Mayor Says Memphis 'Will Be Prepared' for Statue Protests

By Bill Dries

If opponents of the removal of the city’s two most visible Civil War monuments follow through on plans for a Memphis protest Jan. 6, Mayor Jim Strickland said city government will be ready.


“The city will be prepared,” Strickland said after his New Year’s Day Prayer Breakfast. “The Memphis Police Department, fire services, emergency management, communication – they are all working together. They will be prepared. I have full faith in our city employees and leadership to handle it.”

Strickland marked the halfway point in his four-year term of office Monday, Jan. 1, by calling on citizens to make use of the “spirit of solidarity” shown in the removal of the Confederate monuments just before Christmas.

“A couple of weeks ago we removed symbols in our community that only served to divide us at a time when Memphis needs to be more united than ever,” Strickland told a group of 400 at the Holiday Inn University of Memphis. “And I think you saw two weeks ago just how powerful it can be when we all come together in Memphis. As I said that night, I want to take the same spirit of solidarity toward the issues that our neighborhoods and our children face every day.” Strickland acknowledged county commissioner Van Turner among the elected officials in the audience.

“I guess you’ve been in the news a little bit lately,” Strickland said, referring to Turner’s position as president of Memphis Greenspace, the private nonprofit the city council sold the two parks to, which led to the immediate removal of the monuments in Health Sciences Park and Memphis Park.

Among the religious leaders who spoke before Strickland was Rev. James L. Netters, senior pastor of Mount Vernon Baptist Church and a former Memphis City Council member.

Netters served on the council 50 years ago when the city moved from the commission form of government to the mayor-council form of government.

“Wow, the statues are gone,” he began before addressing this year’s 50th anniversary of the sanitation workers’ strike. “Thank God they are gone.”

Like Strickland, Netters called for using that momentum to combat violent crime, put a greater priority on education and to “live in peace and harmony.”

After the breakfast, Strickland noted that the city’s homicide count for 2017 was 200, down from 2016’s record homicide count of 228.

Strickland was hesitant to attribute the drop to his priority of adding to police ranks over several years.

“We don’t know,” he said when asked what he would attribute the drop to. “Even though it’s lower, we can’t really celebrate it because it is 200 lost lives. Any number is too high. We are pushing very hard with the police recruitment and retention. We’re hiring more police officers. We are retaining more of them. We are pushing up to 2,300 in about three years. We’re intervening in the lives of more young people to try to get something more productive to do.”

Strickland cited statistics from Le Bonheur Children’s Medical Center showing the hospital treated 59 children for gun injuries, including gun accidents, in 2017. That’s up from an average of 39 for each of the two previous years. Of the 59 children entering Le Bonheur in 2017 for gunshot wounds, 17 died.

Intervention through mentoring, reading programs and similar efforts is what Strickland is pushing.

“Intervening in the lives of young people is the moral calling of our time in our city,” he said. “And a call doesn’t just ask you to take notice of things and move on. God does not call us to post a criticism on Facebook or Twitter and do nothing to follow up. God does not ask us or call us to complain. He calls us to take action.”

Through Tuesday morning, Jan. 2, there had been no formal requests for a city permit to gather or protest in Health Sciences Park, according to city communications chief Ursula Madden.

Through New Year’s Day, the Memphis Brigade of the Sons of Confederate Veterans focused much of its attention in Facebook postings on calling for District Attorney General Amy Weirich to pursue criminal charges against the city of Memphis, Shelby County government and/or Memphis Greenspace. When that didn’t happen, they called on Weirich to recuse herself.

The SCV chapter is calling for a special prosecutor to be appointed and is urging its members to contact Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery and push for that. Slatery’s office has had a Memphis attorney observing the actions and reporting to him since the removal of the monuments Dec. 20.

The city administration also informed Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam of its plan to remove the monuments before the plan was put into action. Strickland has declined to say what Haslam’s reaction was.

The Memphis Brigade of the SCV is also seeking donations to continue its legal battle, which began as a lawsuit against the renaming of the Confederate-themed parks and to block the city from removing the monuments.

A brief video from last week on the brigade’s Facebook page shows a Confederate battle flag waving. A voice on the video said, “Folks, it may seem like a gloomy day today in Memphis, Tennessee. But a storm’s a coming, a storm’s a coming. Watch the news. We don’t have to do a thing. This is all going to work out.”

A Dec. 28 post on the WordPress blog “The Roper Report” promotes a Jan. 6 protest in Health Sciences Park saying “All white nationalists and pro-Confederate patriots are invited to join us there.”

The blog post refers to the removal of the monuments as an “anti-white scheme” and Turner is referred to by two racial epithets.

A Dec. 30 blog post claims different organizations are involved in planning the protest, “from pro-Confederate heritage advocates to the hard right.”

“However, it will be a much less cucked and degenerate big tent overall than ones which were involved in the planning and organizing of past events, such as Charlottesville,” the post reads, a reference to the August “Unite the Right” rally in Virginia to protest the removal of a Confederate statue earlier in Charlottesville.

The two-day demonstration included a torch light parade with Nazi salutes and the involvement of white nationalist and white supremacist groups as well as Confederate groups. The event turned violent, with one person killed and more than 30 others injured.

The blog’s author, Billy Roper, describes himself as an author of fiction and nonfiction and a former high school teacher of history, civics, economics and geography who lives “in what will become New America.” Both posts are attributed to ShieldWall Network and include Roper’s email address.