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VOL. 133 | NO. 166 | Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Rallings Recounts Bridge Protest, Says Surveillance Was for Public Safety

Special to The Daily News

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Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings put on his bulletproof vest en route to a 2016 protest that shut down the Hernando DeSoto Bridge because he didn’t want anyone to die that day.

 “I thought that situation would have made Selma, Alabama look like a day at the park,” Rallings said as he testified Wednesday morning about the 5-hour bridge protest on July 10, 2016.  “I was very concerned about a catastrophic situation. I just did not want it (to) happen on my watch. I did not want us to rewrite Memphis history. We already have enough negative history. “

Michael Rallings

Rallings continued his testimony on the third day of the ACLU trial revolving around a 2017 lawsuit where the American Civil Liberties Union is suing the city of Memphis over political surveillance of protesters and activists including police monitoring their public and private social media accounts.

The 2017 lawsuit was triggered by the addition of local activists to a “city hall escort list” or “black list,” requiring a police escort those on the list at all times while in City Hall. The lawsuit alleged the list was the result of political surveillance by police, violating the 1978 consent decree.

Under questioning from City Attorney Buck Wellford, Rallings said Wednesday morning police need to monitor social media because protests like the one on the bridge ballooned from a few people to a thousand after word spread on social media.

“These are real things going on in real time. I didn’t want anybody to get killed that day,” Rallings said.  “So, I looked at that bridge and, to me, that was my a-ha moment. I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I didn’t want someone to die. “

He said MPD’s goal is to protect the public regardless who is protesting and their beliefs or message.

“We were concerned about protecting the public, protecting them, and allowing them to express their rights,” he said. “We were not concerned about anyone’s beliefs or associations.”

The trial began Monday, August 20. Rallings initially took the stand late Tuesday, but only testified about 30 minutes.

He continued his testimony Wednesday morning and said police noticed a lot of unpermitted protests in the city after the 2015 fatal shooting death of Darrius Stewart. Stewart, a 19-year-old black teen, was shot and killed by white Memphis police office Connor Schilling. No charges were filed against Schilling.

Rallings was asked by the ACLU attorney Thomas Castelli if the police department still prepared joint intelligence briefings, or JIBs to track protests, and the police director said the department stopped the practice after U.S. District Judge Jon P. McCalla’s Aug. 10 ruling associated with the lawsuit.

McCalla ruled that Memphis police violated portions of the 1978 decree by gathering political intelligence on protesters over the last two years.

The judge must now weigh several areas of “genuine dispute” and decide if the ACLU has legal standing. If so the judge could impose sanctions.

The ACLU is asking the court to:

  • Conduct yearly training on the decree for all law enforcement personnel. Police who work in departments, such as OHS (Office of Homeland Security) and the RTCC (Real Time Crime Center), should receive advanced training to ensure their understanding and compliance with the decree.
  • Additional training on the First Amendment rights of individuals, particularly the right to protest and peacefully assemble, should be given to all MPD officers.

The  ACLU also wants the city to pay all attorneys’ fees associated with the case.

The non-jury trial continues Thursday afternoon.

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