A meeting organized to address concerns with policing of African-American communities and city programming for inner-city youth descended into chaos on Monday afternoon, as attendees of the meeting vied for a chance to have their frustrations heard.
Mayor Jim Strickland and interim Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings were on a panel at the meeting at Greater Imani Church, which was hastily organized on Sunday night by the same people who organized the massive, peaceful Black Lives Matter-style demonstration that blocked traffic on the I-40 bridge for hours. That protest and Monday night's meeting were organized by local minister (and former intern to Congressman Steve Cohen) Devante Hill. The local chapter of Black Lives Matter did not organize Sunday's protest, but many members were there in support.
The chaotic atmosphere of the meeting seemed largely due to how quickly it was organized. One person on the panel reminded the audience that they only had 12 hours to organize the two-hour meeting. The organizers asked audience members to write questions on comment cards, but many who didn't fill out cards stood in line for the microphone. When people were cut off for going over time or not allowed to speak because someone else was waiting, the crowd booed and shouted.
"I was there at the protest yesterday, and what we are witnessing now is true frustration," said Rep. Antonio Parkinson. "These people deserve to be heard."
Strickland eventually agreed to respond online to every comment card he received within 30 days. Hill suggested that the mayor should hire two inner-city youth as interns to help him post all the responses.
The crowd did seem to agree on at least one thing — they want Strickland to hire Rallings as the permanent police chief. Rallings has applied for the job, and a number of attendees said they wanted Rallings to be hired on the spot Monday night.
"The police director position will not be made tonight. But I've been impressed with Rallings for years, and I think we saw last night why I asked him to apply," Strickland said, to which the crowd booed and demanded immediate action.
Strickland said he couldn't bypass the hiring process, and he had to give equal consideration to all the candidates for the position. Later in the meeting, Rallings said "If Memphians are willing to work with me, I will consider taking the job. We asked for 30 days of no killing, and if we're committed to making the city better, let's follow through."
At the beginning of the meeting, the crowd gave Rallings a standing ovation for his response to Sunday night's protest, during which he walked with protesters arm in arm.
Hill outlined four demands for the mayor and police director. The first was to hire Rallings. The second demand was to invest more city Public Works contract funds into minority-owned businesses, to which Strickland said that his office had already made progress.
"We've increased contracts by 17 percent for minority- and women-owned firms since January," Strickland said.
Other demands included more emphasis on community policing and cultural sensitivity training for officers and committing more funding for youth programs and crime prevention programs.
Although many in attendance didn't get a chance to voice their questions, the organizers said they'll have another chance at a second community meeting with the mayor and police director next Thursday, July 21st at Greater Community Temple Church of God in Christ (5151 Winchester).