveiled in February and raised concern for Memphis In May (MIM) officials, worried that their month-long festival would not fit inside the new park.

A view of Tom Lee Park from Studio Gang's 2017 Riverfront Concept Plan. - STUDIO GANG
  • Studio Gang
  • A view of Tom Lee Park from Studio Gang's 2017 Riverfront Concept Plan.

That concern simmered to a boil for some citizens, afraid the new plan is taking precedent over the MIM tradition. A Facebook group called "Save Tom Lee Park & The Festivals" has nearly 2,500 members. Another Facebook group called "Memphis-Wake Up Save Memphis In May, Riverside Dr. and Tom Lee Park" and signs for another group read, “Let Tom Lee Be.”

The group of Downtown business owners said they want to set straight “recent inaccurate news reports that the majority of Downtown businesses are opposed to the transformation of Tom Lee Park and other misinformation being disseminated on social media.” They say ”a world-class, riverfront park that is activated 365 days per year will be better for business, better for Downtown, and better for Memphis as a whole.”
“We need this park to happen” said Andy Ticer, partner in Catherine and Mary’s and The Gray Canary. “Downtown has seen such positive growth over the past two decades, and because of this momentum, we chose to open two signature Downtown restaurants.

“A re-envisioned Tom Lee Park affirms ours and others’ investments in Downtown, and helps our businesses and Memphis continue to move forward.”

The group said they collectively employ thousands of people and generate tens of millions of dollars in annual tax revenues for the city. The group includes creative agencies, developers, retailers, major corporations, tourist destinations, “and contrary to the official stance of the Memphis Restaurant Association, over 40 restaurants and bars.”

  • Studio Gang

“I hate to think that all the joys of Memphis are relegated to just one month in the springtime,” said Aldo Dean, owner and operator of Bardog Tavern, Aldo’s Pizza Pies, and Slider Inn. “While I understand the economic impact of May's festivities, as an owner of multiple Downtown businesses, I'd rather see my chosen city benefit from the year-long activity and density that a single month's revenue can't hope to match.
“The re-imagination of the riverfront seeks to deliver it from the dormancy of mediocrity. The prototype at River Garden exists as a glimpse of the long-term vision of this much needed improvement, and any argument against the proposal is short-sighted and self-defeating.”

The letter was delivered to Strickland on June 26. It says ”pedestrian connections between the Downtown core and the riverfront are crucial for Memphis to continue to be an attractive hub for headquarters, creative agencies, and entrepreneurs, for our identity as a top tourist destination, and for our continued growth as the most diverse, inclusive neighborhood in the MidSouth.”

Strickland - CITY OF MEMPHIS
  • City of Memphis
  • Strickland
Renovation construction was slated to begin right after the festival ended this year. It was pushed back to the fall in May. Strickland announced in late July that MIM would return to the park next year, be held at an alternate location in 2021, and return to Tom Lee Park in 2022.

“We are pleased that Mayor Strickland has shown such strong leadership and vision by announcing that this project is moving forward,” said Patrick Reilly, co-owner of The Majestic Grille. “The revised timeline ensures Memphis in May ample time to plan for alternate sites in 2020 and almost two years to plan the evolution of the festival to the new space and a new era.

“We’re looking forward to experiencing a new and improved festival and a world-class park that both reflect the current trajectory of our great city.”

Tom Lee Park model at Beale Street Landing. - BRUCE VANWYNGARDEN
  • Bruce VanWyngarden
  • Tom Lee Park model at Beale Street Landing.

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Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Memphis Pets of the Week (8/20/19-8/26/19)

Posted By on Wed, Aug 21, 2019 at 1:35 PM

Each week, the Flyer will feature adoptable dogs and cats from Memphis Animal Services. All photos are credited to Memphis Pets Alive. More pictures and more information can be found on the Memphis Pets Alive Facebook page.

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Zoo Lot Construction to Begin Monday

Posted By on Wed, Aug 21, 2019 at 11:29 AM

  • Brandon Dill

It’s the beginning of the end for parking on the Overton Park Greensward.

Construction is slated to begin Monday on a project that will reconfigure the Memphis Zoo parking lot, adding an additional 415 parking spaces. Those spaces are expected to end the decades-long practice of parking cars on the Greensward, the grassy field adjacent to the zoo’s parking lot.

The first phase of the project will focus on the Prentiss Place parking lot, on the northwest side of the zoo. Work there will take about three months, and during that time, the lot will be completely closed. Once complete, the new Prentiss Place lot will have gained 108 parking spaces.

Prentiss Place is expected to stay open as a two-way street for most of those three months, though some closures are expected to complete pedestrian crossings and on-street parking.


Construction crews will then begin work on the main zoo lot, just south of the zoo entrance. That work is slated to start this fall and winter, an optimum time to transplant many trees, which officials have said is necessary to the project.

During it all, the zoo’s North Parkway entrance will be staffed and open on busy days when overflow parking is expected. This will give access to the zoo from the nearly 200 on-street parking spots on North Parkway.
“By executing on this project, we’ll fulfill [Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland’s] promise to put 30-plus years of controversy behind us by permanently ending parking on the Greensward, as well as accommodating the growth of one of the nation’s top zoos,” Doug McGowen, the city’s chief operating officer, said in a statement. “We will surely have some growing pains as we work through the construction, but we’re committed to strong communication to make sure park visitors, zoo patrons, and neighborhood residents know what to expect.”

New zoo president and CEO Jim Dean said he was “very happy” to have the “strong” support of the Overton Park Conservancy, Overton Park Alliance, and the city of Memphis.

“The Memphis Zoo has been a part of Overton Park since 1906,” Dean said. “We have grown quite a bit since then and have faced some challenges.

The hotly contested battle for the Greensward
  • The hotly contested battle for the Greensward

“We’re happy this resolution will, once complete, end parking on the Greensward. We are also excited about strengthening and growing our partnership with the Overton Park Conservancy and the Overton Park Alliance to continue to make Overton Park one of the best parks in the country.”

Tina Sullivan, executive director of the Overton Park Conservancy, said community support made the project possible and “is a testament to Memphis’ love for Overton Park.”

“We look forward to the day very soon when park visitors can look from the Doughboy statue to Rainbow Lake across a beautiful Greensward that is free of cars,” Sullivan said.

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Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Upward Juvenile Violent Crime Trend 'Disturbing'

Posted By on Tue, Aug 20, 2019 at 2:44 PM

  • Countywide Juvenile Justice Consortium

Juvenile crime is down, overall, in the first half of 2019, but violent crime is up enough for a law enforcement official to call the trend “disturbing.”

New figures from the Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County were published Tuesday by the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission. The numbers had “both good news and bad news on juvenile crime," according to the commission.

The good news: the number of overall charges against juveniles was down 9 percent from the same time last year. So far, 3,096 charges were lodges against youths here.

  • Memphis Shelby Crime Commission

“The reduction may not totally be attributable to a drop in the number of alleged delinquent acts but rather to programs designed to divert youthful offenders from the Juvenile Court system for lower level offenses,” reads a report from the commission.

Shelby County Schools, for example, has implemented School House Adjustment Program Enterprise (S.H.A.P.E.). The program is aimed at reducing the number of students sent through the Juvenile Court system for minor infractions.

The bad news: the number of charges for violent juvenile crime is up. These charges include murder, rape, robbery, and other offenses. So far this year, 463 such charges have been filed. That’s up from 282 charges in the same time last year.

  • Memphis Shelby Crime Commission

“More violent crime by juveniles is a disturbing trend,” said Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich. “The victims of these crimes don’t suffer any less simply because the person who pointed a gun at them is 16 years old. We have to commit as a community to reducing these numbers."

Other numbers found that nearly half (47.1 percent) of all complaints filed during the first half of this year involved repeat offenders.

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Friday, August 16, 2019

U of M Students Look to Raise Funds for African-American Greek Organizations

Posted By on Fri, Aug 16, 2019 at 12:14 PM

Members of the U of M's National Pan-Hellenic Council executive board - NPHC
  • NPHC
  • Members of the U of M's National Pan-Hellenic Council executive board

Students at the University of Memphis recently launched a campaign to raise funds for their predominantly African-American, Greek-letter, service-based organizations on campus.

The university’s National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC), which governs the school’s nine traditionally African-American fraternities and sororities, hopes to raise $7,500 by September 28th.

The money raised will fund “plots,” or permanent housing facilities, for each of the fraternities and sororities.

“The largest symbols of Black fraternalism on college campuses is the plot,” the group’s campaign website reads. “Unlike chapters within the Interfraternity and Panhellenic Councils, NPHC chapters typically do not own housing facilities.”

Having housing on campus provides “representation and sacred spaces for these groups.” The goal of the NPHC is for all nine organizations to have their own housing on campus near the University Center and Alumni Mall.

“The University of Memphis' NPHC community has been given the opportunity to obtain physical representation on campus, in the form of plots, but we need your help to make it happen!” the campaign site reads. “With your help, the NPHC community will be able to create and maintain these sacred spaces on the U of M's campus for many years to come.”

About 200 students are involved in the nine organizations at the U of M governed by the NPHC, according to the group.

“We pride ourselves in scholarship, service, and quality programming,” a description of the groups reads. “We hold ourselves to a higher standard and ensure students on our campus can see us as role models, while actively engaging in the numerous activities that we program for students.”

So far, $992 of the $7,500 has been raised.

Jessika Williams, president of the university’s NPHC executive board, said the council is “breaking barriers and making history” at the U of M.

“Through rebranding and elevating our campus community, we have set a new standard for NPHC,” Williams said. “As we rise to the occasion as active role models for our campus community, we see the importance of us having physical representation through placement plots here on campus.”

The nine groups under the school’s NPHC, known as the “Divine Nine,” include Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.; Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.; Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.; Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc.; Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.; Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.; Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc.; Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc.; and Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.

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Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Memphis Pets of the Week (August 13-19)

Posted By on Wed, Aug 14, 2019 at 1:12 PM

Each week, the Flyer will feature adoptable dogs and cats from Memphis Animal Services. All photos are credited to Memphis Pets Alive. More pictures and more information can be found on the Memphis Pets Alive Facebook page.

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Group Calls Committee’s Interruption of CEO’s Testimony ‘Disrespectful,’ ‘Dismissive’

Posted By on Wed, Aug 14, 2019 at 12:36 PM

Cherisse Scott
  • Cherisse Scott

Head of a Memphis organization that works for reproductive justice was cut short during her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday as she spoke against legislation that would essentially ban abortion in Tennessee. 

Cherisse Scott, founder and CEO of SisterReach, an organization meant to help women and girls of color, women living in low-income and rural areas, and the LBGTQ community obtain reproductive justice, was cut off five minutes into what was meant to be a 10-minute testimony by chairman of the committee Senator Mike Bell (R-Riceville).

“Reproductive justice seeks to liberate and emancipate vulnerable populations from all forums of reproductive and sexual oppression,” Scott said early in her testimony. “It challenges us to expand our analysis beyond abortion to be inclusive of the myriad of other issues that preclude women and people that give birth from achieving reproductive and sexual autonomy.”

Scott called the legislation in question an “outright and intentional abandonment by the Tennessee state legislator of these vulnerable people.”

She said the legislation would be the “final straw in a political pattern of vile, racist, un-American, and un-Christian legislation.”

Scott continued citing “harmful” policy making that intersects with abortion rights. She noted the need for sexual education in schools, access to health care, education reform, and more behavioral and mental health care.

She said the legislators have “created an environment that leads Tennesseans to need more abortions, under-care or neglect their children, regardless of whether or not they want to or able to parent.

“And if all this isn’t heartbreaking enough, you weild your political power in Jesus’ name,” Scott said. “Many of you who claim to be conservative Christians have weaponized the word of God to forward your political agendas and maintain power and control over the most vulnerable Tennesseans. You manipulated Biblical scripture to align with your colonialism and supremacist ideologies, instead of showing mercy.”

Cherisse Scott continues to speak as she is approached by the sergeant-in-arms - MATT ANDERSON
  • Matt Anderson
  • Cherisse Scott continues to speak as she is approached by the sergeant-in-arms

This is when Bell interrupted Scott: “That’s enough. Your time is up.”

Scott continued to speak though, prompting Bell to call for the sergeant-in-arms to escort Scott from the room.

“I have sat here and I have watched you all to allow people to talk and talk, but you won’t allow me to talk as a Christian because I disagree with the way that you believe?” Scott said, noting that she hadn’t gone over her allotted 10 minutes.

Bell asked for Scott’s microphone to be turned off, as she continued to speak, and then he called for a five-minute recess, and left the room.

“Either you care about people’s bodies or you do not,” Scott told the committee. “Either you are here to save my life or you are not. Stop being an impostor of God’s word and do your jobs.”

Scott’s words garnered applause and cheers from members of the audience. Watch Scott’s interrupted testimony here or read the entire testimony here.

Of the 21 witnesses that spoke before the committee, Scott was the only one prohibited from completing her testimony. She was also the only African-American witness, and one of nine women.

SisterReach called the committee's actions a "bold declaration of the staunch, disrespectful, and dismissive attitude toward women." 

Many watching the hearings agreed and took it to Twitter.

The legislation up for discussion, sponsored by Senator Mark Pody (R-Lebanon) seeks to redefine viability and outlaw abortion at the moment of conception, or when a woman finds out she is pregnant.

Others who testified against the legislation include Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee. Weinberg called the arguments made in support of the legislation “certainly creative,” but “irrational.”

“Abortion restrictions disproportionally harm women in rural areas and women with limited incomes,” Weinberg said. “Forcing a woman to carry to term increases existing hardships. It’s unconstitutional.”

If the bill is passed, Weinberg said the ACLU will sue and “We will win.”

Wrapping up the two-day hearing, Pody admitted that the issue is “very, very contentious,” but also “extremely important.”

Pody also noted that the bill isn’t “necessarily a heartbeat bill” and that no other state is “hearing something like this.”

“I think it’s going to boil down to this: When does life begin?” Pody said. “And who’s going to decide? So far it’s been decided by the Supreme Court, but I believe at one point everybody thought the world was flat. I believe at one point, people of color didn’t have the same rights,

“I believe at one point, women didn’t have the same rights. As we grow as a society, we want to make sure everybody’s protected. If there’s life in the womb and that life is human, I believe that that life deserves protection as well.”

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Conservative Group Pushes for Death Penalty Alternatives

Posted By on Wed, Aug 14, 2019 at 10:42 AM

  • Death Penalty Information Center
  • Stephen Michael West
A group of conservatives in Tennessee are speaking out against the death penalty. State officials began executions again in Tennessee last year and another execution is scheduled for Thursday night, August 15th.

Nashville resident Amy Lawrence, state coordinator of Tennessee Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, said in a news release, that the death penalty goes against the “basic tenets” of the group’s beliefs, that ”murders should be followed with swift and sure justice,” and that a change in thinking is taking place now on the death penalty in red-state legislatures.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced yesterday that he will not intervene in Thursday’s scheduled execution of Tennessee death-row inmate Stephen Michael West. According to The Tennessean, West was moved into a cell next to the execution chamber in Nashville yesterday and will order his last meal sometime today.

“After thorough consideration of Stephen West’s request for clemency and a review of the case, the state of Tennessee’s sentence will stand, and I will not be intervening,” Lee said in a statement Tuesday.

West was convicted for the 1986 murders of a woman and her 15-year-old child in Union County, according to The Tennessean. West was also convicted of raping the young girl and inflicting 17 “torture-type cuts” to her stomach, according to the paper.

West argued he was present during the murders but he didn’t do it. Instead, he said it was the work of a friend of his from work.

West’s will be the state’s fifth execution since state officials began scheduling them again last year. Before that, the state’s last execution was in 2010, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. There are now 56 prisoners on death row in Tennessee.

Next month, New Orleans will host the first annual national meeting of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. Lawrence and others from Tennessee will attend. She spoke with us regarding her group and its aims. — Toby Sells

  • Death Penalty Information Center

Memphis Flyer:
How does the death penalty violate the basic tenets of your group’s beliefs?

Amy Lawrence: I believe that the core tenet of conservatism is small, limited government, and as conservatives, we apply this concept to a variety of issues, whether that be taxation, healthcare, or regulations. This is the same tenet that should be applied to capital punishment.

Simply put, the death penalty is anything but small, limited government. It is a prime example of a bloated, broken government program. It is costly, it risks executing an innocent person, and it leaves the ultimate power over life and death in the hands of a fallible system.
MF: You also said that, “murders should be followed with swift and sure justice.” What does that justice look like to you?

AL: Well, it sure doesn't look like years of appeals and decades of court proceedings for the victims' family members.

The death penalty does not provide swift and sure justice but instead drags families through decades of litigation, where in at least half the cases in Tennessee, the sentence is overturned and the convicted receives a life sentence anyway.

Life without parole begins as soon as the trial is over and allows families to at least have some legal finality.

MF: What alternatives to the death penalty does your group hope lawmakers will consider?
AL: Tennessee already has a life sentence of 51 years before parole eligibility and life without parole, which does not allow for parole ever. These are the two sentences that the majority of murderers already receive.

Death sentences are on the decline statewide and have been for some years with roughly only two death sentences in Tennessee between 2013-2018. More and more prosecutors seek the alternative sentences because of the cost of seeking the death penalty and to spare victims' families while juries are also less likely to impose death sentences.

  • Death Penalty Information Center

Is an alternative to the death penalty a hard sell in the broader conservative community?

AL: I really focus on what unites conservatives on this issue — limited government, fiscal responsibility, and pro-life stances.

We know that government and human decisions are error-prone. We simply cannot guarantee that we can carry out capital punishment with 100 percent accuracy. While the punishment might be just in some circumstances, we cannot carry it out justly.

We also have limited resources and with death sentences costing $1 to $2 million more than life without parole. I think the majority of people would support having those resources go towards victims' compensation, law enforcement, and mental health programs.

MF: What is the next step for your group in this push?

AL: We continue to educate the public about the shortcomings of our system and will continue to push for laws to make the system more just.

MF: Is there anything else you’d like to say or anything I left out?

AL: Absolutely! If you would like to learn more about our organization, check out our website I'm also happy to talk to civic groups and faith communities about this work.

For more information about Tennessee and the death penalty, visit the Death Penalty Information Center

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Artist Mia Saine Inspired by Flyer Cover Story

Posted By on Wed, Aug 14, 2019 at 9:48 AM

When graphic artist and illustrator Mia Saine read Maya Smith's July 2018 story on Memphis food deserts and the ongoing problem of food insecurity in the city, she did what artists do: She created a visual response.

We saw it posted on Saine's Instagram account, and thought Flyer readers might enjoy seeing it. The work was recently shown at the National Civil Rights Museum.

Here's a version of the work itself:  

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Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Cannabis Crusader Loses Appeal in Bizarre Drug Case

Posted By on Tue, Aug 13, 2019 at 2:30 PM

Leo AwGoWhat (left) and Thorne Peters (right) in an undated photo showing the two with a vaporizer, hookah, and glass pipes. - THORNE PETERS/THORNEPETERS.COM
  • Thorne Peters/
  • Leo AwGoWhat (left) and Thorne Peters (right) in an undated photo showing the two with a vaporizer, hookah, and glass pipes.

The half-pound of pot found in Thorne Peters' possession was only for use in a "Cannabag Challenge." And the gun found nearby? Peters was only keeping it safe for him, said perennial Memphis mayoral candidate, Leo AwGoWhat.

Memphis cannabis crusader Thorne Peters tried to convince a state appeals court of this version of his 2015 pot bust recently, hoping to reverse a lower court's decision and get some time shaved from his four-year sentence. But it didn’t work.

Peters entered the public eye in 2009, when he made local news for operating a "4-20" friendly nightclub in Millington. Since then, the self-proclaimed "Poet Laureate of Planet Earth" and “Galileo of pot” beat a cannabis charge, smoked and sold cannabis in front of 201 Poplar, and started the Cannabag Challenge (a spin-off of the ALS ice bucket challenge that involves dumping a bunch of pot on your head in the name of marijuana law reform).

He was arrested in February 2015 on charges of selling cannabis. According to court papers, that’s exactly what he wanted. But he was also arrested for possessing a firearm during the crime, which came with more jail time. That, he didn’t want.

Earlier this year, Peters asked the the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals to review his case. On Friday, judges upheld the original ruling and sentence on Peters’ case dealt by the Shelby County Criminal Court.

Court papers from the appeal craft a bizarre narrative of a cannabis proponent following his own rules and taunting Memphis leaders and law enforcement to arrest him — all in the name of legalizing marijuana.
”The defendant [Peters] moved from California to Memphis with his girlfriend, Linda Harrah, with the goal of getting arrested and challenging Tennessee’s marijuana laws,” reads the very first statement about the case from the appeals court decision.

On the night of February 3, 2015, Peters and Harrah were at Harrah’s Orange Mound home on Mariana Street. Police had watched the house all day and saw a lot of foot and vehicle traffic in and around the home. Satisfied that drugs were being sold on the premises, police entered the house.

“At the time officers executed the search warrant, the defendant was at her [Hannah's] home with a large amount of cannabis because he was ‘going to do the Cannabag Challenge, which is like the ice-bucket challenge, with cannabis,’” according to court papers.
Peters told the Flyer all about starting the Cannabag Challenge and his efforts to push marijuana reform in an interview in 2014. Read it here.

What does the Cannabag Challenge look like? Have a look here:

For days before police entered the Orange Mound home, Peters had been openly dealing marijuana on Facebook. He also posted images of himself dealing marijuana and placed those posts on the Facebook pages of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, the Memphis mayor, and the Shelby County District Attorney.

In court, Peters said he did it all so that he “could make them come and arrest me, so I could take on the legal-industrial complex here at the trial of the millennium.”

Inside the home, police found found three mason jars containing marijuana, a plastic bag containing marijuana, and a digital scale. Police recovered 297.31 grams of marijuana, just more than a half of a pound.

While Peters told police that night that the marijuana was his and he was selling it, Harrah told them it was really for the Cannabag Challenge. Peters then appealed the marijuana-related charges, claiming he had no intent to sell any of the pot found on the premises.

Police also found a .45-caliber handgun sitting on a floor speaker in a bedroom. It was loaded with a magazine and had a round in the chamber, court papers said, and “was not obstructed in any way.”

Thorne Peters (right) and Leo AwGoWhat (right) in an undated photo. - THORNE PETERS/THORNEPETERS.COM
  • Thorne Peters/
  • Thorne Peters (right) and Leo AwGoWhat (right) in an undated photo.

Peters told police that the gun may have his fingerprints on it (it did). But, he said, he didn’t like guns and it wasn’t his. In court later, Peters’ friend and perennial Memphis political candidate Leo AwGoWhat said that the gun was his. Harrah was keeping it for him, he said, because he had children at home.

However, Peters had previously posted a video to Facebook with him holding the gun with this caption:

“I was just sitting around hoping some sorry want-to-be wigger motherfucker was going to stop by with his partner to rob me of all this weed and money I’m holding so I can take target practice on their sorry asses,” Peters said in the video, according to court documents. “If you know anybody that wants to try me, let them know, I will be up all night, armed and dangerous.”

All of this was enough for the state appeals court to affirm Peters’ conviction.

If you want to read the court's full opinion, dive into it here:

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Strickland: MPD on Track to Reach Target Number of Officers

Posted By on Tue, Aug 13, 2019 at 12:15 PM

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The Memphis Police Department (MPD) is on track to have 2,100 officers by the end of the year, according to Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland.

That's just 200 officers shy of the target number Strickland has pushed since taking office. The goal is to reach 2,300 officers by the end of 2020. 

In his weekly newsletter to constituents, Strickland said that because of improved recruiting efforts and increased officer pay — 9.75 percent to 11.75 percent since 2016 — the police department has been able to hire close to 450 new officers since he took office in 2016.

Strickland said, “we inherited a broken and ineffective system.”

The department hit a modern low in early 2017 with a force of 1,909 commissioned officers, but since then, numbers have been on the upswing. The department currently has 2,066 officers and two training classes in session with a total of 90 police recruits.

Strickland said that rebuilding MPD is one of the components of his administration’s strategy for long-time crime reduction.

“Overhauling the system to recruit better has been a herculean task — perhaps the most time-consuming of my tenure as your mayor,” Strickland said. “But, it’s important. For long-term crime reduction to take place, we must have a fully staffed police department.”

128th Basic Recruit Class - FACEBOOK/MPD
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  • 128th Basic Recruit Class

MPD is now accepting applications for its Fall Academy through Friday, August 16th. The 131st Basic Recruit class begins on September 30th and wraps up February 28th.

“We are looking for highly dedicated and motivated candidates who enjoy serving their community and protecting others,” a press release from the city reads.

More information about joining MPD can be found here.

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Monday, August 12, 2019

State Agencies (Pretty Much) Live-Tweeted Watson Capture

Posted By on Mon, Aug 12, 2019 at 11:38 AM

Escape fugitive Curtis Watson after his Sunday-morning capture. - TENNESSEE BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION/TWITTER
  • Tennessee Bureau of Investigation/Twitter
  • Escape fugitive Curtis Watson after his Sunday-morning capture.

In a series of weekend tweets, state agencies presented a pulse-pounding, up-to-the-moment look at the final capture of escaped fugitive Curtis Watson.

Watson's capture came Sunday after he was spotted on a home surveillance camera in Henning.

Watson was in his sixth year of a 15-year sentence for aggravated assault when he escaped from the West Tennessee State Penitentiary in Henning Wednesday, according to the Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC).

West Tennessee Correctional Administrator Debra Johnson was found dead in her residence at the penitentiary shortly before noon on Wednesday. Officials discovered Johnson was missing from his farm-work detail and suspected he played a role in Johnson’s death.

A manhunt for Watson ensued but was fruitless. As of Saturday, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) said it had received 369 tips on Watson but no credible sightings. The TDOC added $4,500 to a reward for information leading to Watson’s arrest, bringing that reward total too $57,000 on Saturday afternoon.

Early Sunday morning, TDOC posted photos and video from a residential surveillance camera showing Watson in camouflage clothes rummaging through an outdoor refrigerator (below).

”Residents in the area should be ALERT and VIGILANT,” reads the TDOC’s Twitter post Sunday morning.

At 11:23 a.m., a TBI tweet showed a photo of a haggard-looking Watson in the back seat of a police car. The tweet read "Captured!"

Later, TBI posted a video of Watson right after his capture (below).

At 4:33 p.m. Sunday, the TBI tweeted another photo of Watson being walked into a detention facility in Tipton County.

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Thursday, August 8, 2019

Tennessee Lawmakers Plan Hearings on Six-Week Abortion Ban Next Week

Posted By on Thu, Aug 8, 2019 at 2:49 PM

Ashley Coffield speaks at a Thursday press conference - MAYA SMITH
  • Maya Smith
  • Ashley Coffield speaks at a Thursday press conference

State lawmakers are slated to hold hearings next week on legislation that would ban abortions at six weeks in Tennessee.

Last spring, the Tennessee General Assembly came close to passing similar legislation — the Heartbeat Bill, which would have blocked abortions after a heartbeat is detected — but it stalled in the Senate.

Sen. Mark Pody (R-Lebanon) - FACEBOOK/MARK PODY
  • Facebook/Mark Pody
  • Sen. Mark Pody (R-Lebanon)

Now, Sen. Mark Pody (R-Lebanon), one of the co-sponsors of last year’s bill is pushing to bring back the Heartbeat Bill. The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a two-day hearing on Monday and Tuesday of next week to discuss the legislation.

Ashley Coffield, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi (PPTNM), said at a Thursday press conference that the six-week ban is “unpopular, dangerous for Tennessee women, and it’s unconstitutional.” Coffield said PPTNM is urging the Senate committee to drop the legislation, as abortion is a “critical component of women’s reproductive health care.”

“A six-week abortion ban goes too far, inserting government in personal private lives,” Coffield said. “The bill is intended to ban all abortion in our state. It’s important that abortion remain a safe and legal option for women to consider when and if she needs it.”

Banning abortions threatens the “autonomy and individual freedom of people in Tennessee,” Coffield added.

“The truth is, banning abortion does not eliminate abortion,” Coffield said. “It just makes it less safe, and it puts pregnant women and their families at risk.”

She also noted that in other states that have passed six-week bans, including Kentucky, Mississippi, Iowa, North Dakota, and Ohio, the court has “easily blocked these bans,” on the basis that it is unconstitutional for states to prohibit a woman from choosing abortion before viability.

As set by Roe v. Wade, viability occurs in the 24th week of pregnancy.

“If passed in Tennessee, the six-week abortion ban will be challenged in court,” Coffield said. “Just like every other state that’s passed similar laws, we would be setting Tennessee up for an expensive lawsuit that wastes hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money.”

President of the Family Action Council of Tennessee (FACT), David Fowler, helped draft the new version of the bill to be discussed next week.

On this week’s episode of the FACT Report, a one-minute commentary featured on conservative radio stations in the state, Fowler said under the precedent of Roe v. Wade the heartbeat bill is “clearly” unconstitutional. But, he said “Roe’s constitutional reasoning has been sharply criticized from the beginning by liberal and conservative lawyers.”

“Surprisingly, in 46 years, no state has passed a bill that directly attacks Roe’s foundations,” Fowler said. “For 46 years, the Court has not been forced to re-examine Roe’s reasoning.

"So, the real question these senators must answer is whether it’s time to stop cowering before the U.S. Supreme Court by attacking Roe in roundabout ways and pass a bill that forces the issue,"  Fowler continued. "Roe seems like a giant to overcome, but God has used His people to slay giants before. It’s time we take on the giant.”

Coffield said PPTNM is urging Tennesseans to come to the hearing in Nashville next week to “make their voices heard.”

"These hearings are the most important days of action this whole summer,” a post on PPTNM’s Facebook page reads. “It is imperative that we show our elected officials that Tennesseans do not support a ban on abortion. With your presence, we will make our voices heard.”

PPTNM is offering free travel to Nashville from Memphis by bus on Monday. Contact Tory at for details. For those who want to spend the night, the group is also assisting with lodging. Contact Julie at for more information.

After the hearing on Tuesday, Coffield said there will be a “people’s hearing” to give the public a chance to voice their opinions. She said speakers will include physicians, attorneys, and women who’ve had abortions.

“It’ll really be centered around the experience of women who have had abortions,” Coffield said. “Those people will not be allowed to speak during the hearings. So those are the people we need to hear from.”

Read the full amended version of the legislation below.

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