MEMPHIS, Tenn — Each year, members of the local AFSCME union kick off Labor Day with a parade through downtown. But this year, they had to do so without a police escort.
Multiple people who attended the parade told WREG that Memphis police officers refused to escort them because some of them were wearing shirts supporting political candidates.
“I don’t know any other parade where the police literally police what the message on your shirt is,” said Jeffrey Lichtenstein with the Memphis AFL-CIO.
“For them to deny citizens [that] safety for political purpose is distasteful and wrong,” parade attendee Hunter Dempster said.
Memphis police acknowledged that AFSCME had received a permit for the parade and said that it should have been provided with an escort.
“The decision not to escort the parade was made in error,” MPD wrote in a statement.
An MPD spokesperson said officers were worried about a 1978 court order that bars MPD from monitoring political activities and that officers declined to escort the parade out of an abundance of caution.
“Our officers are working through constraints resulting from the consent decree. Consequently, when confronted with situations that appear to be political in nature, officers may err on the side of caution so that their actions do not violate the decree.
That's what occurred here. Officers did not want to act contrary to the Court’s order and the decree which severely restrains how they police during political activity. It's important to note that the participants continued the march and expressed free speech, just without police presence.
MPD apologizes for the misunderstanding and any costs associated with the permit will be refunded.”
Although the parade was able to continue as scheduled, participants said they’re disappointed they had to march without an escort.
“I think those officers were wrong. They should have done their job according to the permit that was acquired,” parade attendee Maurice Spivey said.