Before they agreed to put up $750,000 toward funding the disposition of the city’s untested rape kit backlog, leaders of the Plough Foundation wanted assurances that the city would process every rape kit.
Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. announced the challenge grant funding Thursday in an interview with MSNBC host Ronan Farrow.
Plough Foundation Executive Director Mike Carpenter said the grant is a “last dollar” grant.
“The city has to come up with the gap in funding, and then we will give the last $750,000 regardless of what the total cost is,” he said. “They’ve got to raise the gap between what they have now and what the total is.”
The Plough Foundation will also be watching the monthly report from Memphis police on the number of kits processed and the number left in the backlog, as well as the cost of the testing.
“It specifies in our grant agreement that all 12,164 kits will be tested; otherwise, we don’t give the funds,” Carpenter said.
It’s an important distinction because, while Wharton has publicly vowed that the city will process every rape kit in the 30-year backlog, city government’s position in one of the two U.S. District Court lawsuits over the untested kits is that the city should not be required to test all rape kits in the backlog or going forward.
Wharton has estimated clearing the backlog will take five years and cost $6 million. And he said he has talked with philanthropic groups like the Plough Foundation about funding the effort. The city has $2 million toward that goal so far and is banking heavily on claiming part of a $41 million pool of federal grant funds set aside to clear backlogs in several cities.
U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, successfully amended a bill on the House floor last week to bring the total to $41 million by diverting $5 million from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Tennessee legislators are contemplating a similar pool of funding for cities and local governments across the state.
State legislative leaders are awaiting a July report from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation that is supposed to give legislators an idea of the rape kit backlog statewide, including in Memphis.
State Senate Republican leader Mark Norris has said he wants assurances that any state funding deals with the backlog and addresses its causes so it doesn’t return.
Earlier this year, the state repurposed $500,000 in U.S. Justice Department funding specifically toward the Memphis rape kit testing.
Carpenter, a former Shelby County commissioner, said the Plough Foundation grant is a “good faith challenge.”
“Clearly, (the backlog) is a black eye for our city,” he said. “We were deeply concerned about survivors and the fact that they have not been given the level of dignity and import that they thought they were going to get and should have gotten.
“Because of the size of the backlog, it was going to be very difficult for government to catch this up. … Fundamentally, we think it is government’s responsibility to take care of this kind of thing. We think they are trying to, and we think they have the right procedures now in place to do that. But they’ve got to get back to level ground.”