VOL. 133 | NO. 71 | Monday, April 9, 2018
Duran Arrest Highlights Uncertain Immigration Nexus
By Bill Dries
Nine people were arrested by Memphis Police last week during MLK50 protests. One of those arrests has focused new attention on the nexus between federal immigration policies and local law enforcement.
And it is that nexus that led to Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland walking away from an MLK50 commemoration Saturday, April 7, after being called a “coward” and a “liar” by a jeering group that was part of a larger crowd.
The jeers began earlier in the program as Strickland was about halfway through his prepared remarks.
“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 “Cathedral to City Hall” event commemorated 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.”
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.
Manuel Duran, a journalist, was one of the nine arrests last week. He was taken into custody by federal immigration agents after the protest charges were dismissed in local court.
“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.
Edie Love of the group Memphis SURJ – Stand Up for Racial Justice – followed Lewis.
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.
City communications chief Ursula Madden said Strickland regarded the circumstances surrounding Duran as “an unfortunate situation.”
The Memphis Coalition of Concerned Citizens called for a series of “rolling block parties” as protests during the week that marks the assassination anniversary.
One of the “block parties” was at FedEx corporate offices. The next one was outside the Criminal Justice Center to protest immigration detention. Eight protesters were arrested by police there.
Duran, a journalist with Memphis Noticias, was also arrested as he was photographing the police reaction to the protests.
Duran was charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct and blocking a road.
He is an undocumented immigrant. 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 and to a Louisiana prison.
Madden said in a written statement Saturday that Strickland was briefed by Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings 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.”
However, Bill Stegall, one of the protesters who was jailed with Duran, said Duran showed him his paperwork and the paperwork had written on it "Hold for ICE."
U.S. Attorney Michael Dunavant has said his office is not involved in such cases.
“If you are found to be in this country without permission, without a valid permit or visa, you can be administratively removed,” he said last month. “My office does not engage in that litigation or that action. That is actually a separate court, a separate administrative agency.”
That agency is ICE.
Memphis is not considered a “sanctuary” city – a city whose local government policy is to specifically not cooperate with federal immigration agents and policy. No city in Tennessee has such a designation.
As President Donald Trump took office in January 2017 and enacted the first version of an immigration travel ban that has been blocked across several versions by federal court rulings, Strickland described the city’s status as “a welcoming community.” But he acknowledged some questions about where the new immigration priorities intersect with local law enforcement in the absence of some kind of sanctuary city status.
“Our Memphis Police Department has two million interactions with the public every year,” he said in a February 2017 interview on “Behind The Headlines.”
“They do not check for papers. To date no one’s called for us to do that,” he said. “I would really advocate against that. We don’t have enough police officers to do what we are supposed to do.”
In Duran’s case, Madden says the city checked and there was no order to hold Duran for ICE. The ICE agents were in the courtroom leaving the possibility they learned of Duran’s undocumented status from the ensuing fallout and social media reaction after his arrest at the protest.
When charges were dismissed against Duran it was the seventh time in eight months that someone arrested in a local protest has had charges related to that thrown out or dismissed in court.
All six of those arrested by Memphis Police in an August protest around the statue of Confederate general, slave trader and Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest later had all charges dropped against them.
Police began making arrests when several people in the crowd began climbing onto the equestrian statue in an attempt to cover it with a tarp.
Love says in the arrests by police last week outside the Criminal Justice Center they were “violent and aggressive” toward protesters.
“Two of us standing up here blocked the street in front of FedEx earlier that morning,” Love said to Strickland Saturday. “We weren’t arrested. We were not arrested because we are white women. Manuel was racially profiled. Shame on you. Shame on this city.”
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.”