Thursday, November 21, 2019

Hearing to Modify Consent Decree on Police Surveillance Set for July

Posted By on Thu, Nov 21, 2019 at 2:53 PM


The city will get to make its case for modifying the 1978 consent decree prohibiting 

police surveillance in July.

Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Jon McCalla denied the city’s motion to immediately “significantly modify” the 1978 Kendrick Consent Decree. The city argued that the decree prohibits the Memphis Police Department (MPD) from “using other agencies or persons as ‘surrogates’ to do indirectly what it could not do directly,” preventing coordination between law enforcement agencies.

But McCalla denied the request, saying that because all parties have not agreed to the modification of the consent decree, there would have to be an evidentiary hearing before the court could make a ruling.

Thursday McCalla said an evidentiary trial hearing on that matter is set preliminary for July 17th. Then, the court will review all of the information it’s received and make a decision on if the consent decree should be modified and if so, what changes should be made.

The team appointed to ensure and monitor MPD’s compliance to the consent decree gave its third progress update to the court Thursday.

At Thursday’s hearing, Rachel Levinson-Waldman, the monitoring team’s social media and public policy expert, discussed the social media policies for federal agencies. Levinson-Waldman said the FBI and IRS are the only two agencies that use social media for investigative purposes and have a publicly available policy.

The FBI guidelines allows for collecting First-Amendment-protected information only if its related to an authorized investigation. The collection will not interfere with the individual’s Constitutionally protected rights, and if the method of investigation is the “least intrusive alternative.”

Levinson-Waldman said that these guidelines mirror language in the 1978 Consent Decree.

Generally, the FBI guidelines allow for more intrusive investigative methods as the level of the investigated increases.

One key piece of the FBI guideline Levinson-Waldman noted is that during an inquiry, unless related to federal crimes or national security, the agency is allowed to search and review public social media accounts, but is prohibited from using fictitious personas or engage in undercover activity.

MPD’s use of the undercover Facebook account of Bob Smith was one of the violations noted in McCalla’s ruling last fall. The account friended more than 200 activists.

One of the takeaways from Thursday’s hearing for local activist Hunter Dempster is that there aren’t many clear, outlined policies nationally of local and federal law enforcement agency’s social media use.

“From the get-go, a lot of us have said that is going to be one of the most important elements that comes out of this entire process,” Dempster said. I think we have an opportunity to set the standard for the rest of the country. I think it’s important to look at what other federal and local departments have done, but I think we need to pave a new path forward. At the center needs to be people and their civil rights, not necessarily public safety.”

The monitoring team and the city were given until Tuesday, November 26th to submit the most recent draft of the new MPD social media policies and training procedures, as well as an audit and compliance plan to the court.

The monitor team is looking to hold focus groups early next year. Dr. Sheila Peters, an associate professor of physiology at Fisk University will lead those groups. McCalla said this is an important piece of the process as “everyone is entitled to be heard.”

Attorneys for city questioned if the discussions from the focus group will be used for evidentiary purposes. McCalla said the discussions won’t be evidence but “important input.” The groups will create space for the public to bring new concerns to the table and gather public sentiment, he said.

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CannaBeat: Cohen Pushes 'Landmark' Cannabis Legislation

Posted By on Thu, Nov 21, 2019 at 2:52 PM


When the House Judiciary Committee approved a “landmark” and “historic” cannabis reform bill yesterday, Memphis was there pushing it right along.

The committee approved the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act. The legislation would decriminalize cannabis at the federal level, reassess and expunge past cannabis convictions, and fund a series of programs to help those unduly affected by the War on Drugs.

Memphis Rep. Steve Cohen, a senior member of the Judiciary Committee and a longtime cannabis advocate, voted to advance the MORE Act to the House floor. The committee vote was 24 to 10.
Ninth District congressman Steve Cohen
  • Ninth District congressman Steve Cohen

“These failed and racist policies disproportionately affected communities of color,” Cohen said in a statement after the vote. “The effects extend well beyond arrest and prosecution.

“This bill's expungement provisions help those convicted of non-violent marijuana offenses fully reintegrate into society and pursue their potential. Without a criminal record, they will be better able to find good jobs, access housing, and vote. I’m proud to advance this measure to the House floor and look forward to voting for it there.”
In January, Cohen introduced the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act. It will allow access to medical marijuana for patients in states where marijuana is legal without fear of federal prosecution.

He also introduced the Fresh Start Act which would expunge criminal records for non-violent offenders with seven years of good behavior.

Watch Cohen's committee remarks on the MORE Act below:

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Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Check Out the Flyer's New Pickup Location Map

Posted By on Wed, Nov 20, 2019 at 2:06 PM


People are always asking us, "Where can I pick up a Flyer?" Well, now we can just point them — and you — to our snazzy new interactive pickup-location map. Check it out here! 

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Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Bus Rider Union: Rapid Bus Route ‘Long Overdue’ Here

Posted By on Tue, Nov 19, 2019 at 3:51 PM

  • Justin Fox Burks

A leader of the Memphis Bus Riders Union said a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line is “long overdue” in Memphis.

Officials announced earlier this month that the Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) is receiving a $12 million federal grant to create a rapid bus line here.

The $12 million Better Utilizing Investment to Leverage Development (BUILD) grant will partially fund Memphis’ Innovation Corridor, an eight-mile stretch between Downtown and the University of Memphis.

The BRT line, dubbed mConnect, will be the first in the region.

Proposed BRT route
  • Proposed BRT route

Justin Davis, organizing coordinator for the MBRU said “it’s really important that we’re talking about changing the city’s infrastructure to accommodate transit better and making it easier to use with new stops and new technology.”

However, he said many bus riders are frustrated that most of the recent efforts to improve the city’s transit have been focused in Midtown and Downtown.

“We still have many neighborhoods where service is so unreliable and inaccessible that people can’t even get to Midtown or Downtown in a reasonable amount of time,” Davis said. “Midtown and Downtown already have the most reliable service. We need high-frequency service going north to south and bus routes that directly address the needs of low-income folks, people of color, and people with disabilities.”

Davis said many parts of the MATA system still need “significant repair.” There need to be more conversations about finding a dedicated funding source for MATA. Dedicated funding will give the system “stability,” he said, making the network “better for everyone, not just the people who will benefit from this BRT line right now.”

At a community meeting on Monday, officials revealed details for the project to the public looking to gather feedback. The public has until December 2nd to comment on the project.

Construction on the project is expected to begin in 2021 with service beginning in 2024.

Here are some other preliminary facts about mConnect:

• The route will include 30 modern transit stations that are well-lit, covered, and ADA accessible

• Buses will arrive every 10 minutes during peak hours.

• All of the buses will be electric and equipped with vehicle health monitoring, collision avoidance, and predictive maintenance technology.

• WiFi will be available at the stations and on-board.

• Dedicated bus lanes will be created on portions of B.B. King Boulevard and Second Street.

• Buses will have traffic signal priority along the route.

• Other features include mobile ticketing, automated voice announcements, and real-time security cameras.

Officials seek feedback at public meeting Monday
  • Officials seek feedback at public meeting Monday

The total cost of the Innovation Corridor is $74 million. The largest portion of the funds, $39 million, are federal dollars. Another $12 million comes from the BUILD grant, $18.5 million from the city, and $4.5 million from the state.

Memphis’s project is one of 55 in 35 states to receive a portion of the 2019 U.S. Department of Transportation's $900 million BUILD grant.

The Innovation Corridor was identified as a potential high-capacity transit corridor by a 2004 MATA study. The study, Midtown Alternative Analysis, looked at transit needs and the potential to provide a higher quality service within Midtown and surrounding neighborhoods.

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Proposed Change in Fire, Police Residency Requirements Amended

Posted By on Tue, Nov 19, 2019 at 2:07 PM


The Memphis City Council continued its discussion Tuesday about lifting the residency requirements for the city’s police and fire personnel, but with a few changes.

The original ordinance, sponsored by council members J. Ford Canale and Gerre Currie, would allow voters to choose whether or not Memphis Police Department (MPD) and Memphis Fire Department (MFD) personnel should have to reside in the city or county, or if they should be allowed to live up to two hours away.

Tuesday Canale proposed four amendments to that ordinance. The first is developing a point system that would create preferential hiring for officers living within the city. The second is implementing a take-home car program for officers living in the city.

The third amendment would change the language of the ordinance, allowing officers to live in bordering counties or within a 50 mile radius instead of the originally proposed two-hour radius.

Finally, Canale recommended that the department only hire outside of the county when the department dips below a full complement of about 2,500 officers.

“We have one goal and only one goal in mind here — to get more men and women to serve the citizens of Memphis,” Canale said. “We’re not on a mission to hire people who don’t live in Memphis. We’re on a mission to put men and women on the street to protect Memphis.”

Councilwoman Cheyenne Johnson questioned why MPD is not able to find enough applicants within the city to fill its roles.

MPD Director Michael Rallings said police departments across the country are experiencing a recruiting crisis and are challenged to find qualified applicants.

MPD Major Sharon Cunningham told the council that of the 13,000 MPD applicants since 2016, only 470 completed the entire application and training process to become officers.

More than half of those who show interest in becoming an officer either never turn in a completed application with the required documents or never show up for the next step in the hiring process.

Of those that do follow through, "Cunningham said 56 percent don’t make it through the physical ability test. Additional applicants are lost after a background check, psychological evaluation, and medical exam."

After making it through each of these tests, applicants still must graduate from the Police Training Academy. Cunningham said potential officers are often lost here due to injuries.

Rallings added that retention is also an issue, as MPD officers are “highly skilled” and often recruited to work in other departments across the country or here at the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO).

“What does the Sheriff’s office have that we don’t?” Councilwoman Jamita Swearengen responded.

Working for the SCSO is “very different,” Rallings said, noting the county’s lighter workload and lower call volume. “You can’t even compare the level of work. It’s like comparing apples and oranges.”

Shifting the focus away from recruiting efforts, Councilman Berlin Boyd told his colleagues that recruiting more officers won’t change the crime demographic in the city, unless the root cause of poverty is addressed.

No votes have been taken on the ordnance yet. If approved by the council after three votes, voters will make the ultimate decision on the ballot next fall.

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Monday, November 18, 2019

Students Rally Behind Rhodes Grad Who Says Sexual Assault Case Was Mishandled

Posted By on Mon, Nov 18, 2019 at 12:49 PM

  • Facebook/Rhodes

A Rhodes College student group is rallying behind a recent graduate who went public last week, expressing her disappointment over the way the college handled an allegation of sexual assault she made last school year.

Culture of Consent is planning a rally for Tuesday, November 19th to protest the college’s response to the allegations, saying the school tried to buy the silence of the alleged victim, Emily [last name withheld], a 2019 graduate of Rhodes.

“Intentional manipulation of survivors within Rhodes Title IX Office and other offices across the country happens too often,” the group said in a press release, “Culture of Consent has heard story after story like this, and it’s time to say no more. Emily has asked us to make her story known so that others don’t have to go through this.”

In a letter addressed to Rhodes College president Marjorie Hass and posted online, Emily said she is writing the letter to “say how disappointed I am in my alma mater for how severely it mishandled my sexual assault case.”

The six-page letter dated November 15th details many “glaring issues” the former student noticed in the school’s process of handling her case.

Emily was raped in February, according to her letter. “My assailant, John Doe, was a friend.” Emily reported the incident a month later to Rhodes’ Title IX office after learning that the same assailant had assaulted another female student at a Valentine’s Day event.

Emily said working with the Title IX office was “tedious.” She also noted that many of her communications “were disregarded, not answered properly, or entirely dismissed.”

“I was left in the dark for the entirety of my process because there was no one in the administration who was checking in with me to ensure that I was being treated with respect,” Emily said.

The former student said she was not given a hearing date until 124 days after she first reported the assault. Then, a day before the hearing was scheduled to take place, Emily received a call from the Title IX office saying that a settlement had been reached in a related lawsuit filed by the student accused of assaulting Emily.

“As you know, your hearing ultimately did not go forward because the parallel lawsuit was resolved with the respondent not being enrolled at Rhodes now or in the future, which is comparable to the maximum sanction of expulsion that he could have received as a result of your hearing,” reads a portion of an email sent to Emily by Title IX coordinator Tiffany Cox.

The Title IX office offered to reimburse Emily for expenses related to the hearing that didn't occur. After the student sent an itemized expense list to the school, totaling just under $3,000, she was told she would have to sign a confidentiality agreement in order to receive reimbursement.

“Rhodes offers reimburse you for your expenses,” Cox wrote in the same email cited above, “in exchange for your agreement to maintain confidentiality: We ask that you agree not to disclose any aspect of Rhodes’ investigation and administration of your Title IX claim, and particularly this letter and its proposed payment arrangement, either privately or in any public forum.”

“I had now been victimized by John Doe and Rhodes,” Emily wrote. “My well-being, like that of other student victims, was secondary to the reputation of the school.”

Earlier this month, Rhodes received a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to enhance its prevention of and response to sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking on campus.

The college will use the funds to create the Coordinated Community Response Team to enhance the school’s response, prevention, and education related to the four crimes above, as well as implement mandatory training and education sessions for students and faculty. The trainings will largely focus on students who live on campus, belong to Greek organizations, or are student-athletes.

Emily said that “sounds wonderful, but I believe how these activities are executed is what will really change the Rhodes College campus for the better.”

Rhodes needs to make their sexual assault policies and procedures better known to students, Emily said. Students should also learn about the meaning of affirmative consent, the definitions of all forms of sexual assault, and the different types of incapacitation.

Emily said she hopes the federal grant will yield “positive changes” at Rhodes, but “unfortunately, my love for my school has been damaged beyond repair.”

“I would be open to having a conversation with the administration, working on program plans, or even coming back for a panel to help current students better understand sexual assault,” Emily concludes the letter. “I truly believe Rhodes College has the potential to improve its Title IX office, but great strides need to be made.”

Shortly after Emily’s letter went public, Hass responded in an email to the campus community. Hass said it is always the college’s goal to treat students with the “utmost compassion and care throughout the Title IX process.”

Marjorie Hass - RHODES COLLEGE
  • Rhodes College
  • Marjorie Hass

"Our graduate wrote of her alienation and bitter disappointment after we asked for her confidentiality,” Hass continued. “While that was not our intent, it is also not an excuse. We are committed to protecting the privacy of students, survivors, and witnesses, but we fail our students when we value silence over their ability to share their experience.”

Hass said the college is committed to “upholding a fair Title IX process,” and that the $300,000 federal grant will help the school do a better job of preventing sexual assaults, as well as supporting students who are victims of sexual assault and other related crimes.

“I have heard your voices speaking out today about the necessity of improving our culture of consent at Rhodes, and I will continue to work together with all of you on this,” Hass continued. “We need to work toward a culture where these horrible incidents don’t occur.”


Culture of Consent launched a campaign to honor Emily and other survivors with the hashtag #youprobablyknowthem.

“We’re doing this for those who don’t report their assaults out of fear that this may happen to them,” the group wrote. “The reality is that most survivors who have gone through the Title IX process have probably had experiences like Emily.

The campaign includes:

• Banner drops around Rhodes College’s campus on November 16th

• Breaking the Silence, a protest via march and demonstration on November 19th

• Fundraising campaign for survivor, Emily, via GoFundMe which launched November 16th

• Week-long flag display in a public quad showing the prevalence of sexual violence

Flagging the Problem, a flag ceremony and opportunity to learn about the resources available to survivors and allies, on December 2nd

Abbey Bako, president of Culture of Consent said the group’s primary goal of the campaign is to increase accountability on the Rhodes campus.

“Policies and procedures only work as well as the people implementing them allow,” Bako said. “So how do we increase accountability within such a closed system? That’s what we want to figure out.”

Bako said the Breaking the Silence rally, scheduled for Tuesday at 6:00 p.m., will be an opportunity to channel “productive anger.” It will be a space for students to express their feelings about how the administration handles sexual violence on campus. It will also be a space to figure out how to move forward “as a student body to prevent this from ever happening again.”

The Rhodes Student Government (RSG) also weighed in on the issue, saying that the group “stands discontent with the conduct of Title IX” regarding its handling of Emily’s case.

“We as a school and a community should support survivors and encourage them to come forward not silence them,” the group said in a Facebook post. “We stand with Emily. RSG intends to work toward a better, more comprehensive Title IX education for students and for better resources for survivors on campus. “

According to Rhodes’ 2019 Security and Fire Safety Report, the total number of sexual offenses on campus saw a dramatic decrease between 2016 and 2018. There were a total of 19 reported sexual offenses on campus in 2016. In 2017, that number dropped to four, and then rose to nine last year.

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Friday, November 15, 2019

Former Employee in Federal Suit Against Playhouse on the Square

Posted By on Fri, Nov 15, 2019 at 2:47 PM

  • Keyes
The curtain is about to rise on another act in the legal drama surrounding Playhouse on the Square (POTS) during the heyday of its since-retired founder and executive producer, Jackie Nichols.

Leanna Keyes, a former production manager at POTS, has filed suit in federal court, charging the company with “retaliatory” termination of her services following her role in addressing “allegations of sexual assault” against Nichols.

Amid accusations by several women of past sexual improprieties, Nichols, who is generally credited with having been of seminal importance in the general culture and development of drama in Memphis, took voluntary leave of absence in January, 2018, and in March of the same year formally resigned his position.

The resignation occurred following the completion by the law firm of Burch, Porter & Johnson of an investigation of the charges against Nichols. The investigation, whose results were never made public, was requested by the executive board of POTS.

The Playhouse, under its assumed name of Circuit Playhouse, Inc., is defendant in the current suit by Keyes, who asserts that she was dismissed after “a perfunctory review because she did not fit in the ‘family culture’ of the theatre company, which ‘family culture’ was to tolerate unlawful employment practices and protect predatory sexual assaults.”

Keyes seeks “that a jury be empaneled to hear and decide all issues set forth or fairly raised herein and requests a judgment granting the following relief against the defendant: compensatory damages in the amount of not less than $750,000.00; pre- and post- judgment interest; punitive or exemplary damages in the amount commensurate with defendant’s ability to pay and to deter future misconduct; litigation costs and attorneys’ fees to the extent allowable by law; and any and all other legal and equitable relief that this court may deem just and proper under the circumstances.”

In her first month of employment after being hired by the Playhouse in November 2017, Keyes was “touched inappropriately by a senior staff member,” the suit says, and was “warned … of Jackie Nichols’ predatory behavior and told … specifically not to be alone with him.” Later, she learned of specific public accusations of sexual improprieties against Nichols and, along with “another newly hired staff member, Mr. William Gibbons-Brown, undertook an informal investigation with [POTS] interns and staff.”

Keyes would later prepare a series of demands and goals pertaining to the work environment at POTS and presented them to the Playhouse board on behalf of some 30 interns and staff members. Subsequently, according to the suit, “Whitney Jo and Mike Detroit called an all-staff meeting where they announced that Jackie Nichols had taken a voluntary leave of absence and advised all staff members of the Handbook’s prohibition on any discussion of Playhouse business.”

Though she was never subject to negative evaluations or disciplinary action, the suit alleges that Keyes “noticed that Mike Detroit and Whitney Jo began ignoring and marginalizing her within the workplace.” In February 2018, in the wake of her three-month evaluation period and after completing work on the production Once, Keyes was given a “perfunctory” review and was told “that she did not fit ‘family culture’ of POTS and was presented with her termination letter.”

Keyes went on to file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on February 27, 2018 and was issued a “right to sue letter” by the EEOC.

Her suit alleges that “as a result of Defendant’s conduct in terminating Ms. Keyes’ employment, Ms. Keyes has suffered — and will continue to suffer — lost income, lost fringe benefits, damage to her reputation, humiliation, loss of economic advantage and has incurred expenses in searching for replacement employment.”

One count of the suit alleges that Keyes was subjected to a “hostile work environment.” A second count attests to an “unlawful retaliatory discharge.”

Keyes is represented in her action by Bruce Kramer, Jake Brown, and Melody Dernocoeur of the Apperson Crump legal firm.

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Former SCS Student Petitions for Inclusivity in Schools’ Cosmetology Program

Posted By on Fri, Nov 15, 2019 at 10:16 AM


A former Shelby County Schools (SCS) student started a petition last month asking that ethnic hair be a part of the elective cosmetology courses offered at SCS high schools.

Jazmyne Wright, a freshman at the University of Memphis studying political science and African-American studies, started the petitionmem on to address the lack of inclusion of lessons on natural, African-American hair in the courses.

“I think ethnic hair should be just as much a default in cosmetology as any other hair texture or origin,” the petition reads in part. “Black students should be able to learn about their community's hair and even how to take care of their own hair. The cosmetology course of Shelby County Schools is not diverse or inclusive of ethnic hair.”

When Wright was a junior at Germantown High School, she said she took the cosmetology course for a half of a semester before dropping the class after realizing the course would not include instruction on ethnic hair.

“The fees for the class were $170,” Wright said. “It came with two mannequin heads. I was under the impression that one would be European and the other African American. They were both European.”

Her concern is that in the SCS cosmetology courses consider European hair as “the default. The problem is this perpetuates the normalization of only one type of hair.”

A SCS spokesperson said that the curriculum for the four-course cosmetology program currently offered in 14 of its high schools is created by the Tennessee State Board of Education as a part of its College, Career, and Technical Education (CCTE) program. The spokesperson added that SCS only offers CCTE programs approved by the state.

“Cosmetology is designed to prepare students for careers in cosmetology by developing an understanding of efficient and safe work practices, salon business concepts and operations, hair techniques and chemical services, facial and skin care procedures and state board theoretical practical application,” reads the state’s description of the program.

  • Wright

Wright said this issue is important to her because growing up in a military family, she moved around a lot and attended many predominantly white schools where he felt like her hair wasn’t acceptable in its natural form.

She learned then about the stereotypes associated with natural African-American hair, such as it is “untamable,” “nappy,” and “unprofessional.” Wright says the stereotypes are “disgusting and extremely offensive.”

Natural hair “isn’t bad hair,” she said.

“There are far too many black girls with natural hair who don’t believe their hair is beautiful,” Wright said. “It’s mental oppression when you actually think you are not beautiful in your natural state.”

Wright said not only should African-American students have the opportunity to learn about ethnic hair, but all students should be exposed to different types of hair. “It should be widespread knowledge.”

“Assimilation is not form of beauty, but a tactic of oppression,” Wright said. “In 2019 — almost 2020 — it’s not okay that we are still promoting that.”

Since posting the petition, Wright said it’s gotten more support than “she was hoping for.” As of Friday, the petition had 167 signatures.

Originally, Wright said she was looking to gather 100 signatures before presenting the petition to the SCS board, but now she is working to garner more support and address the board in January.

As Wright prepares to address the board, she is looking for SCS students who have taken the cosmetology classes to give firsthand accounts of their experience.

Beyond changing the SCS curriculum, Wright also hopes the effort will heIp break down the stereotypes surrounding natural African-American hair, as well as start conversations on policies around natural hair in the workplace.

“The petition is just the beginning of normalizing ethnic hair,” Wright said. “So I’m not hoping this will make a difference. I know it will because I’m not stopping until it’s a thing and it’s normalized.”

But Wright said she doesn’t want the sole credit for creating the petition.

“I may have started it and put it on a website,” Wright said. But this has been a thought in the back of every black girl and woman’s mind in Memphis. I simply put it in words. This is all of our petition.”


In July, California became the first state to ban employees and school officials from discriminating against people with natural hair when it passed the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act.

The new law, which will take effect in January, prohibits employers and schools from enforcing a dress code or grooming policing discouraging hairstyles such as braids, afros, twists, and locs. New York followed suit later in July, becoming the second state to pass a CROWN Act

  • Parkinson

Tennessee Representative Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis) introduced similar legislation, HB1546, over the summer here. The Tennessee CROWN Act would expand the definition of “race” as it relates to discrimination to include “the physical or cultural characteristics associated with a certain race, including, but not limited to, hair texture or protective hairstyles.”

Having been discriminated against because of his hair in the past, Parkinson said this issue is “near and dear to his heart.” As a lieutenant in the Shelby County Fire Department, Parkinson said he nearly lost his job because of his dreadlocks.

“I myself have been a victim of discrimination in the workplace for wearing dreads,” Parkinson said. “My job was threatened. Disciplinary action was threatened. And at the time there was no policy against wearing certain hairstyles.”

Parkinson was written up for his hairstyle of choice and as a result, eventually cut his dreadlocks.

“A lot of people don’t understand African-American hair,” Parkinson said. “People have one idea of what beauty is and what the standard should be. And in a lot of cases, the standard is European. African Americans are born with a certain type of hair and there be no discrimination whatsoever.”

Similar CROWN legislation has also been introduced in Illinois, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Michigan, and New Jersey.

Just last week, a county in Maryland became the first in the country to pass local legislation banning discrimination based on a person’s hairstyle.

The Montgomery County City Council voted unanimously in favor of legislation that prohibits such discrimination in housing, employment, education, taxi services, and other public accommodations. Under the legislation, anyone who is discriminated against can seek a civil penalty of up to $5,000 through the county’s Office of Human Rights.

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Thursday, November 14, 2019

Judge Denies City’s Request to Modify Decree on Police Surveillance

Posted By on Thu, Nov 14, 2019 at 11:48 AM

Michael Rallings with crowd during protest - BRANDON DILL
  • Brandon Dill
  • Michael Rallings with crowd during protest

The city’s motion to immediately modify the 1978 consent decree prohibiting police surveillance was denied this week by a federal judge.

Last year, U.S. District Judge Jon McCalla ruled that the Memphis Police Department (MPD) violated the decree by participating in political surveillance on activists here.

In September, the city filed a sealed motion with the court to “significantly modify” the 1978 Kendrick consent decree. The city argued that the decree “unduly burdens legitimate investigative activities and creates restrictions that are unnecessary for the protection of First Amendment rights,” according to recently unsealed court documents.

The city said the consent decree prohibits MPD from “using other agencies or persons as ‘surrogates’ to do indirectly what it could not do directly,” preventing coordination between law enforcement agencies.

Specifically, the city said the consent decree has a “detrimental effect” on the city’s participation in the Joint Terrorism Task Force, the Tennessee Fusion Center, the Multi-Agency Gang Unit, and CrimeStoppers. It also prevents sharing and receiving intelligence with federal agencies and the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department, the city said.

The city also argues that assuring compliance with the consent decree and its “restrictions that go well beyond that which is required by federal law” requires the city to “expend scarce resources.”

The modified decree that the city requested would allow the use of political intelligence gathered by third parties.

McCalla denied the city’s motion, writing that modifying the decree in that way would “eviscerate the core goals of the Kendrick consent decree.”

Continuing, McCalla said any modification to the decree would need to be “carefully crafted after a thorough review of evidence and a finding of sufficiently changed circumstances compel a modification.”

“A change would need to achieve the goals of the Kendrick Consent Decree while providing the city and the MPD flexibility to engage in the sharing of information for legitimate law enforcement purposes,” McCalla wrote.

McCalla notes that because all parties have not agreed to the modification of the consent decree, there would have to be an evidentiary hearing before the court could make a ruling.

A telephone conference call between all parties is scheduled for January 2nd to discuss the possibility of scheduling an evidentiary hearing on the city’s requests to modify the decree.

Ahead of that meeting, the team appointed to monitor MPD’s adherence to the consent decree will present its quarterly progress to the court on Thursday, November 21st. The hearing will take place at 9:30 a.m. at the Clifford Davis-Odell Horton Federal Building.

Read McCalla’s full decision below.

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TECH: New Site Shows City Issues at a Glance

Posted By on Thu, Nov 14, 2019 at 10:40 AM

Community Foundation of Greater Memphis CEO Bob Fockler and Executive Vice President Sutton Mora Hayes - JUSTIN FOX BURKS
  • Justin Fox Burks
  • Community Foundation of Greater Memphis CEO Bob Fockler and Executive Vice President Sutton Mora Hayes

Memphis has problems and hundreds of organizations fighting to ease them; a new tool maps them together, making it easier to find out who’s fighting what where and how you can help.

The Community Foundation of Greater Memphis (CFGM) launched two websites in 2015. One (Where We Live MidSouth) was a clearing house of information about the region, rich with data about everything from air quality to the unemployment rate mapped by ZIP Code, Census tract, and more. Another, (Where to Give MidSouth) was a clearing house of information about nonprofit agencies working on problems here from housing to healthcare.

“There were two systems and you could flip back and forth between them but it wasn’t a single, unified system and that was a little frustrating,” said Bob Fockler, president of the CFGM.

The two systems were also built by two different groups, one by the University of Memphis and the other by Guidestar, the nonprofit information service. For the new site, CFGM hired Thriving Cities Group, an urban advocacy group based in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The new CFGM site (Live Give MidSouth) is built on Thriving Cities’ City RoundTable platform. “Philanthropy is a centerpiece of our civic ecosystem that urgently needs to be reconfigured and redirected,” according to Thriving Cities. Its platform shines a brighter, more-complete light on cities’ problems, helping donors invest their funds with greater accuracy.

  • Community Foundation of Greater Memphis

Where in Memphis are education rates low? What organizations are working to fix that? With a couple of clicks on the new CFGM site, you can filter the hundreds of nonprofits here down to those working on education, for example. Another click will show you which nonprofits are working in neighborhoods with the lowest education rates. Another click will give you a full, uniform description of the nonprofit, its leadership, financials, and more.

Olivia Wilmot, CFGM’s director of community information, says the site can help donors look under the hood of a nonprofit before they invest with them. But she’s seeing nonprofits dig into the data, too.

  • Community Foundation of Greater Memphis

”What we found in the nonprofit side was that organizations were actually using data for the first time and accompanying their grant applications with Census data and baseline information about the communities that they serve and maps,” Wilmot said. “I helped two organization use the map to help them figure out where to put a new location.”

All of the data on the site — from the environment to the economy — is publicly available, Wilmott said. But finding it and piecing it together is tough. The new platform seeks to pull that data from many silos, pour it all together, and make it easier for anyone who wants a more-clear (and data-driven) picture of what’s really happening in the Memphis community.
“We've always said that people respond when they understand what the problems are,” Fockler said. “To the extent that the problems are informed by data and the better access people have to the data, the more willing they are to step up and get involved: volunteer, or write a check, or serve on a board. Data informs everything, directly or indirectly.“

The new Live Give MidSouth site from CFGM launches Friday, November 15th.

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Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Trump Gun Violence Plan Panned as 'Toothless'

Posted By on Wed, Nov 13, 2019 at 1:48 PM

U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr launches Project Guardian in Memphis Wednesday. - @KERRIKUPECDO/TWITTER
  • @KerriKupecDO/Twitter
  • U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr launches Project Guardian in Memphis Wednesday.

The Trump Adminstration’s new gun-violence-reduction initiative announced here Wednesday is “toothless,” according to a gun-violence-reduction advocacy group.

U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr used Memphis as his backdrop to launch Project Guardian, a program that “focuses on investigating, prosecuting, and preventing gun crimes.” Memphis earned the announcement, it seemed, as Barr described the city’s gun violence levels as stubborn, more than five times higher than the national average.

Little is new in Project Guardian. For it, “the department reviewed and adapted some of the successes of past strategies to curb gun violence,” according to a DOJ news release. The project redoubles coordination between federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.

For this, Brady, the gun-violence-reduction group, said the new plan does not go far enough. The group was named for Jim Brady, Ronald Regan’s press secretary who was shot during an assassination attempt on the president.

“It focuses only on enforcement and increased policing, making no serious effort to address the supply of guns and how they fall into the hands of individuals who have proven themselves a danger to themselves or to others,” said Brady president Kris Brown. “Gun violence is a complex situation and we need policies that address its many facets and underlying causes.

“The Trump administration’s proposed initiative will expand policing initiatives already in place, while making no substantive effort to address common-sense and bipartisan policies like expanded background checks and enactment of extreme risk protection orders (sometimes referred to as ‘red flag laws’), which Americans of both parties support.”

Project Guardian draws on past DOJ “successes” like the Triggerlock program, a 90s-era program that put law enforcement agencies filtering gang and drug cases looking for federal weapons violations. The program also draws from the Project Safe Neighborhoods program, a federal program underway in Memphis now that coordinates all strata of law enforcement to prosecute violent offenders.

“Under the new Project Guardian initiative, we will intensify our focus on removing firearms from the hands of prohibited persons, and removing dangerous offenders from our streets,” said Michael Dunavant, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee. “We are excited to coordinate the implementation of this initiative with our state and local law enforcement agencies to enforce federal firearms laws.

“Rest assured that, with Project Guardian, we will aggressively prosecute the trigger-pullers, traffickers, straw purchasers, and prohibited persons who illegally possess firearms in West Tennessee.”

DOJ officials boiled Project Guardian down to five parts:

1. Coordinated prosecution: Federal prosecutors and law enforcement will coordinate with state, local, and tribal law enforcement and prosecutors to consider potential federal prosecution for new cases involving a defendant who: (a) was arrested in possession of a firearm; (b) is believed to have used a firearm in committing a crime of violence or drug trafficking crime prosecutable in federal court; or (c) is suspected of actively committing violent crime(s) in the community on behalf of a criminal organization.

2. Enforcing the background check system:
United States Attorneys, in consultation with the Special Agent in Charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in their district, will create new, or review existing, guidelines for intake and prosecution of federal cases involving false statements (including lie-and-try, lie-and-buy, and straw purchasers) made during the acquisition or attempted acquisition of firearms from Federal Firearms Licensees.

3. Improved information sharing: On a regular basis, and as often as practicable given current technical limitations, ATF will provide to state law enforcement fusion centers a report listing individuals for whom the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) has issued denials, including the basis for the denial, so that state and local law enforcement can take appropriate steps under their laws.

4. Coordinated response to mental health denials: Each United States Attorney will ensure that whenever there is federal case information regarding individuals who are prohibited from possessing a firearm under the mental health prohibition, such information continues to be entered timely and accurately into the United States Attorneys’ Offices’ case-management system for prompt submission to NICS.

5. Crime gun intelligence coordination: Federal, state, local, and tribal prosecutors and law enforcement will work together to ensure effective use of the ATF’s Crime Gun Intelligence Centers (CGICs), and all related resources, to maximize the use of modern intelligence tools and technology.

For Brady officials, Project Guardian does not get to the core of gun violence — the supply of weapons across the country. Two bills passed by the U.S. House that would do that are “languishing” on the desk of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, according to Brady.

“Instead, the Trump administration has in fact expanded access to firearms, including for individuals deemed dangerous or who should not possess a gun,” said Christian Heyne, vice president of policy at Brady. “Shame on them. These bills will save lives and every day they sit on Sen. McConnell’s desk approximately 100 Americans die from gun violence. That responsibility lies with the Majority Leader and the President. That blood is on their hands.”

As the news conference on Project Guardian closed, reporters asked Barr about the impeachment hearings (underway during the news conference). Local 24 reporter Brad Broders live-tweeted the questions:

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Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Tennessee Dreamers Rally as Supreme Court Holds Hearing on DACA

Posted By on Tue, Nov 12, 2019 at 1:47 PM

Tennessee DACA recipients rally in front of U.S. Supreme Court - FACEBOOK/TIRRC
  • Facebook/TIRRC
  • Tennessee DACA recipients rally in front of U.S. Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court began hearing arguments Tuesday in the case that will decide the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program.

Twelve DACA recipients — or Dreamers — from Tennessee joined thousands more outside of the Supreme Court to rally in support of the program while the nine justices heard arguments inside.

DACA was created in 2012 to provide temporary protection from deportation to undocumented immigrant youth, enabling them to attend school and work.

Yuritza Sanchez, a 20-year-old student from Memphis was one of the Dreamers rallying outside the court Tuesday. Sanchez, said she came to the United States when she was three years old.

“Having DACA has meant the world to me because I can accomplish my dreams, have a good job with benefits, and finally get my drivers license, which was big for my family,” Sanchez said. “As the first person who could drive without fear of deportation, it’s made our whole family a little bit safer.”

Sanchez said she would not only like to DACA to be preserved, but she also wants to see a more permanent solution for the future.

“I hope the Congress and Supreme Court see all of us here and that they understand that this is about our lives," Sanchez said. "We need a permanent solution — without compromising our families or our communities.”

Sanchez’s sister, Kristal Sanchez, was also there Tuesday. Kristal, a 19-year-old freshman at the University of Memphis, said receiving DACA protection has been “transformative.” She said it allowed her to work as well as attend college on a scholarship.

“I’m here representing my community and all DACA recipients from Memphis,” Kristal said. “It’s powerful to be here with thousands of DACA recipients, and I hope the Supreme Court justices see what’s at stake. I hope the justices make the right decisions, and that they preserve DACA because this is our home.”

In 2017, President Donald Trump signed an executive order terminating the program. That decision was challenged in lower courts and blocked.

Now, three cases, consolidated into one are before the Supreme Court will decide whether or not the president has the authority to legally end DACA.

The Supreme Court is expected to make a decision in 2020. If DACA does end, about 700,000 recipients — 8,000 Tennesseeans — would lose the right to work and protection from deportation.

“The Supreme Court’s decision in 2020 will define our nation,” the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition said in a Tuesday statement. “If the Supreme Court justices let the Trump Administration end DACA, they will be putting the lives of millions in immediate danger. Without protection, DACA recipients could lose their homes and their livelihoods.”

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Group Explores Review of City Charter

Posted By on Tue, Nov 12, 2019 at 1:16 PM


Does the city of Memphis Charter need a modern overhaul?

That’s what one group, Ranked Choice Tennessee (RCT), is looking to determine with the help of the public.

The city of Memphis Charter operates like the city’s constitution, creating a framework for the government. It influences how the city operates, makes decisions, and spends money.

The charter, which was established in 1968 and later modified in 2008, consists of 81 articles, ranging in topic from public amusement to public health.

On Friday, RCT will hold a public meeting, where Carlos Ochoa, communication director of the group, said context about what the charter is and why it should be reviewed will be discussed.

“The charter is like our city's constitution,” Ochoa said. “It tells us how our tax dollars are spent, how decisions about changes to our neighborhoods are made and the power of our elected officials. Our charter was written in 1968 and many people believe it’s time to review it for opportunities to modernize it.”

Ochoa noted that the need to review the charter “doesn’t mean anything is wrong with it. We might have the best, up-to-date charter in the world, but if we don’t, the people of Memphis should have the right to know what could be changed."

Those are interested in seeing the charter reviewed will be invited to sign a petition to create a Charter Review Commission, who would review the charter for a year before recommending amendments. If a commission is formed, RCV anticipates that any amendments proposed by the group would be on the 2022 ballot for citizens to vote on.

Ochoa said Friday’s meeting will touch on the “potentials and limits” of that process. The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Wonder Cowork Create (340 B Monroe Avenue).

New York City is currently in the process of amending its charter. Last summer, the New York City Council voted to create the Charter Revision Commission to review and propose changes to the city’s charter.

After sixteen months of reviewing the charter with input from the public, the commission’s five proposed amendments to the charter were left up to voters during the city election last week.

The questions on the ballot related to ranked choice voting, the city’s civilian complaint review board, ethics and governance, the city budget, and land use. Each of the five items were approved by voters, based on unofficial election results.

The commission said these changes will be the “most comprehensive revisions” to the charter since 1989.

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Federal Grant Will Expand Group’s Support for Immigrant Victims

Posted By on Tue, Nov 12, 2019 at 10:33 AM

CasaLuz holds a community meeting - FACEBOOK/CASALUZ
  • Facebook/CasaLuz
  • CasaLuz holds a community meeting

A local organization received a grant this week to expand its services for victims of crimes here who are Hispanic and Latinx.

CasaLuz, an organization that works to prevent and reduce domestic violence and related crimes in the Spanish-speaking community, received the $199,986 grant from the United States Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) Monday.

CasaLuz provides free legal advocacy, safety planning, survivor support groups, liaison assistance with law enforcement, counseling, and community education. The group says it is the only organization in the region that provides culturally specific support.

Through a partnership with Mid-South Immigration Advocates (MIA) and Kaufman Monroe Law LLC, CasaLuz offers free immigration and civil legal services to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. The groups received a $600,000 grant from the Justice Department in September to support this work for three years.

Over the next two years, the new federal grant will allow the groups to expand those services to victims of aggravated robbery, kidnapping, assault, human trafficking, hate crimes, and elder abuse, as well as loves ones of homicide victims and other violent crimes.

“These services help protect victims’ rights as they navigate the complex legal system in the aftermath of a traumatic event,” reads a statement from CasaLuz.

CaaaLuz founder Inés Negrette said Hispanic and Latinx victims of violence face “enormous barriers accessing suitable services. We need strong local partners like MIA and Kaufman Monroe Law to ensure access to justice and safety or our vulnerable clients.”

The federal grant was awarded under the OVC’s Enhancing Language and Other Access to Services Program, which seeks to “break down barriers that prevent many individuals from reporting crimes and accessing the services they need after crime victimization.”

A study done earlier this year and published in Criminology found that those living in areas that have recently drawn a large number of immigrants are much less likely to report a violent crime.

In neighborhoods where 10 percent of residents were born outside the U.S., the probability of reporting a violent crime is 48 percent, researchers said. In neighborhoods where 65 percent of residents are immigrants, the likelihood of a report being filed drops to 5 percent.

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Monday, November 11, 2019

Project Would Transform U of M's Radio Station

Posted By on Mon, Nov 11, 2019 at 4:20 PM

  • WUMR/Facebook

The University of Memphis radio station, WUMR FM 91.7, could transform if a deal with the station, The Daily Memphian, and Crosstown Concourse is approved by the university board.

The station would become a new nonprofit radio station, broadcasting from a new home at Crosstown. The tower will remain at the U of M, it would still feature student talent, and it would still be found at 91.7. But the all-jazz outlet would expand its music, culture and news content to have “broad appeal to the U of M student body and the wider Memphis community.”
  • WUMR/Facebook

The station would have news programming from The Daily Memphian. The station would also have the capability to broadcast concerts from the Green Room at Crosstown Arts, Crosstown Theater, and the U of M’s Scheidt Family Music Center.

The station would also “work with arts, music, and other cultural organizations throughout the city as the station will strive to give voice not just to the three partner entities but to a wide array of people and organizations in Memphis.”

“The visibility of Crosstown Concourse will be tremendous for our radio station and will provide an even more professional work experience for our students,” said U of M president David Rudd.

The spirit of collaboration and community found at Crosstown and the Memphis community at large will inform the new station, said Dr. Todd Richardson, president of Crosstown Redevelopment Cooperative.

“Three entities come together to create a true Memphis musical and cultural experience,” Richardson said. “At the heart of it will be local DJs bringing their unique and diverse voices to a world-wide audience.

“Crosstown will serve as the hub, while the University of Memphis will extend the organization's resources to include students, professors and guests. The Daily Memphian will provide regular news, information, and interviews to round out a true community resource for the Memphis area and beyond.”
  • WUMR/Facebook

Eric Barnes, president and executive editor of The Daily Memphian, said the station “is a natural extension of The Daily Memphian’s partnership with the U of M’s Institute for Public Service Journalism as well as our internship program, which includes students from the U of M’s journalism school getting real-world work experience in our newsroom.”

Pat Mitchell-Worley, executive director of Stax Music Academy, would serve as a board member of the new WUMR.

“It was on the Memphis airwaves that artists from Elvis, B.B. King, and Big Star to the Bar-Kays, Wendy Moten, and Yo Gotti connected with large groups of local fans,” said Mitchell-Worley. “Radio in Memphis has always been about community. With diverse listener-powered programming, the new WUMR will continue the tradition of serving savvy music lovers from local curators exploring how artists and songs relate to one another.

“Expect legacy and new art from diverse genres. Expect to celebrate Memphis sounds alongside independent international music moving the world.”

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