MEMPHIS, Tenn. — There’s new backlash tonight over a request Shelby County leaders sent to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The chairman of the County Commission says he was blindsided when he discovered the county asked to end federal oversight of Shelby County Juvenile Court, and he’s not the only one who thinks oversight is still needed.
“Requesting from being removed from federal monitoring is saying that we’re okay with failing our kids,” said Tami Sawyer, the NAACP political action chair.
Strong words from Sawyer after three Shelby County officials, Mayor Mark Luttrell, Sheriff Bill Oldham and Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael asked the DOJ to end its monitoring of the juvenile court system after five years.
“Right now our juvenile system is getting an F, we’re asking for methods of cronyism for that F and for that F to be acceptable,” said Sawyer. “We don’t as a body of the NAACP believe that F is okay.”
“Our kids deserve an A, regardless of the reason of them being in the juvenile system, they still deserve support, air conditioning, educational opportunities,” said Sawyer.
A federal investigation in 2012 found Shelby County Juvenile Court “failed to provide constitutionally required due process to all children and specifically discriminated against African-American children.” Mayor Luttrell told us on Monday he feels like they’ve reached the level where they can be removed from the agreement.
“We’ve made significant progress,” said Lutrell. “Have we 100 percent complied? No we haven’t. Never said. We’re moving in that direction.”
Commission Chairman Melvin Burgess disagrees. He says the County Commission should have had a say before the letter was sent.
“This is all a part of our crime issue, until we address this, address education, I don’t know that three people have the right to uplift a study or uplift a ban to make sure this oversight goes away,” said Burgess.
Sawyer tells me their next action will be at the polls.
“As Memphians, especially black Memphians, we’re coming to the polls in 2018, ’19 and ’20 to put people in office who truly represent the values of equality and inclusion for black people in the city of Memphis,” said Sawyer.
Both the NAACP political action chair and chairman of the Shelby County Commission say they plan to send letters to Sessions saying they want the federal oversight to continue for the juvenile court system.