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VOL. 133 | NO. 82 | Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Duran Case Moves To Federal Court In Louisiana

By Bill Dries

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Memphis Police director Michael Rallings says his department isn’t working with federal immigration agencies that are becoming more aggressive in how undocumented immigrants are dealt with.

But critics of the police department’s aggressive reaction to protests say police brass is cooperating.

And they say the best evidence of that is the arrest this month of journalist Manuel Duran as he covered an April 3 protest and his later detention by agents with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency after the protest charges were dropped by prosecutors.

Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings denies that his agency had anything to do with the detention of journalist Manuel Duran earlier this month by federal immigration agents or that police targeted Duran. Rallings said Memphis Police have a policy that they don’t check on the immigration status of people they encounter. (Daily News/Bill Dries)

Rallings says there was no hold by his department for ICE agents to take Duran. Duran was handcuffed by them at the end of a court hearing on the protest charges where those local charges were dropped.

The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit last week in Louisiana federal court seeking Duran’s release from a federal detention center in Jena, Louisiana.

“He has challenged local law enforcement’s denial that they collaborate with ICE,” said Michelle Lapointe, an Atlanta attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center. “He has covered how immigration enforcement tears apart families and communities. Because of his work to hold our government accountable, Manuel has been targeted.

“To be clear, Manuel Duran was retaliated against by local law enforcement and the federal government simply for doing his job as a journalist.”

Rallings said if his office was interested in Duran’s status as an undocumented immigrant, it had other earlier opportunities to find out.

“Mr. Duran has been in my office, in my conference room,” Rallings said. “We have taken pictures together. At no time did we ask Mr. Duran what his status was. That’s not what we do. We don’t enforce the immigration laws. We don’t ask the status of any individual.

“Mr. Duran felt comfortable enough to come to police headquarters and meet with the police director so we can establish better dialogue.”

Duran was arrested by police along with seven protesters outside the Criminal Justice Center at a protest organized by the Memphis Coalition of Concerned Citizens. The group had announced earlier it would protest at several locations in what it termed “rolling block parties.” Duran was charged with disorderly conduct and blocking a road.

“If the question is did we anticipate a protest, yes, because the people told us they were going to do a protest,” Rallings said. “So our officers responded to an unpermitted protest. They gave lawful orders for individuals to move out of the street. They acted well within their authority. They certainly did not target Mr. Duran or anyone else.”

Rallings also pointed out the Shelby County Sheriff's Office had custody of Duran once he was booked into the Shelby County Jail.

Latino Memphis founder Mauricio Calvo said the organization has built a “good relationship” with the Memphis Police Department working through issues like the need for Spanish-speaking police officers, crimes specifically targeting those who don’t speak English and what police ask or don’t ask about immigrant status.

But Calvo added that the organization condemns Duran’s arrest by police as well as his detention by immigration authorities.

“Local authorities are supposed to be here to serve and to protect. Manuel, like thousands of other immigrants, are not criminals and have not done anything to harm anybody or anything,” he said. “We want to send a clear message. Our community will not stand for continued oppression and will continue to fight for their rights. The case of Manuel Duran is one that is politically motivated.”

In a letter from detention in Louisiana released last week, Duran said he has focused on talking with others in custody there about their experiences.

“No one should be deprived of their freedoms just for wanting a better future for their children. This is a cruel system that criminalizes people who pose no danger to this country,” he said. “I will keep taking notes about my experience and I will keep on collecting my cellmates’ stories while I’m here.”

Duran said lights are on day and night at the detention center’s cells and that those being held there have to remain in bed for 45 minutes after morning roll call and can’t use the phone or go to the bathroom during that time. He also said there is no notice given when an attorney representing someone calls. Visitation hours and recreation time overlap, he said, forcing prisoners to choose between seeing their families or much need time outside. Phones in the visitation room don’t work so when a detainee gets a visitor they communicate by screaming at each other through the soundproof windows.

“I miss my home. I miss everything I left behind. I miss my life before April 3, I miss being in touch with my people and reading their messages,” he wrote. “It is extremely difficult being cut off from everyone back home, uninformed, and alone. I try to stay positive as much as I can, but it’s not easy being isolated, and sometimes I just fail.”

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