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VOL. 131 | NO. 139 | Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Frustrations Aired After Bridge Protest

By Bill Dries

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To get an idea of just how high emotions were running at the outset of the weekend’s Black Lives Matter rally Downtown that turned into a march, take many of the voices coming through a megaphone in the FedExForum plaza and put them in a church sanctuary with air conditioning and a better sound system.

That’s exactly what happened Monday, July 11, at Greater Imani Christian Church in Raleigh, the day after the march and demonstration,

The forum was set up by Memphis Police Department Interim Director Michael Rallings as he worked to get protesters to end a sit-in on the Hernando DeSoto Bridge.

It ended with some but not all of the organizers of the Sunday action saying they might lead protesters back onto the bridge.

The meeting began with a unified call for Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland to end a national search for the next police director and make Rallings his choice now.

Strickland said several times he would stick with the search as several others on the panel pressured him to name Rallings then and there.

“I’m doing what I promised to do in the campaign,” Strickland said as he was booed by the crowd of several hundred. “I answer to the public.”

That prompted the crowd to shout “We are the public.”

Rev. Earle Fisher, pastor of Abyssinian Missionary Baptist Church, said the organizers of the protest should lead cultural sensitivity training for Memphis Police officers, one of the demands from the groups read at the meeting.

The group also called for improvements in city Public Works division spending with minority businesses and more funding for community centers and similar community amenities.

Fisher cautioned the standing room-only crowd in the church sanctuary that all of the problems that prompted the huge turnout for Sunday’s protest wouldn’t be solved in a single meeting.

“We’ve been asking for a conversation for a long time,” Fisher said, criticizing elected officials who only listen “when the TV lights are on.”

“We’re dying out here,” he said. “If you don’t know what it’s like to have them lights flash on you and you grip the hell out of the steering wheel because you don’t know if you are going to get a bullet for your trouble, you don’t need to be here. This is for the long haul.”

But those who wrote comments and questions on cards and those who lined up to speak were anxious to be heard. And the panel at times clashed on whether to read the cards or hear the comments.

The written and spoken comments revealed the same pent-up frustration that prompted Sunday’s protest to swell from a few hundred people at the start to several thousand by the time the event was a march on its way to the bridge.

“The problem is these first two rows here,” one speaker said of the police command staff sitting in the two front center rows of the church. “You’re not in charge. We’re in charge.”

Rev. DeVante Hill, among the organizers of the Sunday protest, tried to keep the comments pointed not only at the issues of the Black Lives Matter movement but also at hearing the voices of younger activists.

“This has turned into something I didn’t want it to turn into,” he said at one point. “This turned into a town hall meeting. This meeting is about this generation. I don’t care about your Social Security and your veterans affairs.”

Other organizers, including Frank Gotti, said the forum wasn’t what was promised and that they weren’t heard by the city leaders, prompting him to vow a return to the bridge.

Still others in the audience said the dissension reflected the pain felt by so many involved in the protest who haven’t been heard by elected leaders before.

“It looks rough,” said DeAndre Brown, the founder of Lifeline to Success, the organization that works with ex-offenders. “There’s so much pain in the room. I don’t think we’ve ever had an opportunity to encapsulate so much pain in one place.

“You saw what happened when you bring that much pain without any organization,” Brown said. “I was a little upset at first. But I’m learning to understand that this was just the beginning.”

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