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Memphis pastors disappointed by talks with city about police reform, say no agreement reached

The group of pastors and activists have been meeting for the past four weeks.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A group of Memphis bishops and pastors say they’re disappointed with Mayor Jim Strickland and members of his administration claiming they have come to a consensus towards police reform.

The members of clergy say they found the discussions held within the last four weeks to be frustrating and disappointing overall. They are calling for a reimagined police department.

A statement released Friday was signed by Reverend Dr. J. Lawrence Turner, Rev. Dr. Stacy Spencer, Rev. Dr. Melvin Watkins, Rev. Dr. Earle Fischer, Bishop Ed Stephens, Jr. Bishop Linwood Dillard, Rev. Dr. J. Lawrence Turner, Rev. Dr. Chris Davis.

The statement read:

“As African American clergy who participated in the meetings, we found the discussions to be frustrating and disappointing overall, characterized largely by those who represent the power structures of Memphis claiming that the processes in place are sufficient. The five “reforms” presented to us June 24, the date of the last meeting, stopped far short of the substantive changes we had requested in calling for a reimagined police department. Though the administration couched these “reforms” as an agreement, we did not, in fact, agree to them. Rather, they demonstrated to us the administration’s lack of courage and appetite for making Memphis truly equitable for all.” 

“I would hope that our administration would engage a larger representation of the citizens of Memphis who really need to be reassured,” said Rev. Dr. J. Lawrence Turner with Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church.

Turner is one of the clergy members who sent a letter to Mayor Jim Strickland, Police Director Mike Rallings, and other county and city leaders suggesting measures to improve policing in the city.

The suggestions include using force responsibly, criminalizing officers who use excessive force, and empowering CLERB, the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board.

“Our preliminary conversations that we’ve had with the Memphis Police Association is that they are very open to looking at the use of excessive force, specifically in terms of language in MOU, and open to see opportunities for change recognizing the unprecedented times we are in,” said Chief Human Resources for the City of Memphis, Alex Smith.

Among the list the Strickland administration announced Thursday include, increasing funding to CLERB, updating policies, and cultural diversity training.

“To suggest that we have reached a unanimous agreement on the points that they’ve listed is not completely true. There is much work that needs to be done, particularly even around the 8 that can’t wait that they proposed to be in compliance.”

Turner hopes the dialogue turns into steps toward major change.

“A plan to reimaging policing which will probably be a 12-month process that will not only involved members of the administration, those who work in law enforcement, but as well as scholars,” Dr. Turner explained.

The pastors who met with Mayor Strickland say they were not invited to the press conference nor made aware that there was one going to take place.

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Read the full statement below:

“We, the undersigned, strongly object to Mayor Strickland and Chief Rallings’ assertions in a press conference yesterday that Memphis officials have reached agreement with clergy and concerned citizens on meaningful steps toward police reform for our communities. 

As African American clergy who participated in the meetings, we found the discussions to be frustrating and disappointing overall, characterized largely by those who represent the power structures of Memphis claiming that the processes in place are sufficient. The five “reforms” presented to us June 24, the date of the last meeting, stopped far short of the substantive changes we had requested in calling for a reimagined police department. Though the administration couched these “reforms” as an agreement, we did not, in fact, agree to them. Rather, they demonstrated to us the administration’s lack of courage and appetite for making Memphis truly more equitable for all. 

It is important to note that we were not invited to attend yesterday’s press conference and were not aware it was going to take place. Unfortunately, this typifies the tepid spirit of our recent interactions with the administration. What was dressed up for the public yesterday as “reform” was, in our opinion, reinforcement of the status quo. 

We continue to be open to taking part in the pursuit of meaningful police reform in Memphis, which people in the streets and throughout the city are clamoring for. But we expect substantive dialogue, genuine agreement, and concrete steps toward major change in the way police interact with the residents of our city. 

Signers 

Rev. Dr. Stacy Spencer 

Rev. Dr. Keith Norman 

Rev. Dr. Melvin Watkins 

Rev. Dr. Earle Fischer 

Bishop Ed Stephens, Jr. 

Bishop Linwood Dillard 

Rev. Dr. J. Lawrence Turner 

Rev. Dr. Chris Davis 

Dr. Gina Stewart “