ACLU-TN Joins Class Action Lawsuit Against Memphis For List

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Paul Garner, a local organizer that made the city hall watchlist, speaks at a rally for Darrius Stewart in front of the justice complex at 201 Poplar in late 2015. - MICAELA WATTS
  • Micaela Watts
  • Paul Garner, a local organizer that made the city hall watchlist, speaks at a rally for Darrius Stewart in front of the justice complex at 201 Poplar in late 2015.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee is joining a class action lawsuit against the City of Memphis over the creation of a list of citizens who require a police escort into City Hall. The list includes ex-City Hall employees as well as local political activists — including Mary Stewart, the mother of Darrius Stewart who was killed by Memphis Police in 2015.

The lawsuit, Blanchard v. City of Memphis, was filed by Bruce Kramer of Apperson Crump, PLC and alleges that the creation of the "blacklist" violates a 1978 consent decree forbidding the city to use local intelligence to continuously spy on individuals who were exercising their protected first amendment rights.

The decree was established in the wake of an 1976 lawsuit, Kendrick v Chandler, in which the ACLU-TN sued the City of Memphis on behalf of citizens and organizations that wished to exercise free speech without the risk of government surveillance.

ACLU-Tn's legal director, Thomas H. Castelli, said that many people on the list have no criminal record, but have merely participated in protected free political speech, and this implies that the city is once again engaging in "political intelligence actions" against its residents.

"If any surveillance was conducted for the purpose of gathering political intelligence, it would flout the consent decree that has been in place for nearly forty years," said Castelli.

Memphis Police Department Director Michael Rallings had the names of all political protestors removed from the list on March 1, but ACLU-TN maintains that "their original presence on the list still indicates potential violations of the decades-old decree."

So far, the MPD has declined to make public any criteria that would offer an explanation why those without a criminal history and without any known incidents at City Hall would be listed as requiring a police escort.

Mayor Jim Strickland has said that he did not know about the full City Hall list, but his name appears at the top of it as part of a original authorization of agency- a decree he signed that was meant to keep some protestors off of his private property after they staged a "die-in" on Strickland's lawn last year and allegedly peeked in his windows.

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