Black leaders from more than 100 Memphis-based nonprofits have sent an open letter to local elected officials and corporate leaders. The letter includes demands regarding an end to police brutality and relief from wage and education inequality and other forms of system-wide racism.
“For far too long, nonprofits have been a stop-gap solution to systemic issues,” the nonprofit leaders wrote.
“Our city is set up for many of our residents to be oppressed. National comparisons tell the tale of high poverty rates, health inequities, broad racial wealth gaps, and a dearth of opportunities for young adults, to name a few. We call for a new day and new way of doing business in our city. Expecting nonprofits and public goodwill to solve these challenges is not enough. Relying on nonprofits to fill the gap and fix issues that are hundreds of years in the making is not enough.”
The leaders demand local government and business leaders:
- Require corporations to pay a living wage and offer temporary employees health insurance and benefits, with governments tracking companies that offer a living wage;
- Renew investment in K-12 education within Memphis, including supporting early literacy, high school success, trauma response, and technology, art and music education programs;
- End cash bail and stopping ballooning penalties for traffic tickets, court costs and other fines;
- Increase citizen participation in city and county budgeting processes, starting with Fiscal Year 2022, with a heightened focus on neighborhood-level investments; and,
- Fund a more effective metropolitan transit system by August 2020, with oversight provided by a community-appointed team.
The letter explicitly notes that tasks forces and committees to study concerns raised are inadequate responses, and seeks concrete actions that will result in the groups’ collective demands being met.
The nonprofit leaders also seek substantial changes to police and law enforcement activities. Specifically, they call for:
- Release of peaceful protestors arrested in any recent marches for racial equality or justice, and investigation of law enforcement actions with findings being publicly reported, and those in law enforcement responsible held accountable;
- Redistribution of funding from police to community health and crisis response programs;
- Banning of chokeholds and strangleholds by Memphis police officers and sheriff’s deputies;
- Requiring that de-escalation become a standard first response by Memphis police officers and sheriff’s deputies;
- Developing a policy that requires officers to intervene when they see other officers using excessive force;
- Requiring reporting by officers every time they point a firearm at a citizen;
- Empowering the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board to investigate and ensure accountability for police conduct, and providing channels for the Board to give input on police training, policies and procedures; and,
- Including grassroots leaders and activists of color on the search for the next Memphis Police Department chief.