Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland made a surprise visit, speaking out against racism and police treatment of blacks Wednesday at the start of the eighth night of protest here.
In the I Am A Man Plaza near Clayborn Temple, a site pivotal during the 1968 sanitation workers strike, Strickland said he is “committed” to fixing the racist tendencies within the Memphis Police Department (MPD).
“As we jump start reconciliation and solutions to our problems, I think it's important that first, we define that problem,” Strickland said. “Racism has been built into our system from the very get-go of this country. And although I think we’re the greatest country in the world, we were based on racism. It is literally in our United States Constitution. For 400 years, we’ve sinned. Now we need to fix it.”
Strickland was surrounded by local African-American clergy and community leaders, who the mayor said have started a conversation with him, to “open my eyes and teach.” Strickland said he did “a lot of listening today.”
“I don’t have all the answers and frankly, as a white man, I don’t know that I have all the questions,” the mayor said. “I was an adult and had friends my age before I even knew that black parents had to teach their children, or have the ‘police talk’ because if a black person, particularly a young black male, is pulled over by police, there is a much greater likelihood that something tragic happens than if somebody like me is pulled over. That’s wrong. It’s built into our system. It’s in our hearts. It’s in our subconscious. And we have to fix that. And I want you to know, as mayor, I am absolutely committed to that problem of how the police deal with black people.”
Strickland said he will hold a series of discussions with community leaders over the next few weeks that he hopes will lead into “concrete actions. It’s not just a philosophical discussion. We will have concrete actions to make it better.”
The number one goal, Strickland said, is to fix the problem that “our police department and every police department across the country has and that’s how they treat black people differently than white people."
“George Floyd was not the start of this problem, but I want to make him a start of the solution,” Strickland said, met with applause from those standing behind him. “We all saw the video and were horrified by it. But I guess I want to talk to the white people in Memphis like me. Quite frankly, it didn’t resonate with us quite like black people because while we saw horrific action against a human being. They saw someone that could have been their brother, or their son, or uncle.
“Because they’ve seen these stories, facts. They’ve lived it. Their family members have lived it and we need to be able to open our ears and listen to the facts. We can see with our eyes and our hearts, and actually the data that black people are treated differently than whites. And it has tragic consequences sometimes. I want to commit to you that we are going to do everything we can to fix that problem.”
Strickland said the plan is to generate action-oriented goals and have specific steps to implement.
One group said it has been left out of the discussion with the mayor, after sending him a letter on Tuesday asking for a meeting. The Memphis Interfaith Coalition of Action and Hope (MICAH) sent a letter asking Strickland to meet with the group within 48 to 72 hours to listen to the “concerns, needs, and demands for change.”
Wednesday Stacy Spencer, MICAH president said Strickland declined a meeting with the organization “by saying he was already meeting with ‘other activists and clergy.’”
Spencer said it is “troublesome that he is only working together with those who his administration has hand-selected.”
“Mayor Strickland represents all of Memphis, not just the 'necessary,' and he represents them all of the time, not just when the occasion arises,” Spencer said. “MICAH has asked for a meeting. Clergy of all faiths and backgrounds gathered together, stood in solidarity and asked for a meeting with their mayor. Do not allow the mayor to dismiss MICAH, its 63 partner organizations and the thousands of people they represent.”
He said no to MICAH. And refused a meeting that folks were attempting to coordinate w/ BLM, Upthevote, myself, Glife, C3, Keedran, Earle, etc.— Tami Sawyer (@tamisawyer) June 3, 2020
Who's in? Who's out? What criteria is being used to select who he meets with? https://t.co/07TSrS2Zs1— Rev. Earle J. Fisher, Ph.D. (@Pastor_Earle) June 3, 2020
this man... mayor strickland really just got up here and said that they (the police) did a remarkable job... are you serious right now? and homeboy hill up there shucking and jiving for his approval... i know appeasing for votes when i see it.— ally smith (@senpaiverses) June 4, 2020
I wonder if Hill is going to ask Strickland in front of everyone on some ideas he might have for change. Maybe Strickland could just spitball some ideas, brainstorm out loud.— veekdur (@vykdr) June 4, 2020
That would show me they’re trying. Thinking.
@MayorMemphis Thank you Mayor Strickland for your press conference this afternoon meeting with protesters, I’m excited to see new changes in our city to improve race relations for all of our citizens! A great first step in healing our city!— CD (@raetbird) June 3, 2020
Grateful for our mayor Jim Strickland and his willingness to listen. https://t.co/InCn2Ix4e3— Angela Foster (@sa_girls) June 3, 2020
Mayor Strickland Mayor of Memphis, stated for 400 years they have sinned. (Racism) Amen to that.— Mrs. Barbara Hubbard (@bah0040) June 3, 2020
@MayorMemphis hi mayor Strickland, I just came to say that if you are interested in actual change for the city of Memphis/Shelby county, you’ll enact the other 5 policies against police brutality. #makememphisbetter #EndPoliceBrutalityNow #8cantwait pic.twitter.com/YAEkI4B6Wi— BLM ✊🏾 (@yungbloodhaley) June 3, 2020
Not y’all letting Strickland use you for a photo-op like he didn’t let the Memphis Police Department and National Guards toss your ass around the ground.— Grizzlies😁 (@Imma_GENE_Us) June 3, 2020