This week has been a game changer. Memphis history will forever be divided into the pre-ACLU era and the post-ACLU era. MPD in particular is in crisis, and, because of role of public safety in our local elections, the crisis extends into the political sphere.
The trial itself.
We saw a steady stream of MPD brass take the stand and be defensive. The City strategy has been to try to make the police look reasonable, and to paint the activists as crazy fools. This strategy plain failed, as Paul Garner, Elaine Blanchard, Earle Fisher and Keedran Franklin presented well on the stand. It is notable that the City did not send Jim Strickland or any of the”public safety” advocates to defend their police buddies.
The defense cut their losses on Thursday and pulled the plug on trying to discredit more activists or putting more police on the stand. Essentially, they accepted defeat after a very poor display of legal skills.
MPD is not a monolith. It has leaders jockeying for position as the next director, a large number of disaffected members who are still disgruntled over pensions and benefits, a degenerate and poorly led MPA and a sizeable contingent of out and out racists who are chafing at being led by an African American director.
We can expect instability at MPD. At this point I see little benefit in stirring the pot at MPD. We’ve stirred. Stirring done.
At this point we need to be concerned that the police will revert to form and lash out at civilians and activists. We suggest extreme care in interactions with police as we await the verdict from the trial. We have no need to provoke further reactions from MPD. We’ve already unleashed the nuclear option.
Strickland’s administration has not been watching the backs of their police. He has been declining to comment on the sub-judice proceedings. We expect this to continue.
In the meantime, the hitherto solid eight or nine vote pro-police Council block is already showing signs of fragmenting. Joe Brown and Edmund Ford are term limited and won’t need to expend political capital on defending the police.
Berlin Boyd is up for re-election. He has been at odds with the Kemp Conrad knee-jerk brand of police support, voting against Conrad in the August 2016 marijuana ordinance. Boyd knows that he needs to put some distance between himself and the law and order lobby. He’s been reaching out to certain activists with some truly strange proposals.
Jamita Swearengen, as the new chairman of the Public Safety Committee, has been conventionally pro-police, generally following the MPD’s COP community policing line. She made a speech at CLERB extolling Blue Crush and the deployment of 490 new spycams, which City Council approved a budget of $1.5M for on July 10th.
Patrice Robinson has not been saying a lot about policing.
Of the white Council members, all part of the Caissa group, the more extreme police fans like Kemp Conrad and Reid Hedgepeth, with Bill Morrison, are term limited. We might see some posturing from them. Ford Canale remains a cypher, although he rang the Public Safety bell in his August election campaign, apparently with less effect than his predecessor.
We don’t see much incentive for Council members to expend political capital on defending police prerogatives. In fact, we think some of the previous pro-police coalition, especially Berlin Boyd, are already maneuvering to create some advantage for themselves.
Activists have ling sought a strengthening of CLERB powers. CLERB needs subpoena power, and the ability to make binding recommendations for disciplinary actions and policy and procedure changes. Look to Memphis United, fresh from Paul Garner’s performance on the witness stand, to be making proposals. In addition, it appears that the administration has successfully sabotaged the ability of CLERB to post documents on its own website and on the City archive site.
It’s hard not to see the canny Garner taking advantage of MPD’s predicament.
Mike Rallings, as the officer who presided over the decline in MPD political interference, and because of his unconvincing defense of his policies on the stand, is damaged goods. He has been left dangling by his political masters. There is no question that he can survive past the election of the next mayor in 2019. He either takes control of his fate and resigns, or the political upheaval that now starts will result in his firing.
Rallings has been fully vested in his MPD pension plan for about a year.
It seems very clear that a new director can’t come from the culturally compromised MPD. The next Police Director must be chosen on the basis of a proven record of community policing. The internal candidates who have been preened as Ralling’s successor are infected with the racial disease that infects the force and will be rejected.
The 2019 City elections
The current mayor and most of City Council were elected in 2015 with dog-whistle campaigns, evoking public safety with racial coding to get elected. The dog whistle was already losing its effectiveness. J Ford Canale blew the dog whistle in the Super 9-2 election and his vote was down 25% on Philip Spinosa’s 2015 performance. David Lenoir used the dog whistle in the County Mayor election and was convincingly defeated by Lee Harris.
Incumbents will be forced to run on other issues. Insurgent candidates will focus on poverty, economics and policing, where incumbents have a dreadful record. Strickland has not been brilliant at the basics. The Caissa Seven have been exposed as the next best thing to a political conspiracy.
Expect a lot of surprises as incumbents and challengers jockey for position and make economic arguments. Expect opponents to rally around retaining IRV in the December referenda, and issues like EDGE, economic development, energy policy, CLERB, policing and poverty to be well aired in the election runup.
Policing has been the lynch-pin of Memphis politics, especially in the last election cycle. The pin has been pulled from this grenade.
People need to be very careful out in the streets.
In the halls of power, expect surprises. 2019 will be fought and won on real policies, not the stalking horses of yore.