Nowhere is the dilemma of city government in Memphis — and of the officials and current candidates who will be attempting to guide it for the next years — more stark and challenging than in the area of law enforcement. Of the four candidates for mayor generally acknowledged to be the leaders of the pack, one, Memphis Police Association president Mike Williams (on sabbatical during the campaign) is a policeman himself; two others, Councilmen Jim Strickland and Harold Collins have made the matters of youth violence and public safety prominent aspects of their campaigns; and another, incumbent Mayor A C Wharton, finds himself more and more concerned with the issue on a day-to-day basis.
In the last year, no crisis on the national scene has been more omnipresent and unavoidable than that involving the troubled relationship of citizens and their police, particularly when the individuals on opposite sides of the thin blue line have been of different races. The fact of police violence against African Americans has been a nonstop phenomenon, a staple of the daily news, and, while the public reaction has been most intense when the confrontations, often fatal, have been between white cop vs. black citizen, there have been incidents as well involving individuals of the same race.
Not quite matching this in volume, but every bit as terrifying in effect, have been a spate of violent attacks against police. No one in Memphis needs to be reminded of what happened in the last few days to Officer Sean Bolton, who was shot multiple times and left to die while performing a routine traffic stop. If there is a silver lining to this horror, it is in the massive minute-by-minute commitment of city officialdom and law enforcement that brought the suspect, apparently a career criminal, to turn himself in to custody within 24 hours, when it became obvious that he was out of running room. None of the usual racial or political lines were in evidence during this act of collective hot pursuit, and Memphis Police director Toney Armstrong and the personnel of the MPD are to be congratulated for their efforts.
As the fates would have it, this event immediately preceded this week's latest consideration by the Memphis City Council of a revamped Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board. Both the council and Mayor Wharton have undergone a back-and-forth on how strong this oversight board needs to be, and what its intrinsic powers are.
Whatever the final result of this week's deliberations, we would urge that the public view the reconfigured board neither as an antagonistic watchdog force nor as a mere advisory body, but as a true partner to law enforcement — a body that can provide positive as well as negative feedback and that spurs our police force further toward the kind of effective protective action that it exists to provide in the first place.