With the U.S. Department of Justice now reviewing the Memphis Police Department, some local activists and city leaders are hopeful Memphis Police Director Mike Rallings will feel more pressure help ease tensions between officers and the communities they service.
Those tensions reached the boiling point in July, when demonstrators took over, and shut down the Interstate 40 Bridge over the Mississippi River. One of their key grievances was having Rallings take a hard stand against police brutality.
It had been one year since officer Connor Schilling had killed an unarmed black teenager, Darrius Stewart, when the bridge protest unfolded.
"If we find that the officer violated policy the officer receives corrective action that could range from termination to suspension to sensitivity training to some other kind of corrective action," Rallings said.
Memphis City Councilman Berlin Boyd, who has had an uncomfortable encounter with MPD when he was pulled over in what he thought was a profiling situation, because he drives an expensive car, said the community has to trust police or the tensions will never go away.
"We need to find out answers, we need to feel safe," Boyd said. "We need to know if police are pulling us over, we won't be shot down in our streets."
Some activists in Memphis, like Tami Sawyer, of the Black Lives Matter movement, insists city leaders, like Rallings have turned their backs on promises made the night protesters took over the bridge.
She said Rallings, in particular feigned solidarity with protesters, when he was interim Police Director, and after being named the permanent director, weeks later, began to condemn their positions and vilify their movement.
Sawyer wonders if meetings, like the one at a Memphis church the next day, ostensibly to address the concerns of protesters serve any real purpose other than a distraction.
"Director Rallings' door has been open and the officers of MPD have continued to work hard to bridge the gap between the citizens of Memphis and law enforcement," Rallings said.
"Communication is key and we (MPD) have had an enormous amount of support and have been extremely successful in improving relationships within our community," Rallings added.
Rallings was universally praised for his handling of the bridge protest, convincing demonstrators to leave the bridge without any violence erupting or arrests.
As to whether citizens concerned about how police interact with communities, and whether civil unrest might erupt if there is another Darrius Stewart situation, Rallings is comfortable with how his department would act in the face of another massive protest.
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