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VOL. 11 | NO. 14 | Saturday, April 7, 2018

Strickland Jeered Over Duran Arrest During MLK50 Event

By Bill Dries

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Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland was jeered Saturday, April 7, and called a “coward” and “liar” at a rally as part of a “Cathedral to City Hall” MLK50 event outside City Hall.

Among the more than 100 people who marched from St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral to City Hall following a program there were those protesting the arrest this week by Memphis Police of journalist Manuel Duran in a demonstration and then Duran’s arrest by federal immigration agents once the charges from the protest were dropped. Duran is being held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement – or ICE – in a Louisiana prison.

Edie Love of the group Memphis SURJ -- Standing Up for Racial Justice -- was among the speakers outside City Hall Saturday as Strickland watched after welcoming the group to the plaza. She said Strickland had been interviewed by Duran.

“We brought a reminder for you,” she said as someone with her held up a picture. “Mayor Strickland, you asked for his help in establishing trust with the Latinx community. Why didn’t you speak up for him? Why did you not speak up for him? This is state-sponsored terrorism against our Latinx community and it is wrong.”

At the end of Love’s speech, Strickland left and went back inside City Hall. As he left the crowd jeered more.

The jeers began earlier in the program as Strickland was about halfway through his prepared remarks.

Edie Love confronts Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland Saturday, April 7, over the arrest of journalist Manuel Duran as a crowd also jeered Strickland. Strickland left the event outside City Hall after Love's remarks. The administration said Duran's arrest was legitimate and that is had no control over ICE agents taking him into custody when the police charges were dropped. (Daily News/Bill Dries)

“As long as Memphis has existed, faith leaders have played an important part, from the Yellow Fever epidemics, to overcoming Jim Crow laws, through two world wars, through the civil rights struggles of the 60s and pursuing educational excellence in the last few decades,” he began, noting that the event commemorates a march a group of local religious leaders made from St. Mary’s to City Hall in 1968, the day after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. The group urged then-Mayor Henry Loeb to settle the sanitation workers strike that brought King to Memphis, in a meeting with Loeb in the mayor’s office.

“You are the conscious leaders. We look to you and we appreciate your leadership very much,” Strickland said. “I want to ask you for one favor. Of all the things we can do to work together on – we need to take advantage of some of the great opportunities that have come forward right now. We are an opportunity city.”

Dean Andy Andrews of St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral leads a march Saturday, April 7, from the cathedral to City Hall commemorating the 1968 march by a group of ministers the day after Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination calling on then-Mayor Henry Loeb to settle the sanitation workers strike that brought King to Memphis. (Daily News/Bill Dries)

As he talked about a city website that lists unfilled jobs, someone in the crowd shouted, “You’re pandering, Jim.” Chants of “free Manuel” followed through the rest of the speech.

“The best days of Memphis are ahead of us and I thank you all. God bless Memphis,” Strickland said through the jeers. Some of those jeering had done the same when Strickland, County Mayor Mark Luttrell and Gov. Bill Haslam spoke April 4 at the National Civil Rights Museum during observances of the assassination anniversary.

The jeering stopped for a time when Strickland’s remarks concluded. Strickland remained, standing to the side, as others spoke including Al Lewis of the Memphis Coalition of Concerned Citizens, who was also critical of the city administration.

The coalition led a series of protest called “rolling block parties” during the week’s events marking the 50th anniversary of the 1968 sanitation workers strike and King’s assassination. The “block parties” included the protest outside the Criminal Justice Center where Duran was arrested on charges of disorderly conducting and blocking a street.

A total of nine people, including Duran, were arrested over two days.

“Two of us standing up here blocked the street in front of FedEx earlier that morning,” Love said to Strickland. “We weren’t arrested. We were not arrested because we are white women. Manuel was racially profiled. Shame on you. Shame on this city.”

City communications chief Ursula Madden said in a written statement later Saturday that Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings briefed Strickland on Duran’s arrest the day it happened “and was assured that it was a legitimate arrest.”

“The mayor’s office also reached out to the Sheriff’s office, which confirmed there was no ICE hold for Mr. Duran,” she added. “As we have shared before, SCSO operates the jail, not the city, so we do not have interaction with ICE on holds and detention.”

Madden also said Strickland regarded the circumstances as “an unfortunate situation.”

Duran is undocumented. ICE agents were in the courtroom as Duran made his first and only appearance on the police charges related to the protest. At the Thursday hearing, prosecutors with the District Attorney General’s office announced there were dismissing those charges against Duran. In a written statement that same day, District Attorney General Amy Weirich said, “There was not sufficient evidence to go forward with prosecution.”

As Duran left, the ICE agents in the courtroom took him into custody.

The commemoration at St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral focused on the events of 1968 with speakers saying in general that the issues that gave rise to the sanitation workers strike remain challenges in 2018.

Rev. Rosalind Nichols mentioned Duran’s arrest, saying it demonstrated the need to continue to “speak truth to power.”

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