Isn’t it funny how one little lie can turn into an ever expanding hole?
That’s what Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland is finding out this week, after two “Weekly Updates” both misstate a Federal ruling against the city, and then try to exaggerate their case by making up hypotheticals that don’t even apply to the ruling.
Its all part of a sad attempt to change an agreement the City made decades ago.
The Kendrick Order
Signed in 1978, the Kendrick order is a Federal agreement that the City of Memphis will not spy on political actors.
See, before 1978, the police department was routinely used to spy on people who opposed the Mayor or other politicians. This was mostly used to break up union and civil rights activity, but it could be just damn near anything.
As a child of the Cold War, I thought cops spying on people’s political activities only happened on the other side of the iron curtain. Apparently, it also happened on this side of the big muddy for a long time.
But that all changed in 1978. The City, and the ACLU agreed that the City would stop using its police department to spy on citizens, which makes sense since, you know, this isn’t East Berlin.
And that’s the way things have been, for the most part, since 1978…until Bob Smith appeared on the scene.
Bob Smith, Super Spy
According to court documents, around 2009, the Memphis Police Department started using a Facebook account to collect information on people.
According to testimony, this all started out as trying to use people’s propensity to brag on social media about illegal activity to the greater end of investigating crime.
The City doesn’t say whether or not that attempt was successful, but it does admit that at some time in 2016 the Department started trying to keep up with Black Lives Matter activists and other folks who took part in regular protests around the city.
The officer that ran the “Bob Smith” account says he went out of his way to follow activists and activist groups to keep tabs on what they were doing.
This was supposedly done to stay ahead of the protests to protect law and order. But truth be told, more often than not, the police knew about the protests ahead of time because the organizers told them. There really wasn’t much reason for them to spy. But the police department did it anyway.
The department also collected information on individual’s speech. They kept up with what side of issues individuals were on, and used that information to make access to public buildings harder thanks to a “blacklist” of activists.
And that’s where folks started getting pissed, because, you know, that’s a violation of constitutional rights.
So a bunch of folks sued the city, with the ACLU on their side, and a Federal Judge found the city had been violating the Kendrick order in seven specific areas:
- It violated the prohibition on political intelligence.
- It violated the prohibition on an office for the purpose of political intelligence.
- The use of the “Bob Smith” account was a violation.
- Failing to train officers on the Consent Order was a violation.
- It failed to set up a process to clear lawful investigations that might ride the line between political and criminal investigations.
- It violated the prohibition on sharing information with non-law enforcement agencies.
- It violated the prohibition on maintaining records of political conduct.
That’s seven BIG things the city was doing that smells more like the East German Stasi than an American law enforcement agency.
It should be noted, the city was not found in violation on two counts:
- It was not proven the city harassed anyone.
- It was not proven the city disseminated information for the purpose of political intelligence.
So at least we’ve got those things going for us.
If you want to read it for yourself, the nine things listed above are LITERALLY THE SUBHEADINGS IN THE RULING STARTING ON PAGE 20 LINKED RIGHT HERE.
Where Jim steps in (it)
Honestly, I haven’t been following the blow by blow of this story that closely, so I don’t know if this is the first time Mayor Strickland has spoken on it or not. But he sure botched the hell out of it.
On Nov. 1st, the Mayor mentioned the Kendrick Order in his weekly newsletter. In that newsletter he CATEGORICALLY MISSTATES THE RULING AND AMPLIFIES INCORRECT INFORMATION FOR A POLITICAL PURPOSE.
That’s all caps so no one misunderstands how I feel about it.
And if it had ended there, I’d probably write it up to stuff getting lost in translation in a newsletter format.
But then he DOES IT AGAIN IN THIS WEEK’S NEWSLETTER!
All three hypotheticals the Mayor used have no application to the Kendrick order.
None of those things are about protected political speech, or collecting information on political actors. They simply don’t apply.
Mayor Strickland is continuing the “Sergeant Schultz” strategy City Attorney’s used during the hearing before Judge McCalla.
To What End?
If you’re like me, you gotta wonder why a Mayor, who just got elected pretty resoundingly, would step out on an issue like this right after winning?
I don’t know for sure, but I have a couple of theories:
- The Mayor is trying to set a marker for the purpose of clarifying the Kendrick Order and build, or test public support for the City’s arguments.
- The Mayor doesn’t think MPD did anything wrong and wants them to be able to continue their “Mission Impossible: Bob Smith” edition.
- The Mayor doesn’t like protesters and wants to keep tabs on them.
All of these are possibilities…some more realistic than others.
Now that Strickland doesn’t have to face another election, I feel pretty sure he’ll be more unrestrained in how he moves forward in all kinds of things.
Maybe he really believes the bullshit the MPD is pushing. Maybe he doesn’t but doesn’t want to start a fight.
Either way, the Mayor doesn’t have to LIE TO THE PUBLIC JUST A FEW WEEKS AFTER AN ELECTION to state his intentions.
If he wants the police to be able to spy unrestrained in Memphis, then he can just say it.
He says he isn’t against protest, but his administration has been particularly thin skinned to ANY AND ALL CRITICISM SINCE DAY ONE. So I bet it bothers him more than he’ll ever say.
No matter, the Mayor just needs to cop to what he wants here instead of gas lighting the public with bullshit hypotheticals.
Until he says otherwise, he’s set his marker on the side of unconstitutional spying on innocent Memphians who dare to organize with like minded Memphians.
That’s hardly a good spot to start a new term on.
It’s not just the Russians: Mayor Strickland’s disinformation campaign
City of Memphis seeks ‘immediate’ change to rules on political intelligence
The 901: Don’t relax rules on Memphis police spying until citizens are protected
Citizens question city’s bid to modify police consent decree during public hearing
Sanford: A 1978 consent decree against police spying is as modern as the Constitution