Black Freedom Matters

“We don’t want to see Targets burning, we want to see the system that sets up for systemic racism burned to the ground.” 

Killer Mike pushed through tears to offer those words of resolve to his city as it reels from the response to police violence against black and brown bodies, most recently the modern day lynching of George Floyd, the unarmed black man whose life was taken by Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin’s excessive use of force. 

Only ten days prior to the killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor was murdered in a botched “no-knock” warrant raid. Louisville Metro Police Department recklessly entered her boyfriend’s residence with no warning, indiscriminately firing their weapons, killing Breonna with 8-shots, in a search for someone who was already in custody. Louisvillians have taken to the streets as the officers are still employed and no charges have been filed. 

Before the loss of George and Breonna, Ahmaud Arber was murdered in broad daylight while jogging for exercise, by a racist father-son vigilante duo. No charges were filed until months later, when video of the execution was leaked and public outcry forced the hand of law enforcement.

Lest we forget, the Memphians who were also brutalized in recent years. In 2018, Martavious Banks was shot by police during a pursuit on foot but was fortunate that his injuries were non-fatal. But another Memphian’s fate was more grim. In 2015, Darrius Stewart, a 19 year old young man, was an unarmed  passenger riding with a friend, the night he was detained in a traffic stop. He was shot and killed by an officer when the stop became physical; the officer was never charged with a crime and is currently receiving a monthly retirement pension granted on claim of post-traumatic stress disorder.  

These stories are unfortunately only a few recent accounts of untold black lives that have been taken with impunity. As we memorialize and honor the lives of George, Breonna, and Ahmaud, we also remember Philando, Sandra, Freddie, Alton, Tamir, Trayvon, Michael, Atatiana, Eric, and countless others taken too soon. The uprising across the nation is a cry that, “enough is enough!” In order for a lasting peace to be achieved, there must be a commensurate change and deep justice.

Dr. King once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” Memphians have long suffered under inequitable policing conditions, and we say the bend must be sharper. The activist community of Memphis has joined together to demand policy changes that’ll ensure that the lives of black and brown citizens will be acknowledged, protected, and valued at the same level as their counterparts. In addition to our ongoing efforts in education,, these are a few criminal justice demands we lift up:

  1. Release all protesters who were arrested as a result of exercising 1st amendment rights to protest AND drop any charges, pending or otherwise 
  2. Investigate law enforcement brutality and misconduct during recent protests with public reporting of findings and a commitment to hold officers accountable for any wrongdoing
  3. Reallocate funding from the police department to fund alternatives rooted in community health and crisis response
  4. Ban chokeholds and strangleholds by Memphis Police Officers and Sheriff’s Deputies
  5. Require de-escalation as a first response by Memphis Police Officers and Sheriff’s Deputies
  6. Develop a Duty To Intervene policy that requires officers to intervene when witnessing another officer using excessive force for the Memphis Police Department and the Sheriff’s Office
  7. Require reporting by officers and deputies any time they point a firearm at a citizen
  8. Give the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB) the power it needs to investigate and ensure accountability for police conduct and provide clear avenues for CLERB’s input on MPD training, policies, and procedures
  9. Include grassroots black and brown leaders and activists on the search and selection committee for the next MPD Chief
  10.  End money bail and stop predatory, ballooning penalties for traffic tickets, court costs, and other fines

Stand For Children Memphis acknowledges that the same system that perpetuates the indiscriminate killing of black and brown bodies also subjugates our children to substandard educational conditions. These issues are inextricably linked and as we knock down one barrier we put a dent in them all. In order to break the cycle of violence and undereducation in our communities, we urge you to support our initiative: A Moral Budget for Shelby County. We know the myriad obstacles to creating a more equitable landscape for students, families, and communities. A moral budget prioritizes people, not politics, profits, or posturing. When the Memphis City Council passed a resolution to allocate $5 million dollars of CARES Act funding to help close the “digital divide”–the discrepancy in availability of technological devices and internet access for students engaging in remote learning–they took a good first step toward fulfilling Dr. King’s vision of the beloved community.

At Stand For Children – Tennessee, we believe that words matter and, even more, we know actions must follow. We make this statement for the record to proclaim that Black Lives Matter and assert our solidarity with those in our Memphis streets and across the country raising up what should be an accepted fact. But, those are just words if we don’t work every day to push a  system bent with structural racism to find that arc towards justice. We commit to continuing the fight for equity in education and working with partners across the community to build equity and opportunity for the black and brown citizens of Memphis and Shelby County. It will take the village, but we can rise from these tragedies and ensure an equitable, new beginning for our children and community. 

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