A long-awaited chance to vent at the Memphis Police Department?
No, that wasn't the idea behind the Operation Take Back town hall meeting hosted Tuesday night by the Memphis chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Rainbow PUSH Coalition.
Convened at Mt. Moriah East Baptist Church, 1248 Haynes St., the meeting put Mayor AC Wharton Jr. and MPD Director Toney Armstrong in position to respond to citizen concerns and hear recommendations about police conduct, policies and procedures.
It also afforded an opportunity to move toward a deeper understanding of recent incidents that resulted in fatal shootings by police officers.
The meeting had been postponed, twice. First because of the fatal shooting of MPD officer Maritoya Lane on Dec. 14, and a second time due to inclement weather. The Rev. Dr. Dwight Montgomery, SCLC Memphis president, termed the session a success. SCLC and Rainbow PUSH, he said, are now committed to creating a regular series of meetings throughout the city and county.
One issue that still has to be addressed is citizen recommendations forwarded to the mayor's office this past fall, said Montgomery.
"On Oct. 13 we sent a list of recommendations compiled from citizens, and that was not addressed at the meeting and we were displeased with that, but overall it was a great success," said Montgomery.
"The director was able to respond to citizens whose family members were unfortunately killed by police officers, and I hope we brought some understanding and light to their situations."
"It was extremely important to have this meeting," says
"It was extremely important to have this meeting," says City Council member Wanda Halbert, who attended the first part of the meeting before leaving for another commitment.
"It is important that we build and maintain a good relationship with the police department, but there is much more to this problem," said Halbert.
"There are four recommendations I brought to the meeting from a community perspective: (1) a plan to address violence in urban neighborhoods; (2) ex-offender programs, especially entrepreneurship and training; (3) being more aware of our officers' health and welfare, making sure they are not bringing problems from their personal lives into their duty lives; (4) paying attention to our youth. We've even reduced community center staff and services and cut summer jobs; (5) gangs and drugs have become out of control, especially with young African-American males. What is the city going to do to apply our tax dollars better in addressing these problems."
Halbert voiced a point of view echoing through several quarters of the African-American community.
"We are not holding ourselves and our family members accountable for what they should and should not be doing," she said, "and we are not holding our elected leadership responsible for applying our tax dollars where it makes a difference."
In television snippets following the meeting and in prior interviews, Armstrong has repeated this theme. "A lot of the problems we're are facing with street violence stems from issues in the home. Parents have got to become more accountable and pay more attention to their children's actions."
Armstrong's COPS and CityWatch programs fall in line with what Montgomery said SCLC and Rainbow PUSH are planning.
"Our goal is to take this process and put it in service throughout as many communities that are willing," said Montgomery.
"We are going to the Baptist Ministerial Association and reaching out to others in the faith-based community to get involved and schedule regular and consistent meetings at their churches with the local precinct captains, get out and form neighborhood watches, go door to door if we have to," he said.
"We have got to do something about all this ridiculous violence. It's eating up our kids and we have to come together and put a stop to it."