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Activists meet with local mayors, police director

Both sides want “something better” for Memphis.

That is the common ground that launched a meeting Wednesday involving some of the leaders of local protests and some local leaders.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris, along with Police Director Michael Rallings, were among the attendees.

“We’ve seen other cities go up in flames,” said Pastor DeVante Hill, an activist and founder of One Church Memphis. We don’t want that for our city. We want better. We can do better.”

Protests took root around the country and throughout the world when a video of a Minnesota officer bearing down with his knee on the neck of George Floyd for more than eight minutes, killing him, was released to the public.

Frank Gotti drives his point home. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises)

Hill and another local activist, Frank Gotti, met with city and county leaders June 3 to talk about issues that could potentially spark the kind of violence cities across the country have witnessed.

Wednesday was the second meeting.

It was not a negotiation, said Hill, but an opportunity for government leaders to really understand what is sparking the protests.

“We did not come in making any demands on those in leadership,” said Hill. “But we were strongly urging them to take some action and to be a part of the change. We all want to see our city move forward with more racially equitable practices.”

Strickland has said he feels certain that Memphis does not have to go the way of other cities that have experienced violent lawlessness and arson.

“Director Rallings and I are open to listening to all suggestions of how to improve our Memphis Police Department…”

Hill talked about how some activists were interested in improving the relationship between law enforcement and the African-American community in Memphis and Shelby County.

“There are some things we feel would improve the relationship right off,” said Hill. “We want CLERB to have more power and more influence, for one thing.”

CLERB is the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board. Activists feel the citizen’s board should have a more influential role in matters pertaining to officers who are accused of using excessive force.

Allyson Smith, one of the co-organizers of last Friday’s demonstration in Midtown on Union Avenue, said at a Tuesday (June 9) press conference that African Americans are “over-policed and over-criminalized” compared to whites who come in contact with law enforcement.

Smith decried that two white men who intentionally drove their vehicles into the crowd of protesters were allowed to go free after the incidents.

She asked, “What constitutes a crime – skin color or the intent?”

In addition to more equitable treatment of African Americans by law enforcement, Hill called for “a more just and a more fair” element of anti-bias training for new recruits.

“We also want officers to establish a policy of intervening,” said Hill. “When something is happening on the scene that is not right, such as the action that officer took against George Floyd, other officers should intervene. It should be their duty to intervene.”

Although various organizations have been a part of the protesting in Memphis, neither Hill nor Gotti are a part of any particular activist group.

“I am just an independent activist,” Hill said. “I think other organizations want me to sit back and be quiet. But I can’t do that. I have to stay focused on what the Lord told me to do.”


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