Opinion » Editorial

Outflanking Race



Now that it's apparently a dead (rather than a done) deal, the proposal by several members of the Memphis City Council to amend residency requirements for first responders — notably, members of the city's police force — stands as an ominous reminder that, locally anyhow,

we are by no means in an era of "post-racial politics."

Cut it and define it however else you want to, the fact remains that all the crucial council votes on the issue, ranging from the original one by Jim Strickland to the most recent version offered by Reid Hedgepeth, were resolved along strict racial lines — seven blacks voting no, six whites voting yes. This is not to suggest that other factors and other arguments are not pertinent to a discussion of where police officers serving the city of Memphis should live. It is merely to say that these were not the defining considerations. Race was. That point was made obvious by Councilwoman Wanda Halbert, a firm opponent of liberalizing the residency requirement, who, in a statement meant to suggest that race was not the motivating factor for opponents of Hedgepeth's resolution, cited statistics concerning denied police applicants, most of them African American, that more or less acknowledged that it was.

Proponents of changing the residency requirements — in Hedgepeth's proposal, to allow recruitment of new police officers residing within a 20-mile range of the city — cited Mayor Willie Herenton's endorsement of the idea as necessary for the force and were equally insistent that the primary issue was nonracial.

But conversation among citizens in the city's gathering places — whether in predominantly white or predominantly black areas — was focused almost entirely on race.

For better or worse, that's where we're at. The moment is, to coin an awkward neologism, clearly pre-post-racial.

The two African-American council members whom the adherents of the residency change hoped to budge on the issue — Harold Collins and Chairman Myron Lowery — wouldn't cross over, but they supported what they regarded as the next best thing: inviting sheriff's deputies, who can be recruited from farther out, to actively join in policing the city.

As we noted editorially last week, that idea proved a nonstarter when city police director Larry Godwin objected, presumably on turf grounds. But in a time when everybody gives lip service to the idea of "functional" city/county consolidation, something like that may turn out to kill the proverbial two birds: speeding up the overdue process of merging essential services and doing something of an end run around the race factor, as well.

Just Saying

Given all the comparisons of a not yet inaugurated President Barack Obama to that icon of presidential inventiveness, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the fact that Obama has begun to enunciate policy even as he names his cabinet, and the further fact that President George W. Bush is commanding less public attention these days than is first lady Laura Bush, we are prepared to state — and welcome — the obvious: The First Hundred Days are already under way.

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