Activists demand immediate action from Memphis on Confederate symbols

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Activists stepped up their demands to Memphis city officials on Wednesday, presenting a letter to Mayor Jim Strickland demanding removal of all Confederate symbols from the city.

The letter from Tami Sawyer and the group #Takeemdown901 demands immediate removal of the Nathan Bedford Forrest and Jefferson Davis statues, as well  as a community engagement plan for what should replace them.

It also demands that Sons of Confederate Veterans and other groups it calls "white supremacy groups" be banned from receiving any support from the city for events.

"The two statues that stand in prominent locations in our city, as well as all plaques, street names and other signs and symbols, must be removed or changed immediately," read the statement. "These statues symbolize the continued systemic structures that benefit white Memphians over black Memphians."

The city quickly sent a response through chief of communications Ursula Madden that encouraged the public to make their opinions known to the Tennessee Historical Commission, and reiterated Strickland's support for the removal of the statues.

But it made clear the city would not break the law to make that happen.

"We will not break the law. We will not direct city employees to break the law. We will not ask police officers to violate their oath of office," read the city's statement.

"There is a reason the people who want the mayor to break the law do not remove the statues themselves — because it's against the law and they would be arrested."

Also on Wednesday state lawmakers have been weighing in.

“We need to find a way to get it expedited and maybe when we get back in January we can find a way to make the law so that we can expedite in cases like these," said State Representative Antonio Parkinson.

Parkinson said he doesn't encourage anyone to break the law to remove the statue but had other suggestions.

“Build something around it, plant trees around it. Cover it up. There are options there and I would hope the city is exploring some of those options," he said.