Last week we had the tragedy of Brandon Webber, who was killed on June 12th by US Marshals in the driveway of his family’s Frayser home. His bereaved parents spoke out in a June 14th vigil at the site of the killing, attended by over 600 mourners. We are saddened by this violence. As expected, this killing evoked a number of responses.
- Mayor Jim Strickland and Police Director Rallings emphasized minor injuries sustained by police the day of the killing, with injuries escalating from six to thirty six depending on the source. The MPD response was both entitled and whiny.
- A public relations campaign immediately arose which accused Webber of all sorts of previous crimes and painted him as a habitual criminal.
- Public comment mourned him and those who knew him said he was a promising student.
- Police circulated a false rumor that people’s organizations had targeted their members. They did the same thing in the summer of 2016.
- Marsha Blackburn said that an officer had been killed.
It is worthy of note that the mourners who lobbed chunks of concrete at MPD and Sheriff Deputies on June 12th knew that MPD had not killed Brandon Webber. The gesture of rock-throwing was the result of how the police are perceived in the neighborhood, a perception based on decades of overpolicing of Frayser and other Memphis neighborhoods.
MPD and demonstrators.
Despite racked up violence and arrests by police against demonstrators, ranging from the false arrest of Paul Garner at Manna House in 2015 to the 2016 Greensward and Graceland displays of military equipment and arrests, to the 2017 Valero and TakeEmDown arrests at Health Science Park, to the April 3rd 2018 snatch squad arrests of protesters and the September 2018 arrests of people protesting the shooting of Martavious Banks, no Memphis protester has offered violence to police within living memory. In 2011, during the time of the Occupy movement, the conventional wisdom was that MPD learned during the 1960s to leave us alone, and we left them alone.
MPD has not worn riot gear since a Ku Klux Klan march in 2013. We don’t remember the last time MPD used tear gas. MPD appears to be untrained in its use, considering their lack of protection when they gassed themselves that fateful evening.
We have also seen the increasing involvement of the MGU and OCU, which were created as anti-gang units, in the suppression of political activity.
All this changed on Wednesday 12th June. We consider this a watershed in community relations with MPD.
Let’s examine the context.
MPD’s gang tactics used on political targets.
One of the first things the new MGU did in 2012, after Amy Weirich sponsored its creation, was to have a surveillance van built for the Organized Crime Unit, OCU (the “elite” unit of MGU). Here’s the City contract for that van. This document contains the technical specification for the conversion work.
The specification for this presumably disguised van looks very like the bogus traffic vehicle which has photographed protesters from 2017 onwards, contrary to the 1978 Consent Decree.
The illegal political surveillance of political targets apparently started with traditional undercover spying on Paul Garner and Bradley Watkins of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center in 2015. We have tracked the first known appearance of “Bob Smith”, who was identified as Sgt. Tim Reynolds of MPD, to early June 2016 . During the ACLU trial, Reynolds testified about using conventional undercover techniques to track Garner and Watkins. Social media spying replaced on-the-ground surveillance of political targets in 2016. Current indications are that social media surveillance of criminal and people’s organization (gang) targets continues to this day.
We also saw Joint Intelligence Bulletins (JIB) featuring political targets in the 2016 through 2018 period, containing libels of activists. It now seems that the propagation of JIBs featuring people’s organization (gang) members has been a feature of the MGU since their 2012 origin.
On September 17th 2018, Martavious Banks was stopped for lack of car insurance in South Memphis and shot in the back by Memphis police. The officers on the scene had deactivated their body cameras and dash cams prior to the shooting. Mr Banks spent months recovering from two gunshot wounds to the back.
Relatives of Mr Banks allege that an AR-15 rifle was used in the shooting. We have been unable to verify this, but if it is true, it would have been contrary to MPD regulations, as the shooter, Jamarcus Jeames, did not have the requisite three years patrol experience to be certified as a Patrol Rifle Officer. Other questions relate to the presence of police apologist Mike Williams, MPA President, and his son, at the shooting scene. Michael Williams II was one of the three perpetrators in the Banks shooting.
After the shooting, MPD revealed that previous body cam infractions had been “punished” by slaps on the wrist. The typical MPD “punishment” is one day’s paid suspension, which police treat as an extra day’s vacation.
On the 19th of September, a protest near the site of the shooting resulted in six arrests. These six appeared for a preliminary hearing on 16th May 2019 on a variety of charges. All charges were dropped on May 16th except five charges of obstructing a highway. During that hearing, witnesses described how Lieutenant Moses, the scene commander, gave protesters five seconds to disperse. This compares to the twenty minutes that Major Rudolph, the ranking officer at the Greensward arrests, gave the mostly white Park Protectors to depart. Several MGU officers gave evidence of arresting the accused protesters.
On May 9th, 2019, Martavious Banks was indicted for evading arrest, a weapon charge, driving while suspended, and reckless driving. His existing parole was violated and he is still in jail at the time of writing. The decision to put the case to the Grand Jury was made by the DA’s office. The Shelby County grand juries are rigged and have chairmen that are on the State payroll. They always do what Amy Weirich asks.
The next day, Amy Weirich’s office announced that the cops who did the shooting would not be indicted, despite the fact that turning off body cams suggests both premeditation and guilt. Jamarcus Jeames, the shooter, was allowed to resign from the force prior to the completion of MPD’s internal inquiry, in which he would have been required to make a statement.
Reaction to DA’s actions in Banks case.
On May 29th, a Crips shot caller texted me and wanted to talk. We met in his house in Frayser, just around the corner from Brandon Webber’s crib. The conversation was about Amy Weirich. The street organization guy was angry at the DA for simultaneously incarcerating Martavious Banks and letting the perpetrator go free. He wanted to organize a recall petition for Amy Weirich. We also talked about his role in the street organizations coming together to strategize an alliance.
When we checked with our legal experts, it turned out that there is no process in State law for recalling State officials. We settled for a change.org petition to the Governor. We discussed the nature of the DA’s office, and ways to fight them politically and by legal action. The street organization guy was not happy with having to wait until 2022 to vote Amy out of office.
On 13th June, the day after Mr. Webber’s slaughter, I called the Crips leader and it turned out that Brandon Webber was his neighbor and they went to school together. He was so angry that he could barely talk. I did gather that the Crip had been in the group of protesters, with a number of acquaintances from his own street organization and others. I am not saying that the protest was dominated by people’s organizations. For all I know the proportion of gang members in the crowd was in line with their representation in the local demographic. I am just saying that my correspondent and some other members were present at the event.
It seems that the police got off lightly the day of Brandon’s shooting. The street organizations could have made a couple of calls and had 100 guys with AK47s at that demonstration. The police still don’t know how close their arrogance and aggression brought them to an actual bloodbath.
Powder Keg City
Anyone who gets arrested and charged has an intimate relationships with their arresting officers. Police malpractice is in your face, as an accused person. But the role of the police in the criminal justice system is that of a sheepdog, corralling victims for the DA’s meat grinder.
From the point of view of the arrestee, the role of the prosecutor’s office is indirect. Your counsel is the one who talks to the DA’s office and brings back information and proffers. In court, you don’t even know the name of your prosecutor unless you see it in court documents.
In other words, police malfeasance is in the faces of the defendants and that of the DA’s office can be hidden. DAs do not roam the streets armed, slaughtering and tear-gassing residents like the police do. Although they kill people just as surely via death penalties and life without parole.
Amy Weirich brought in three innovations in 2012 after she took office. One was the 2012 creation of the Multi-Agency Gang Unit (MGU) which was set up to work with Deputy DA Paul Hagerman’s MGU Prosecution Team, formerly known as the Shelby County District Attorney General’s Gang & Narcotics Prosecution Unit. This unit features ADA Chris Scruggs, a problem prosecutor and previous recipient of our Hammer Award.
Amy also set up the Authorizaton of Agency procedure in cooperation with Memphis Shelby Crime Commission and MPD. People’s organization members are often targeted with this device, which does not comply with Tennessee trespass law, or provide due process for the accused. This writer has appeared in three Authorization of Agency documents, without ever having been accused of trespass. Those AoA’s were also kept secret until requested via the State Open Records act, despite containing notification requirements in the form’s instructions. We documented about 1,700 AoA victims since 2011.
The third initiative was the September 2013 innovation of Gang Injunctions. These injunctions designate places where gang members can’t be and allows them to be arrested under State nuisance law if found on the premises. An apartment complex close to the scene of Brandon Webber slaughter has a current gang injunction.
The MGU created a database of thousands of gang members, 12,850 in 2017, some who have never been convicted of a crime, which is an affront to the first amendment right of free association.
In addition, it seems likely that the MGU’s surveillance techniques were adapted to create the City Blacklist which was the subject of the 2018 lawsuit against the City and MPD. The MGU’s elite unit, the paramilitary OCU (Organized Crime Unit), featured in the police attack on protesters on April 3rd 2018 and in the July 2018 arrest of CCC leader Keedran Franklin.
We have little doubt that the abuses of social media surveillance documented in the ACLU case are still being perpetrated on the peoples’ organization members in MGU’s surveillance list.
If we had paid more attention to Amy’s violation of the first and fifteenth amendment rights of the peoples’ organization members, we might have prevented the abuse of the civil rights of activists.
The monster awakes.
The People’s organizations are now awakening to the DA’s office and the nature of the abuses she has heaped on their members. The People’s Organizations are seeking common ground.
Some good might come from this, if the People’s Organizations come together and find a political or legal basis to fight these prosecution tactics.
But the police are playing with fire. The next time they face off a crowd containing gang members, they might not be so lucky to escape with a few rocks lobbed, and a whiff of their own tear gas.
Our recommendation to the People’s Organizations is to continue to ignore police provocation and, instead, take legal and political action to address their persecution at Amy Weirich’s and MPD’s hands. And to create alliances.
Lessons for activists.
Activists and their lawyers have fought for the rights of political dissidents, who are generously represented pro-bono by socially aware lawyers.
“Ordinary decent criminals” don’t get much attention. MemphisTruth.org has found that you need to create relationships with convicted people if you want to find out how the police and DA’s office victimize them. Felons are locked away in jail and lose their voting rights, which effectively silences their voices. Once in the prison system, they can be renditioned to another state if they need to be further silenced. This is how law enforcement and prosecutors bury their mistakes.
The same is true of people’s organization members. The legal profession, the media and most activists, with the notable exception of groups like Just City and No Exceptions Prison Collaborative, ignore the systematic destruction of the civil liberties of defendants, the convicted and people’s organization members.
We are now seeing that Amy Weirich’s office and law enforcement makes no such distinction. They use their dirty tricks on activists, gang members and ordinary criminals without distinction, and a force, the MGU, designed to control people’s organizations, can be deployed on political speech with the stroke of a pen or a radio instruction.
It’s not surprising that these methods did not come to light until they were used on activists. Amy Weirich’s other victims have no voice, but political activists pay a lot of attention to their messaging and get sympathy from the legal profession and the media.
Criminal justice activists have failed to use the treatment of people’s organization members and ordinary decent criminals to predict how the justice system will soon be treating political activists.
The DA’s office has often flown beneath our radar, even though the prosecutor’s office has the leading role in the mass incarceration of our people.
The people’s organizations are now becoming politicized, and aligning themselves with the communities where they live, in rejecting police oppression. They are also spreading awareness of how our corrupt, mass-incarceration prosecutor’s office can be challenged via the electoral process.
The police have ratcheted up the pressure on the community to the point where violent resistance is now on the table. If this is a planned policy, it is misguided. The people’s organizations, according to MGU’s own database, outnumber the police by almost an order of magnitude, and they are much better armed.
MPD is making the strategic error of trying to gauge the intentions of their enemies, while they would be smarter to estimate their capabilities.
The apparent stand-down of MPD during the Friday June 14th commemoration as compared to their aggression on the day of the killing, and their failure to avenge the rock-throwing confirms to the people’s organizations that MPD is weak and timid. Game theory suggests that the street organizations might further probe police resolve and capabilities.
We hope the people’s organizations will move in the direction of solidarity and political action. But our assessment of their capability gives us pause.
Finally, from Just City
The response to the tragedy in Frayser Wednesday evening is not simply about another fatal law enforcement encounter with a young, black man. The neighborhood response is based on decades of sustained over-policing and entrenched policies that criminalize poverty. 1/7
The loss of another young life was but a spark on the smoldering ashes that exist in so many neighborhoods in our community. Every single day in Memphis, young and old alike encounter oppressive systems, which are nearly impossible to avoid or escape. 2/7
Courts levy hefty costs and fines for minor offenses, which, if unpaid, turn into driver license suspensions. Court and administrative appearances demand more time and attention from the poor than from the wealthy, so that even simple traffic tickets can cause a crisis. 3/7
Local government partners with private industry to profit from phone calls, money transfers, and visitation in local correctional facilities, pillaging the pocketbooks and bank accounts of families who can least afford it. 4/7
Surveillance by and encounters with law enforcement are constant, yet when tragedy strikes or abuse occurs, grief-stricken families and neighborhoods are asked to wholly trust the ones who control the cameras and systems of surveillance. 5/7
Law enforcement and courts demand accountability for the slightest misstep. Yet when a life is taken in a hail of gunfire, we wait for days, weeks, or years for a simple description of what occurred, and officers are rarely, if ever, held accountable. 6/7
Is it any wonder that a community rejects an occupying force like the one that descended into Frayser? While the MPD has a difficult & thankless job, for many, many people, they embody the oppression that operates with lethal efficiency all across Memphis every, single day. 7/7
Nomenclature note: The DA’s office, police and City political hacks usually refer to gangs. Our contacts prefer the terms Street Organization or People’s Organization. We use all three terms depending on the source of our information.
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