By the numbers, it wasn't much of a protest. Two people – a husband and wife – bearing signs that voiced anger and concern over the recent shooting death of 15-year-old Justin Thompson by off-duty Memphis Police Department (MPD) officer Terrance Shaw.
MPD Director Tony Armstrong, who has asked the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, to examine the shooting, has said Shaw apparently was responding to an armed robbery attempt. Shaw was suspended with pay, pending the TBI results.
Protesting alone outside City Hall on Tuesday were Lorenzo Ervin and his wife, JoNina Ervin, who head a group they call the Black Autonomy Federation.
"We were told that we would have to wait until the end of the day's agenda, then the council would vote on whether to suspend the (3-minute) rule and let us have our say," said JoNina Ervin. "I think it was disrespectful to the black community not to have a special meeting on this issue. This is a critical issue. Nine people have died at the hands of Memphis police since February, that's nearly one each month. We're trying to bring attention to that."
Lorenzo Ervin said there are Memphis police "who are acting as judge, jury and executioner. If you believe someone has committed a crime, follow the law – take them into custody and let them have their day in court. And in this city, which has such a high rate of unemployment and poor people, until we deal with those issues the problem is going to continue."
The Ervins are gearing up for the Oct. 22 National Day of Action to protest brutality.
The neighborhood where Thompson lived and died is not a ghetto. Gladys Gladney, who lives in the area, said the culture of poverty can't be an excuse for the behavior taking over their tree-lined, clean neighborhood off Getwell. She and her daughter, Anika Jones, 31, said the sound of gun shots now regularly punctuate the air area.
"We've lived here 16 years. We moved here because it was a beautiful, quiet neighborhood, but it's not anymore," said Gladney. "The drug users and the drug dealers are trying to take over. We can't even enjoy sitting on our porches anymore. A lot of us are living on fixed incomes, all we have to do is stay at home and enjoy taking care of our property, but if it keeps going the way it is we won't be able to do even that."
Jones and Gladney said it's not usually people that live in the neighborhood causing trouble. "We don't know where they really come from or why they keep running through here, but it's always something going on."
The Mid South Peace & Justice Center (MSPJC) has issued a public call for citizens to join an active process called CPR (Community-Police Relations) seeking more citizen input to improve Memphis Police Department community relations and operating procedures.
The activist center, opened in 1982 on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, plans to launch the model in November with a community wide campaign crafted to create solutions to address community concerns of police brutality.
According to a release from the group, separate teams of civilians and law enforcement personnel have been participating in a bi-weekly pilot process since May to tweak the process, "sharing their experiences, learning nonviolent communication techniques and organizing skills necessary to move this effort out into the community."
In addition, the MSPJC asserts that, "Fear of greater media and public backlash also prompts MPD to close ranks during the investigation phase, which cuts off vital communication with those communities most impacted by the problem and alienates ethical police officers from the communities they are tasked to serve and protect."
MSPJC Organizing Coordinator Melissa Miller-Monie is the point person for the CPR project. A mother of two, former police ambassador, neighborhood watch organizer and a well known activist in the Highland Heights neighborhood where she grew up, Miller-Monie said the need for real community based solutions and improved police relations with the community is a very personal affair.
"I want to live in a city where I'm not worried my mother will be a victim of crime," she said. "I also want to live in a city where I don't have to fear that my son will be profiled as a criminal simply because of the color of his skin. It's easy to want those things, we all do and I want to invite the community to join with all of us in this effort. No magic answers, just hard work."