Feb 12 2016

With Us, or Agin Us

Posted by Steve Ross in activism, elections

"Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." - President George W. Bush

“Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” – President George W. Bush

It was one of the most stunning displays in my lifetime. In a period of heightened emotional distress, just 9 days after the 9/11 attacks. An American President stood before Congress and told America that anyone who didn’t think like he did was an ‘enemy of the state’.

At the time, people didn’t see it that way. So many were ready to lash out after the stunning events a few days earlier, that it became a rallying cry of sorts… A call to patriotism to avenge the deaths of so many innocents.

In our fevered state, perhaps we can be excused for missing that we were being presented with a false dilemma. That dissent, in and of itself, is not unpatriotic, and didn’t necessarily mean the dissenters were turning their backs on the events just 9 days before.

But it was powerful language that launched our nation into a decade and a half of war. War in a failed state that never recovered from Soviet occupation in the 1980’s. War in a dictatorship that, while horrific, served as a hedge against Iranian aspirations. War that left untold thousands of our sons and daughters scarred physically and emotionally. War that left two nations in shambles, and with little expertise or experience in putting themselves back together.

The first 8 years of this millennium were devastating for the world, and set in motion a series of events that we, the people of this nation, of this 3rd rock from the sun, are still recovering from.

Its important that we remember this. That no matter how we feel about the past 7 years; the challenges, the personal loss, the pain we’ve endured… they never would have turned out this way without the 8 years before them.

I think about all of this, as the man who was President for those 8 destructive years plans to begin campaigning for his brother, a brother who seeks to continue this legacy.

False Binary

If this primary has reinforced anything in my thinking, it is that we Democrats are not immune from pushing a false binary such as the many George W. Bush was gifted at presenting to the American people.

The entirety of the GOP platform, including all the sideshows, are predicated on this false binary.

It must be one, or the other.

If you speak out against one, you must be for the other.

There is no third, or any of a litany of other options.

You cannot like both. You must choose, and fight to the death for that choice, no matter how strongly you feel one way or the other.

But this is not a Cold War drama. This is not Game of Thrones. This is how we see our world…as an either/or.

Are we really this short sighted?

Simple Complexity

Several years ago (long enough that I don’t even remember when), I wrote something criticizing a Democratic politician. I’m sure I was disappointed with a vote, or something stupid they said, or some other type thing.

Hours, maybe even days later, I was presented with a series of emails and phone calls asking me why I was attacking ‘our side’? Had I changed my mind? Why not train your anger at the people who would never agree with you?

My belief was questioned. My resolve was belittled. My understanding of the ‘situation here in XXX’ was dismissed.

In one stroke, I had been relegated to a place, in the minds of the people who called me, where years of boosterism, donations, and toil were diminished because I dared do the one thing that politicians, as a general statement, can’t bear…question them.

I may not remember what it was about, but I remember how I felt…It was disheartening.

Paris, France. September 14, 2015. Ta-Nehisi Coates is seen near LiËge Metro Station in Paris, on Monday, September 14, 2015 in Paris, France. Antoine Doyen/AP Images for John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Paris, France. September 14, 2015. Ta-Nehisi Coates is seen near LiËge Metro Station in Paris, on Monday, September 14, 2015 in Paris, France. Antoine Doyen/AP Images for John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

So earlier this week, when I saw that Ta-Nehisi Coates was voting for Bernie Sanders despite a quite public disagreement with the Senator on reparations I felt like maybe something would start to change.

It reminded me that we don’t have to follow blindly. That we can have differences and still support each other.

It reminded me that, even in our world of drilling things down to the lowest common denominator, we can admire someone we don’t completely 100 percent agree with. We can support the greater good, even if that good isn’t as great as we’d like it to be, or as we imagine it could be.

Mostly, it reminded me that we are all different, and have different priorities. We see the world in different ways, and visualize different paths to often similar goals. It reminded me that we don’t have to resort to mindless rigidity to show support. That dissent is a tool to change what we don’t like so we can hopefully, get more of what we do like.

Democrats, as we continue through this nominating process, we need to remember what the real goal is. Its not burning down Bernie, or hollowing our Hillary. Both have more similarities than differences.

We must continue to rebuild what was nearly lost in the first 8 years of this century.

We must fight for justice: in our economy, our opportunities, and our courts.

We must stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.

We must honor the sacrifice of those who gave themselves in the service of our country, and whose sacrifice has too often been forgotten when the photographers leave.

We must rebuild what has been destroyed or left to decay, from our institutions and infrastructure to our communities to ensure we all can be safe and live and grow freely.

These are just some of the prizes we must keep our eye on as we continue over the coming months.

These are things that both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders want to do, each in their own way.

We can personally choose one way as preferable to the other without vilifying or demeaning the other. The truth is, we don’t know which one will work better. We can never know.

But we can pick a side without destroying the other.

In fact, we’re duty bound to do just that. Because the other side will stop at nothing to make sure neither wins in November.

Come the convention, there will be a winner and a loser. Its my hope that in our fever to select our preferred candidate, we don’t destroy the one left to stand up for us in the fall.

It doesn’t have to be ‘With us, or against us”, because Democrats, we’re all the same ‘us’.

Feb 10 2016

Say you want a revolution….

Results via Washington Post

Results via Washington Post

As of this writing, which began at 4am, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has won the New Hampshire Democratic primary by nearly 22%.

That’s a pretty big accomplishment for a campaign that was declared ‘too radical’ just a few months ago.

And while I know that New Hampshire isn’t exactly ‘reflective of American diversity’ as so many Clinton supporters have pointed out in the past 24 hours, and that it’s right next door to Vermont, its still a big win for a campaign that has eschewed some of the more unsavory elements of national campaigning.

So kudos to Team Sanders. You’re 10 days from the Nevada Caucus, 17 days from South Carolina, and 20 days from Super Tuesday, which will be a real hard test of the mettle of the campaign.

Electability, Concern Trolling, and the Perpetual Outrage Machine

The past week has featured a lot of bullshit in the media…concerning both the Clinton and the Sanders camps. Story after story from the punditocracy, a term I first heard from media critic, Eric Alterman about the Sanders electability gap and trouble in the Clinton Camp.

Remember people, its early. Two states have voted.

Media folks, for profit bloggers, and commentators aren’t necessarily in the game for altruistic reasons. They make money peddling this stuff, and the more money they make, the more likely they are to keep their job.

I’m not saying all the commentariat is full of shit, but there’s a lot of brown eyeballs out there who are writing for the specific purpose of revving up the perpetual outrage machine.

Outrage, after all, is the currency of the digital age.

Reality Check

Lets get serious, and talk about something that’s related to the Presidential contest, but that’s not about the top two Democratic contenders.

Partisan Composition of the US House

Partisan Composition of the US House

Democrats need to flip 30 seats in the US House and 4 seats in the Senate to really get anything done.

As sexy as Presidential politics are, without more Democrats on the Hill in Washington, any Democratic President will be hamstrung by Congress, and that includes potentially nominating 4 justices on the US Supreme Court.

Iowa only has 1 Democrat in its delegation to Washington. 1 of 6. This year, 5 of those six seats are up for grabs, including one Senate seat against longtime Senator Chuck Grassley.

For either Democratic Presidential candidate to be successful if they’re elected, they’ll need more than 1 from Iowa.

New Hampshire has 4 members of Congress, 2 Democrats and 2 Republicans (One of each in each house of Congress). First term Senator Kelly Ayotte is up for re-election this time around. Nabbing that seat will be crucial for any Democratic president in the coming years.

My point. The President isn’t king (or queen as the case may be). They need people that will help their agenda get through the legislative branch. That has been the single biggest issue President Obama has faced since 2010. No real progress will be made without gaining seats in the House, winning the Senate, and making gains in state legislative races (which I’ll talk about in another post).

So while its sexy to talk about the Presidential race, as the primary contests continue, folks who have had their time in the voting booth need to either follow their respective campaigns on to other states, or look for a local candidate that will be running for House, Senate, State Legislature, or Governor. Because that’s where Democrats have been getting their asses kicked since 2010.

Refocusing After the Primary

Partisan Composition of the US Senate

Partisan Composition of the US Senate

Over the next 20 days, 13 states will have Democratic primaries. Some of those states, like Alabama, Arkansas, and Texas will also have primaries for US House and Senate at the same time.

Regardless of who wins the nomination, or the upcoming Presidential primaries, its going to be critically important that those volunteers from the Clinton and Sanders camps refocus their energies to those local races…helping them get the word out about the candidates, and using their experience to propel them to Washington.

You don’t have to completely abandon the Presidential contests, but you should try to make contact with the people running for these seats, and get involved in some way, if you really want to change the country.

Because neither Hillary or Bernie can do it by themselves. They need a team. And the people who would be on that team, need a team too.

The most discouraging thing I see every four years is a huge base of volunteers that show up for the Presidential contests, who then disappear for four years, which leaves us high and dry in the off years.

Democrats can have the whole pie if we decide to focus on it, rather than just the prettiest piece.

Now a word to those who would run

So, you want to be a candidate for US Senate, US House, your State Legislature, or some other political subdivision? Here’s some free advice. Pay attention to the activists in the party (from both the Clinton and Sanders camps).

You’re going to need these people. They are plugged in and want to change the country.

But its not on them to find you (even though I just told them to). Its on you to find them.

That means you have to have a message that will draw them to you (you know, not some bullshit political speak). And you have to build a machine to identify them, and keep them when they come.

You may not have the ‘fuck it, I’m saying what I want’ charisma that Sanders has, or the political instincts and connections the Clintons have, but by virtue of being the nominee, you have a voice.

Use it.

Don’t hide your campaign away until Labor Day then expect people to give a fuck about you when the Presidential campaign really heats up. Get ’em now, while they’re hot.

Go meet with leaders of the Sanders and Clinton camps in your district before the primary. Make contact. It doesn’t matter who you’re voting for.

Talk to them about your vision for the country, and the people you are serving, or hope to serve.

Listen to them about their concerns, and what’s important to them. You will win more hearts by listening (the hardest thing for a politician to do ever), showing empathy, and talking about how you will support the candidates proposals.

You don’t have to be on board with the gory details of every idea, but don’t hedge…be authentic. People respect that more than base pandering…which is the currency of too many politicians.

Then go back to your team and use this intel in a way that will bring some of this energy to your campaign. Because the way so many contests are stacked against Democrats, you’re going to need all the help you can get.

But do it now. Campaigns are about people, money and time, and you can get more people and money, but time is against you. Use all of it wisely.

Going Forward

As I said in my last post, we’ve got two strong candidates that are building strong networks of volunteers. They’re not spouting the crazy that has been the currency of the GOP candidates. They’re both offering real solutions, in their own ways.

If you want those solutions to have a chance of coming to fruition, you have to be willing to work for it. That work begins with these primaries, continues with the local elections, and, quite frankly, never ends. Even after you get a Democratic President, and majorities in the House and Senate, you’re still going to have to work your ass off to get the things done you want done.

Elections aren’t the end of the political cycle, they’re the beginning.

Its a reality Democrats forget about every time.

You say you want a revolution?

If we, as Democrats, both Clinton and Sanders supporters, are really going to make it “Alright”, we have to focus our energies on the things that will move the ball forward, and not fall into a circular firing squad, or worse, become the thing we’re fighting against.

Feb 02 2016

An Embarrassment of Riches

Posted by Steve Ross in elections, National Politics

Hillary Clinton & Bernie Sanders

Hillary Clinton & Bernie Sanders

What happened last night in Iowa was interesting and historic. For the first time in history, a woman has won the Iowa Caucus.

That win is somewhat muted by the strong showing by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who some say could transform Democratic politics.

I think its a little early to call that, but it was a close contest.

One of the most interesting stories about this campaign is that a septuagenarian is igniting a base of young voters while Clinton, the front runner despite the close contest, is relying on more seasoned voters (I won’t say older because I’m becoming one of those ‘older’ voters).

And because these two groups are different in many ways, and have experienced the world differently, there’s friction. But this is as it always has, and always will be.

Establishment vs. Activist

For as long as I’ve been active in politics (either observing or working with groups) there have been two factions of the Democratic Party: “establishment class” and the “activist class” (you could say the same thing about the GOP, but I’m not talking about them).

The establishment class is made up of people who, quite honestly, look more like me today. They’re older. They’ve been involved longer, and they have scars to prove it. Some of those scars run deep. When you poke those scars, they hurt, and can cause some snippyness.

The activist class is usually younger. What they lack in experience, they make up for in enthusiasm and passion. They may be focused on a single issue, or they may be generalists, like I was. They’re looking for certainty in a world that rarely delivers. Threatening that certainty can cause a lot of that passion to take a dark turn.

While its not true in every case, in most cases, these two groups are either the past or the future of each other. The establishment class likely once had that youthful enthusiasm of the activist class. The activist class will eventually become the establishment…a group who will then be railed against as ‘uninspiring’ or ‘sell outs’ by their children and grandchildren.

They are, whether they like it or not, variants of each other, trapped in parallel universes, separated by time.

The Healthy Debate

Since 2008 I have advocated for robust primary challenges at all levels of government. I believe that in order for elected officials to prove their worth they must have a worthy opponent to question them. And then if the voters decide they are unworthy, the voters don’t have to make a Faustian bargain come November.

At the same time, I recognize that election contests of all kinds can be nasty. People have an emotional attachment to their preferred candidate, and that emotion can spill over into personal attacks against people who, in other circumstances, would be on their side.

I’ve engaged in those attacks before, in my younger life. And while there’s no question there is a value to drawing distinctions between candidates, making it personal isn’t a good thing. It isn’t healthy. Whoever wins the nomination will need all of us in November. And while I’m not calling on people to be ‘pragmatic’ now, I hope that cooler heads will prevail by then.

Politics is about engagement and relationships. Sides can flip on a dime. You will find that your enemy today may be your ally tomorrow. Its important not to damage that relationship so badly that you find yourself without that ally. Because I can tell you from first hand experience, its very cold once you’ve crossed the line.

Must there really be only one?

Must there really be only one?

Its also important to not use the opposition’s lines (i.e. GOP talking points) against your opponent. We’ll get enough of that after the nomination is done. If its Sanders, it will be that he’s a Socialist. If its Clinton, it will be one of 1000 red herrings or tin foil hat theories the GOP has cooked up since the 90’s.

Keep it about the issues. Respect opposing views the way you expect your views to be respected. This isn’t Highlander, the loser doesn’t have to die, or be mortally wounded.

Be Proud of What’s Happening Here

I was born 2 years before Nixon resigned. My formative years were spent in the Reagan era, filled with fears of Russian nuclear war, and a ton of economic policies that set up the gutting of the American middle class.

Now, nearly 36 years since Reagan’s 1980 victory, and the ugliness of the Southern Strategy that helped bring us to where we are today, we have a candidate in Hillary Clinton, who spent many of those same years as First Lady of Arkansas, advocating for children and women, who were more often than not, the victims of those destructive policies…. policies that continue to this day. She bears the scars of that fight, way back when. That record is why older voters like her. They remember how she fought, and believe that she will fight that way again.

On the other side, we have a candidate in Bernie Sanders who wants to change the way things work. Sanders is not content to allow things to be the way we remember them always being. Sanders has been fighting too. He fought his way into office in Burlington, VT, and he’s been fighting ever since. Fighting that conventional wisdom. Fighting lowered expectations.

There are contrasts between the two. There’s no question about it. There are differences in policy, for certain. But both Hillary and Bernie have been fighting, in many ways, the same fight for nearly a half century.

That’s something supporters on both sides should recognize going forward.

As we head into the New Hampshire primary, and the contests that follow, one candidate will likely pull ahead, and the other will likely fall behind. In the process, someone’s going to be disappointed.

I won’t try to divine which will be on which side of the wins/losses column, but I know this like I know my name is Steve Ross, whoever ends up with the nomination will need all of us to come together in late summer to lift them to victory in the fall. We will need the enthusiasm and passion of the ‘activists’ and the experience of the ‘establishment’.

No Democrat has ever won in my lifetime without both. I suspect this time will be no different.

So unless you want a President Trump, or Rubio, or God forbid, Cruz, I hope you’ll think about the larger picture before you get into a flame war with that Hillary supporter, or pooh-pooh that Sanders supporter. We need each other to keep from losing the little bit of ground we’ve been able to eke out this past 8 years.

Remember, we’re family. We have more in common than we have differences. We don’t have to be mean to draw distinctions, and drawing those distinctions isn’t mean. Its politics.

Jan 11 2016

Transparency at City Hall

Posted by Steve Ross in City of Memphis
City of Memphis Flag via-wikicommons

City of Memphis Flag

We’re just 11 days into the new administration at City Hall, and expectations are high for Mayor Jim Strickland and his team.

Since his inauguration, Mayor Strickland has had his initial appointments approved, though not without some controversy from an appointees former employer.

In this world of 24-hour news cycles, and extreme “I want it now-ism”, people’s patience for things, especially when they may be constrained by the realities of life, or the speed of government, runs thin quickly. Establishing an early momentum is one way to buy some time, and show people that you’re off to the races.

With that in mind, there is something Mayor Strickland could do immediately, that wouldn’t have to cost much, but would go a long way to realizing an unrealized goal of the outgoing administration, and keep his administration one step ahead of the demands of the public, and the institutions that help inform the public…

A Noble but Unrealized Goal

Just 10 days into his first term, Mayor Wharton enacted an Executive Order making transparency in government a priority of his administration. The order itself, likely expired with the changing of the guard at city hall.

Many of the goals of that Order never came to fruition. Last year, Mayor Wharton tasked Mike Carpenter with analyzing the city’s open records processes. He submitted a report with recommendations to the Mayor. It is my hope that Mayor Strickland will find a way to enact these recommendations.

While there may be things that seem sexier, and more pressing, I believe setting in motion a plan to live up to these recommendations and maintaining that effort throughout the term will go a long way to dispelling some of the concerns and negative oft heard refrains about the City government.

But transparency isn’t a document dump. It has to have be more than just access. It has to have context. That context can lend credibility over time because you’ve not only provided the public with information, but what that information shows and why its important.

That context, to be effective, also has to be honest.

Don’t Play Games with Crime Numbers

Take Crime data. The Memphis-Shelby County Crime Commission releases stats periodically about crime in our community. These stats are also sent to media and the public with an analysis or comparison of the same month over the past 5 years, and against their benchmark year, 2006. Almost always it finds that violent crime is down since 2006.

If that’s the case, then why doesn’t the public feel that crime is down?

Because the Crime Commission is using 2006, a high water mark for violent crime, as its benchmark it runs counter to people’s experience. Almost no one remembers what happened this month last year, much less 2006. People’s notions about crime are based in their cumulative memory, not some mythical ‘point in time’ memory.

So the claim that ‘crime is down over 2006’ may be true, but it is a deceptive claim to the public. I believe Mayor Wharton’s insistence in using this faulty measure over and over again hurt his credibility with voters…and that, along with a host of other unrealized goals, ultimately was his undoing.

But if you show the public something like this, you’re being more honest.

Data gathered via the FBI Uniform Crime Report

Showing information in this way, instead of just numbers, and following it with an acknowledgement that while property crime is down, violent crime hasn’t really changed much, you can shift the conversation to what the administration is doing about it. The public may not like what they see, but they’re getting an honest assessment of where we are when the Administration is getting started, and what they intend to do to reduce the crime rate.

People might want to know what kinds of violent crimes are most dominant in the City. From there you could show them this:

What this shows people is that its not murder or rape that’s driving the violent crime rate, its aggravated assault (which may include attempted murder). You could go still further and show that the vast majority of these violent crimes take place between people who know each other, which anyone who’s spent years reading police affidavits will tell you, is more often than not, the case.

Of course, the local media almost never reports on this. Why is that? Because news organizations don’t have the resources they once did, from bodies in the newsroom, to people who know how to read more than the most basic top-line stats. Further, it was hard to come up with the numbers because there’s never been a clearinghouse for information presented in this way. But if the information is there, the media will report it. And that, over time, can change the perception of crime in Memphis from a series of random acts, to the thing that actually drives more violent crime…bad relationships (be they romantic, friendships, or acquaintances).

You could show all kinds of things…. Data that goes well beyond the reporting requirements of the FBI. And all of that data could be used to serve as a benchmark to reduce various kinds of crime.

And you could do that with any number of issues, from tax/fine/fee collections, to 911 and 311 response/resolution times.

But the key is, you’re being honest, and you’re being transparent at the same time…two things that the city has lacked going way further back than the previous administration.

Measuring Progress

From October 2012 to September of 2015 I worked for a local media outlet (it doesn’t matter which one). Whenever the Mayor or a Division director was questioned about something, magical numbers would fly around. I’m not saying they weren’t right, I’m saying that because there was nothing to measure them against, they were meaningless, and in some cases, unbelievable. Both those things led to credibility issues, and if a reporter thinks an Administration doesn’t have credibility, that’s going to come out, in some way, in the report.

By taking the information the City generates, and making it accessible, measurable, and meaningful you can maintain credibility even in the face of failure, and acknowledge the challenge of tackling difficult things. You’ll also always know where you stand in meeting your goal.

I’m not saying Mayor Wharton’s administration didn’t do this. I’m saying that because it wasn’t easily accessible, everything looked like a campaign event, which damaged credibility. Those campaign style events weren’t followed up with enough of what looked like real action, which also made the ‘results’ unbelievable. It turned into a constant cascade of he says, she says in the media…and the media always wins those battles.


Just after the election, the City launched MEMFacts. Its an information site that is more pretty than it is substantive. But its a start.

The truth of the matter is, most regular folks will never look at a site like this. But for those who do, ensuring that there is real information available for them, and the media, that spells out for the public why the information is important (which MEMFacts does on the areas it covers) is crucial for getting the story out there in a way that is meaningful for the public.

Understand, this can’t be an extension of the ‘perpetual campaign’ world we now live in. It has to be unbiased, and the warts have to be acknowledged when they appear. But I believe that people’s perceptions about Memphis will change if the City changes the way it makes information available to the public, and uses that information, good or bad, to give people the kind of long-term look that is critical to providing real context…and real value.

Jan 10 2016

Changing of the Guard

Posted by Steve Ross in City of Memphis, Policy

MPD Director Toney Armstrong

MPD Director Toney Armstrong

The Commercial Appeal reports that half of the members of MPD’s administrative staff have left, or will be leaving soon.

This follows the recently announced departure of Police Director Toney Armstrong.

While there’s no question the loss of so many seasoned officers who made their way up through the ranks will be a huge loss to the Department, it also gives newly inaugurated Mayor, Jim Strickland, an opportunity to remake the department to better serve the community.

To Protect and Serve

The Department faces many challenges in the coming years, including a crime rate that is higher than national averages for urban areas, continuing problems with public opinion, and an overall decline in the number of officers.

The department also suffers from internal problems that have been long ignored regarding policing strategies, something that was a major campaign issue in the fall, operating procedures that have serious flaws, and conduct issues that, while not untypical for a major metropolitan department, must be pursued in a more open and honest way.

It is my belief that these challenges are unlikely to be adequately addressed by an insider. The CA article cites concerns about losing institutional memory. While no one wants to have to relearn some of the more painful lessons of the past, there’s also no reason to believe that those lessons can’t be maintained with some of the leadership that remains assisting new leadership from outside.

Remaking the Department

One of the flaws that was exposed in the investigation into the officer involved shooting death of Darrius Stewart is the lack of consistent policy positions for officers in what would often be standard situations. These rules are written vaguely to give officers the latitude to make judgement calls. Unfortunately, that latitude can also be used to treat different people in similar situations very differently…which ultimately undermines the relationship between law enforcement and populations that have been wrongly targeted due to circumstances that may be beyond their control (race, the condition of their vehicle/residence, and the area in which they live).

Rules that detail when passengers involved in traffic stops are to be compelled to identify themselves need to be put in writing to ensure people’s privacy rights are respected, and that officers don’t accidentally create a situation where an arrest is thrown out due to mishandling the situation.

In addition, clear rules about when to call for backup need to be in place. If an officer has reasonable suspicion that there is additional illegal activity going on, calling for backup is appropriate because it both protects the officer and the other people involved by having another set of eyes on the scene.

Finally, additional rules about when force, either restraining force or deadly force, is to be used need to be implemented more fully. Is an unarmed suspect running from a crime scene a ‘deadly threat’? That standard should be in line with a 1985 US Supreme Court ruling which involved the Memphis Police Department.

The case, which happened in 1974, involved a MPD officer shooting and killing a man suspected of stealing a purse then fleeing. An officer on the scene shot the man in the head, killing him.

In the decision, the Supreme Court held that an officer could not use deadly force unless it was:

necessary to prevent the escape and the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.

This is already the law of the land. Ensuring the Department is protecting itself, and its officers against unreasonable uses of deadly force is just as important as working as hard as possible to ensure the safety of the officers and the public.

Putting those things in writing to aid officers in their decision making on the scene would go a long way to avoiding issues that lead to the shooting death of Darrius Stewart.

An Active Partner

In addition to these changes, the new police administration should actively engage the Citizen Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB) on any new policy adopted, and treat their relationship as a partnership to both inform the public of new policy, and provide oversight to the department when policy violations are reported.

Since long before the Darrius Stewart case, relations between law enforcement and some populations has been strained due to real and/or perceived wrongs committed by officers. Letting officers know that actions in violation of policy will be not only taken seriously, but that another set of eyes are watching, will help solidify these changes, and can lead to a net positive in the public’s view of police.

The end result here is not to tie the hands of officers, but to ensure consistency across the board, inoculating the officers and the department from lawsuits claiming unfair treatment.

Building Relationships

One of the challenges that police in Memphis face is little direct contact with the populations they’re serving, unless on a call. That means officers only see the people they’re serving when they’re at their worst, or in a bad situation, which negatively impacts their outlook on the community, and leads to more alienation.

Instituting a more traditional Community Policing Program would help both of those problems, and most likely lead to a real decrease in crime.

Community policing is a philosophy that promotes organizational strategies, which support the systematic use of partnerships and problem-solving techniques, to proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder, and fear of crime.

While walking patrols may not be feasible all the time in a place like Memphis, which has low population density, putting more of a focus on officers developing relationships with people in the community to create a more cooperative spirit between law enforcement and the public will minimize the alienation that is common in traditional patrols. It also builds relationships between the public and police that are durable, even when things go wrong (like a questionable police shooting).

Personal relationships go a long way to building stronger communities. Memphis not only has an interest in building those relationships to heal the fractures between the public and law enforcement, but to also use that ‘boots on the ground’ intelligence to identify other societal ills that may be occurring in communities (domestic violence, child abuse or neglect, unfit housing, wage theft, and other problems people who feel forgotten may not report because they don’t believe anything will be done about it).

This kind of partnership strengthens communities, and can help lift up people suffering from these kinds of problems that often go unseen until they spill over into the streets, or result in a 911 call.

As those problems get resolved, it also increases the efficiency of the citizenry (as they are now, assuming all goes right, in a better situation) which can lead to secondary gains for the community like greater economic independence and community renewal.

All of these things are important for a city like Memphis that has a high rate of working poor.


While the loss of decades of institutional memory may seem like a severe problem for the city…problems are really just opportunities ripe for the taking.

Positive changes are unlikely to come from within. Institutions have their own inertia and generally follow Newtonian Laws of Motion, meaning, they will most certainly maintain their current velocity and direction unless acted upon by an external force, and then, they’ll still resist the push to change.

The opportunity for Memphis and law enforcement in the City, is to identify the right kind of ‘external force’ that will move the department in the right direction, and make Memphis not only safer for its citizens, but also one that places a high degree of value in a cooperative relationship between the police and the citizenry.