Memphis blacklisted activists take the city to Federal Court.
Memphis, TN: This week, a lawsuit was filed by four members of the A-list, a blacklist of activists and friends that the City and police department created from political intelligence files. A consent decree from a 1976 case sponsored by ACLU is the basis of the case. Attorney Bruce Kramer, who represented the plaintiffs in the original case is also leading the legal team for this week’s filing in Federal Court.
The news first broke on the 17th February in the Memphis Commercial Appeal. One of the plaintiffs in this week’s suit is Elaine Blanchard, a minister who runs outreach for victims of sex trafficking. She’s interviewed at length in this video, conducted during a protest against the A-list. The A-list included the weights of the individuals, so supporters staged a ‘Weigh-In’ outside City Hall.
Veteran reporter Bill Dries published biographical details of many of the activists on the list. It includes pastors, people from Black Lives Matter, Mid-South Peace and Justice center, Concerned Citizens Coalition, Park Protectors from the Greensward movement, Fight for $15, candidates for office and celebrities, on the first 6 pages. Two final pages listed people against whom protection orders or specific issues were cited.
The 1978 consent decree C76–449 in the Federal District of West Tennessee, was litigated in the wake of revelations that MPD had undercover police officers spying on Dr. Martin Luther King and other activists during the Civil Rights actions of the 60s and 70s. It is very comprehensive, forbidding the City and police force, in perpetuity, from collecting political intel, including by electronic means. The city appears to be in violation of dozens of items in the decree.
The story of the A-list (or blacklist) has dominated the news in Memphis for a full week, front page on print media almost every day, and the leading piece on every network news broadcast. It has elicited a storm of support on social media, and 100 people turned out, on short notice for the weigh-in protest.
Mayor Jim Strickland and Police Director Mike Rallings have squirmed in TV interviews, relying on bogus security explanations for targeting activists on the list. Their maneuverings are in stark contrast to the activists interviewed who maintain eye contact while expressing righteous outrage.
The activists in the first six pages of the list appear to be a selection of people who were active in various campaigns from 2015 onwards. The first 6 pages were apparently created in two parts, the results of an MPD officer running an inquiry on MPD records at the behest of the Mayor. The real problem here is not the list itself, though it is an obscenity, but the underlying MPD political intelligence files, created in breach of the consent decree, and also an MPD rule created in response to the directive.
Actions where pictures were taken from undercover vehicles included (unbelievably) the February 21 weigh-in protest against the A-list. Filming was also done from an unmarked van on December 29th 2016, where Concerned Citizens Coalition gave out free movie tickets to youths congregating in an area which had previously been a flashpoint.
Particularly egregious, Mary and Teri Stewart, the mother and aunt of Darrius Stewart, a young unarmed black youth gunned down by MPD officer Connor Schilling. Mary Stewart does not even live in the state, and Teri is the sweetest and least threatening person you could hope to meet. MPD has added insult to grievous injury by putting them on the list.
We’ll be hearing a lot more about the Memphis A-list.
This A-list dis not spring into existence. This 2010 newspaper article documents ACLU concerns that activists were under investigation as part of an anti terrorism task force. There is some reason to believe that the MPD’s Homeland Security Task Force is working with the Feds and other police departments to create A-lists in other cities. These are ready-made vehicles for Trump-led interference in First amendment rights.
We had activists list indications that the police were invstigating political activists. These include: police in unmarked vehicles taking photos of legal protesters; budget items in the City accounts for transactions with Geofeedia, who make software used by MPD to monitor social media, Harris Corp, makers of Stingray “International Mobile Subscriber Identity” cellphone interception devices, or Digital Receiver Technology, Inc., or DRT, who make the Dirtbox wide range cellphone bugging tool. Read more at ACLU, which has details on known local installations. There may also be court documents authorizing use of these technologies. Memphis A-listers have also seen obvious and intimidating police units following them, one had a Skycop camera installed outside his house, others had police visits after protests where no laws were broken, and we have noted the activities of undercover police and snitches in activist organizations. Your local ACLU may also have a file on police surveillance of activists. The story of how we unearthed the A-list in the next paragraph might help.
That’s quite a story, but not the whole story. The outing of the list, which had been the subject of rumors for some time, started when I was drawn aside at a February 7th City Council meeting, and informed by MPD Lieut. Albert Bonner that I was on a list and was required to have a police escort. Bonner went on to say that I was on the list because of a December 19th Die-In protest at the Mayor’s house. I was not at the event. Bonner then said that it must have been something I said on social media. I contribute to an investigative journalism blog, https://memphistruth.org/2017/02/08/mpd-has-activist-list/ where I posted the next morning, and I emailed the local media with the blog. Media made numerous Open Records requests to get the A-list and the list was released by the MPD Friday the 17th February 2017. TV news led with the story that night. It has hogged the local media since, about a week.
Ironically, though the A-list has been out all week, my own Open Records request, filed the same day the media filed theirs, has not been fulfilled yet. I got an email from them Wednesday (22nd Feb) saying they needed another week to get responsive records. I replied with a copy of the list. Send me this!
To all activists everywhere. It’s not an accident that I was able to get this story out to the media. Our investigative journalism site has been around for a few weeks (still being put together), and I had been posting investigative pieces on City Council Chairman Berlin Boyd. Various activist sources had provided a media mailing list, and we had received a copy of the MPD P&P manual (obtained by Open Records (FOIA) request , so we were ready to throw the post together and get it to the media. The lesson for us all is that local activist coalitions could be creating study groups and media operations. Outing the A-list is a substantial victory for our citizen media.
Although the court case has relied on the 1978 consent decree, which is limited to City of Memphis, there is also a Federal regulation, 28 CFR Part 23, which affords substantial protection. Browse for it in the Code of Federal Regulations. Any attempt by the Trumpish government should be interpreted as the outlawing of all protest.
As we brace for a Trump-led onslaught on the First Amendment rights of activists, consider the possibility that your city has an A-list. Please study up, get your media list ready, do your research and get ready to move. There are many mayors and police chiefs who need to be taken to Federal court, and Memphis is leading the way.