United States Atty. Gen. William Barr – the face of the Operation Legend crackdown on violent crime – heaped praise on the initiative during an appearance at the Memphis Police Department’s Hickory Hill Ridgeway Precinct on Wednesday.
Once inside, Barr made brief remarks, commending MPD officers for working along with the federal, multi-state Operation Legend initiative against the surge of violent crime.
“I salute all of you for standing tall during this time and continuing to perform your mission,” said Barr.
In Memphis, 64 people have been arrested and are facing federal charges in conjunction with Operation Legend.
Outside the precinct, a different show of force greeted Barr, whose heavily guarded motorcade was met with shouting through bullhorns, chanting of slogans and signs spouting messages of defiance. Two protesters were taken into custody, including well-known activist Hunter Demster, who also helped organize the demonstration.
“We were chanting, ‘There are no good cops in a racist system,’ and ‘There are no bad protesters in a revolution,’” said Amber Sherman, a member of De-carcerate Memphis and one of the four organizers.
Raised at the entrance of the precinct was a giant banner – “#FedUpFedsOut” – held by organizers Sherman and Joia Thornton.
“The banner was painted last week, before we even knew Barr was coming,” said Sherman. “When there is a federal occupation, we should always be ready. As long as the feds are here in the city, they should expect continuous civil disobedience.”
Sherman said some in the African-American community resented Barr’s visit to Memphis “in the heart of our community.”
“This visit was a clear flexing of power, an intimidation tactic and show of force,” said Sherman.
As a fleet of black SUVS arrived, about two dozen protesters shouted “We don’t want this man here and we don’t need this federal occupation in Memphis.”
Joia Thornton, another organizer, said the demonstration was actually a collective of organizations and individuals who oppose Operation Legend in Memphis.
“We feel that people are attracted to this movement because of the clear over-policing of black and poor communities,” said Thornton. “We are sympathetic and empathetic to the victims of violent crime. Really, we are. But this federal occupation is operating at the expense, the sanity and the freedom of our community.”
Barr pointed to Operation Legend statistics as proof of its success, not only in Memphis, but across the nation. He said there have been 5,500 arrests nationwide. Some 1,100 have been charged with federal crimes, including the 64 in Memphis.
“I know in Memphis, some of the crime has proven to be particularly stubborn,” Barr said. “The homicide rate is still very high.”
During his short talk, Barr acknowledge that other types of violent crime, such as robberies and major property theft, were on the decrease. He did not take questions from reporters.
“I’m looking forward to continuing this joint operation against violent crime to keep the citizens of Memphis safe,” he said.
On Tuesday prior to Barr’s visit, MPD Director Michael Rallings appeared before a Memphis City Council committee to detail the disturbing local rise of homicides. Memphis this year already has surpassed its record of 228 homicides, with the tally at 247 on Wednesday.
“To date, 28 children have died violently and again, we are saddened at this,” Rallings said, “but again, this is a community problem, especially while we, the police department, don’t have access to the children like we used to before COVID.”
Homicides are not just up in the Memphis area, Rallings said. Among the cities he cited as experiencing alarming increases were Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte (NC), Miami, Los Angeles, Nashville, New York and Philadelphia.
“Gangs, guns, drugs and domestic violence are huge problems,” Rallings told the committee. “And again, it’s very difficult for us to protect people from people that they know, that they hang out with, especially when they’re hanging around violent people and violent places.”
Gang violence contributes to 58 percent of homicides in Memphis. Almost 80 percent of the victims knew the suspects. Twenty-one percent of the suspects are repeat offenders.
Rallings noted that there were no fatal officer-involved shootings. He ended with a ringing endorsement of re-imagining law enforcement with more community policing.
“We have spent a lot of time focusing on law enforcement, but it’s time to refocus on our efforts in the community,” Rallings said.
“That means people are willing to come forward and tell us what happened and who the suspects are. They are calling Crime Stoppers, but also attempting to prevent murders and homicides by intervening early on when they realize there is a conflict.”