Memphis mayor, activists say they’re committed to making changes in policing

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Mayor Jim Strickland said Wednesday he is “absolutely committed” to solving the problem of how police treat black residents in the city, before protesters marched Memphis streets for the eighth day in a row.

Strickland, flanked by activists Devante Hill and Frank Gottie, spoke to media at I Am A Man Plaza at Clayborn Temple in downtown Memphis, the site where some of the city’s recent protests have staged.

“We can see with our eyes, our hearts and actually the data, that black people are treated differently than whites, and it has tragic consequences sometimes,” Strickland said.

Strickland met with the activists Wednesday, after seven nights of demonstrations protesting the death of George Floyd in the custody of police in Minnesota and other racial injustices nationwide.

“I did a lot of listening today,” he said.

The mayor promised concrete action would be taken on the problem.

There will be four meetings over the next month. Strickland and Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings agreed to meet with Memphis activists once a week for the next four weeks.

Hill said it was the beginning of a very long journey for the city. He said he and Gottie would hold city, county and police officials accountable.

“Memphis can be the catalyst for change for the entire world,” Hill said, asking the community to maintain peace. “We can come to solutions. We may disagree. Guess what, we’ve never been here before.”

First on their list is evaluating and potentially revamping police training protocol.

“We’re going to make sure that the training for force and power doesn’t overwhelm or overpower the training for community,” Hill said.

“We’re going to move forward; we’re going do the best we can to improve the police department,” MPD Director Rallings said.

Protest leaders also hope to empower the Citizen Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB), expanding its budget and its authority to investigate alleged abuse.

Over the years, Memphis has seen its share of civil rights history, and after the last week there’s hope this could be the next step forward as both sides are optimistic about real change.

“I’m going to lean on them, I’m going to go to these meetings every week, and I’m going to make sure I hold them accountable,” Frank Gottie said.

“What Mr. Hill and Mr. Gottie have done over the past few days has been nothing short of remarkable,” Strickland said, referring to the leadership of mostly peaceful protests in Memphis.

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