MEMPHIS, Tenn. — City leaders met with community members at Greater Imani Church the day after hundreds protested and shut down the I-40 bridge.
“We’re going to hold a conversation that may be uncomfortable,” protest organizer Devante Hill said as he introduced “One Memphis, One Vision.”
Hill presented the city with four demands:
- Michael Rallings should be immediately hired as permanent police director
- Investigate public works spending and more funding to African-American businesses to better reflect city’s demographics
- Increase in spending in community and youth empowerment initiatives
- More community policing and working with activists, paired with cultural and sensitivity training for officers
Strickland responded, saying he cannot make a decision on the police director tonight because he is sticking to his campaign promise to hold a full search. However, he did say he has been impressed with Rallings.
Many in the room voiced their support for Rallings.
“I doubt that anyone that you have applying for the job can do what this man did last night,” Dr. Bill Adkins, the pastor of Greater Imani, said.
Activist Frank Gottie commended Rallings for never turning his back on the protesters and said they would go “right back on the bridge” if he isn’t made police director.
When Rallings was directly asked why he was not currently police director, he mentioned he had said “no” five times when Strickland originally asked him because it is a tough job. Rallings said he eventually reconsidered and applied.
In response to the second demand, Strickland said he increased minority contracts by 17 percent. He added later in the meeting, after a resident asked why city leaders don’t reflect the city’s racial demographics, that of the six people on his leadership team, four are black and two are white — matching the 67 percent of African-Americans that make up the city.
Rallings asked for respect in having this conversation and for the understanding that nothing can be solved overnight.
“We are fully committed to community policing and community outreach,” he said. “The only thing I ask is that we work together.”
A protest organizer said the discussion needs to focus on solutions and suggested bimonthly town halls.
In regards to body cameras, Rallings said the district attorney’s office is still working to hire people to deal with the volume, but he said he is fully committed to implementing them.
One panelist encouraged people to leave and protest, including shutting down the bridge again, because he said his people weren’t being heard.
Hill encouraged people to stay and have a respectful and productive conversation.
“This is not a protest, this is a dialogue,” he said. “We have to do things with decorum. … This is God’s house, and we’re not going to disrespect God’s house.”
He again asked for people to write their questions on cards and said Strickland agreed to publicly post his responses to all questions within 30 days.
“This is not the only meeting. This is just the first meeting. We go from here; the dialogue has begun,” Adkins said. “If you want to get something done, you have to work for it … you have to follow the process.”
“If we’re committed to change in the city, let’s show that. Let’s also work through the process,” Rallings said. “Let’s work together to make this city a better place.”
The meeting ended with Adkins leading a prayer.
“We thank you, God, that something started here tonight.”