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Blacklisted

Local organizers found themselves on City Hall’s naughty list.

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Call it the Academy Awards for Memphis protesters.

The city of Memphis released a list of 84 individuals — largely comprised of community organizers and former City Hall employees — that require police escorts when entering City Hall.

The list contained some familiar standbys in Memphis activist circles, but there were a few surprises, including Mary Stewart, mother of the late Darrius Stewart, who was killed by Memphis police in 2015. And, of course, there were a few snubs that did not go unnoticed.

Social media responded accordingly, with a mixture of outrage, genuine concern, and, of course, satirical observations.

On a public Facebook post, Stan Polson wrote that he was all for "laughing at the absurdity" but cautioned others to think about the explicit purpose such a list may serve.

"An official record that a victim of police violence or harassment is some kind of terrorist can be awfully convenient," said Polson, who emphasized the seriousness about being classified as a threat to the lives and welfare of city hall employees.

Others found humor in the list. An application to the "A-list" surfaced on Facebook to be filled out and given to City Hall security. "I am losing street cred with my fellow activists for being left off the list," reads the application.

Elaine Blanchard, a local reverend who officiated one of Memphis' first legal same-sex weddings following the Supreme Court order, was slightly surprised she had also made the exclusive list of questionable individuals.

"Mayor Strickland has put my name on a list of persons who are not permitted into Memphis' City Hall without an escort. Wow! This grammie is a gangsta!"

All jokes aside, veteran organizer Jayanni Webster drove her point home in a post that relayed the vulnerability felt by people of color when encountering law enforcement.

"When you are listed on even such a frivolous document, the implication is that you are being monitored. You are considered a threat first," Webster wrote. "I am not fear-proof. As a black woman, I do not take pleasure in being targeted by the police."

The "blacklist" of City Hall was made public by the City of Memphis after an open-record request by The Commercial Appeal's Ryan Poe. Memphis mayor Jim Strickland attributed the list to a decades-old Memphis Police Department policy and said he would review the policies that deem it a necessity.

"I have never seen the security list at City Hall, and it is my understanding that this type of list was created years ago by MPD," said Strickland, adding that no individual has yet been denied entrance to City Hall.

Strickland's office later updated his statement to clarify that the mayor signed an authorization of agency to his house following a staged "die-in" that occurred on his lawn. The authorization was meant to deter any future trespassers on his property.

The statement also said that the list of trespassers was added to the City Hall police-escort list by the MPD. What's not immediately clear is how community organizers, who did not participate in the die-in, found themselves on a list along with potentially disgruntled former city employees.

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