VOL. 133 | NO. 128 | Wednesday, June 27, 2018
Mayoral Security Comes with Controversy and Price Tag
By Bill Dries
Some mayors and other elected officials have referred to it as “fan mail.” It ranges from explicit threats of violence to vague statements that could be taken as threats of physical harm or a prediction of defeat in the next election.
To some it comes with the territory. The security that Memphis Police advise city mayors to take at the beginning of their terms is rarely an easy fit for whoever holds the office.
Willie Herenton chafed at the police escorts and presence that began almost the moment he won the mayor’s office in October 1991. The presence was stepped up when police found a man with a shotgun wandering around the construction site of Herenton’s new home. Herenton would later face criticism for the size of his police security detail and security measures at the entrance into City Hall where there was no police checkpoint before.
Interim Mayor Myron Lowery had to adjust to not driving himself to events.
Dick Hackett broke up a ring of thieves hijacking cigarette deliveries when he and his bodyguard came across the incident on their way to an event.
When Jim Strickland went from being a city council member to mayor in January 2016 he pushed back on increased security measures that come with being mayor.
But for the last two years, since a group of around eight people held a “die-in” protest on the front lawn of his home, police have ramped up security measures to include 24-hour security on his home.
The change includes more than $100,000 of Memphis Police overtime for the officer who is with Strickland most of every day and another $100,000 for the police lieutenant supervising that officer and all police security at city government’s two buildings on the Civic Center Plaza.
“Not all of that is me because he is not with me that often,” Strickland said Monday, June 25, of the lieutenant as he discussed the security measures and the costs.
“When I started off as mayor I really fought back against the police department wanting to give me security all of the time,” he said. “Things changed when we had trespassers on our property looking in our windows and then the threats that I’ve gotten over social media.”
The die-in was a Black Lives Matter movement protest. No one was arrested, but police added the names of those they believe participated to a list of people not allowed in City Hall without a police escort.
Strickland said he was unaware that the protesters or other citizens from later protests were added to the City Hall list. The several dozen names were later removed from that list.
Protesters complained that police were keeping them under surveillance and taking a harder line with protests than was necessary. A federal lawsuit against the city and Graceland is still pending over protesters and others being banned from Graceland’s annual August candlelight vigil.
Keedran Franklin, one of the protesters banned from Graceland and on the City Hall list before it was amended, said in a Facebook live post Monday that, “most of the people that were on his lawn were 70 years old and up.”
“I can’t be a threat. They know I’m not a threat,” he said. “That money could have went to one of these homeless shelters. There’s a lot of stuff you can do with that money instead of figuring out how to watch me. … Y’all are wasting money on me.”
Franklin said the emphasis on the protesters is a cover-up to spend more taxpayer money on police.
“Y’all don’t need that money. Y’all don’t need to watch us,” he said. “We’re hard working citizens just like y’all. We’re just working hard to make sure the power is restored back to the people and not retained with y’all. That’s it.”
Most of the social media comments Strickland disclosed Monday date from the later controversy over the city’s effort to remove Confederate monuments from two city parks and its aftermath last December.
“I hope some sick m--- f--- blows this mayors skull to fragments on his door step,” an Instagram post under the name “ryannapp” reads. “a call to patriots JFK his bitch ass.”
A Facebook post before the statues were removed from the account “Antifa Memphis” includes a copy of Strickland’s home address. “If you don’t remove the confederate statue we will march on your lawn,” it reads.
“You yankee piece of s--- we know where you live,” read another post under the name Sunny South. “Hopefully, a bullet will find its way to your forehead and all of your family members will be killed,” read another, under the name Michael Livesay.
Another twitter account featuring a portrait of Confederate general, slave trader and Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest reads, “No man wrecks my grave and lives.”
Other elected officials also have received such threats and have said they consider them to be part of the job.
“I don’t like it. I’m cheap. I don’t like to spend money that way,” Strickland said of the heightened security, citing a $20 million line item in the Memphis Police budget for overtime.
“I know part of it is just our national discourse has really been brought down,” he said. “I think social media makes it much worse because people say things on social media they probably wouldn’t say in person. But I think you also have to take it personally, especially when you’ve got children like I do.”