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Mid-South nonprofit leaders issue demands to address police brutality, systemic racism

Open letter to government and business leaders outlines agenda for ‘a new day and new way of doing business’ in Memphis and Shelby County
Credit: Clayton Collier, WATN-TV
Protests remained peaceful Saturday evening, the 11th night of demonstrations over police brutality and racial injustice.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A black-led coalition of local nonprofit leaders has issued a call to action in solidarity with organizers and activists demanding an end to systemic racism and police brutality in Memphis and across the nation. The group has sent an open letter to local elected and corporate leaders with a list of measures to stop police brutality and reverse the effects of entrenched systems of poverty and inequality. The letter calls for leadership in government and business to adopt an agenda that addresses these issues toward a new vision for Memphis and Shelby County.

Memphis, like hundreds of other cities around the globe, has been the scene of daily protests against police violence sparked by the death of George Floyd on May 25. These protests have reawakened a national dialogue about racist policies and infrastructure in law enforcement as well as the role of policing itself. Local protestors have linked the highly publicized deaths of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery to examples of local police shootings such as those of Darrius Stewart and Martavious Banks to highlight the need for systemic changes at the city and county levels. With their open letter, black nonprofit leaders have added their voices and influence to these calls for change.

Sent on Monday, June 15 and signed by more than 100 leaders of local nonprofits, the letter contains a list of eight demands for addressing police brutality and increasing police accountability, from banning chokeholds to reallocating police department funding toward community health and crisis response. The letter also presents five demands for tackling the high rates of poverty that continue to plague the metro area. These include corporate living wage commitments, renewed investment in public education, and ending money bail and other fines. The letter challenges its recipients, who include city and county mayors, legislative bodies, and law enforcement heads in addition to the district attorney and the Greater Memphis Chamber, to respond to recent events not only with words but with clear actions for positive change by June 26, 2020.

“All of us felt the challenge of responding to the issues of police violence, related protests, and what we can do as a community to develop and change,” said Cardell Orrin, Memphis director for Stand for Children and one of the letter’s signatories.

“While many of us have made statements, we wanted to come together as a nonprofit community to raise the issues further, present a set of demands, and work together to advocate a path forward to a better city and county.”

Sarah Lockridge-Steckel adds: “Collectively, our nonprofits represent and support thousands of Memphis residents and we know that many of the issues our organizations address stem from systemic and structural racism. However, nonprofits are a stopgap, a makeshift solution. We ask local government and business leadership to join us in creating a city where all residents are treated with dignity and humanity and are provided with opportunities to thrive.”

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