A panel of two attorneys, a state senator, and a local activist discussed the legal issues surrounding the removal the city's Confederate statues Tuesday at the University of Memphis School of Law.
One of the attorneys present was Memphis City Council attorney Allan Wade. He told the crowd that the current legal question surrounding the removal of the statues is whether to take action first and then ask for forgiveness in court or to ask for permission and then take action. He said the city has evaluated the likelihood of success for both options and it seems less likely that the courts will have forgiveness if the administration does not cover all of its bases first.
For this reason, Wade said the city will pursue all legal remedies with the ultimate option under the law being the courts. But he says the administration has to exhaust all efforts before going to court.
“We can be radical, we can take them down, and we can fight in court, but I think the courts will look down on us if we don't follow process,” Wade said.
But activist and founder of the #takeemdown901 movement Tami Saywer said the Heritage Protection Acts of 2013 and 2016, the legislation hindering the removal of the statues, is unjust and asked why can't the city have the courage to go around the law and do "what's right."
City of Memphis attorney Bruce McMullen said he understands Sawyer's sentiment, but the city administration has chosen to approach the issue legally.
"There is a process in which we solve disputes in this country and that's through the legal process," McMullen said. "The mayor cannot order someone to break the law to meet a certain end. The mayor took a vow. He has to follow the law."
State senator and law professor Lee Harris added that there are other legal actions that elected city officials could be taking to put pressure on the Tennessee General Assembly and governor to move. Some ways to do that he said, are to stop maintaining the parks housing the statues or to close the parks completely. He anticipates the national attention those actions would bring will make politicians in Nashville bend.
Harris adds that some of the penalties for taking action to cover up or remove the statues have been exaggerated. "We need to dial back the overstatements," he said.
McMullen maintained that the next step is for him, attorney Wade, and Mayor Jim Strickland to attend the Tennessee Historical Commission's Oct. 13th meeting to make an oral request for the waiver petition to be heard. He said the administration will follow this all the way to the supreme court.