African American clergy members pen joint letter calling for police reform, meetings with mayors, police, and DA

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A group of African American faith leaders is calling for police reform and accountability. The clergy members put together a list of proposals.

The pastors told FOX13 they want law enforcement to use force more responsibly and empower the Citizens Review Board. That’s why they sent their letter not just to the city and county mayors, but also included all the top law enforcement officials.

“We want to take stands and continue to have a righteous, and radical agenda towards Memphis and Shelby County becoming a national leader as it relates to how we reform policing, said J. Lawrence Turner, pastor at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church.

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Turner and Christoper Davis, pastor at St. Paul Baptist Church in Whitehaven, are two of several pastors who penned a joint letter with five proposals:

  • Utilize Data
  • Use Force Responsibly
  • Criminalize Inappropriate Use of Force
  • Change Police Culture
  • Reform and Empower Civil Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB)

“We believe there are some good officers on the Memphis police department who are committed to protecting and for that we are grateful,” said Davis. “However, we are mindful of that there are other individuals who have been fired or dismissed from other departments and because of our need in the city, we don’t feel like the city is doing a good job of vetting those officers.”

Davis said they want to make sure documented cases of excessive use of force of addressed quickly.

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“We want to look at what it means to decertify that officer so that other cities, other municipalities will know that these are some of the incidents and issues they had in Memphis and this how we responded,” said Davis.

The pastors sent the letter to Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, County Mayor Lee Harris, Police Director Mike Rallings, Sheriff Floyd Bonner and District Attorney Amy Weirich.

FOX13 followed up with each agency, and the sheriff and DA’s office both received the letter.

A spokesperson for Mayor Strickland’s office said the mayor hadn’t received the letter but “he looks forward to working with the members of the Baptist Ministerial Association and hearing their concerns.”

Mayor Strickland has met with activists Devante Hill and Frank Gotti along with some community and clergy members.

Davis and Turner told FOX13 they weren’t in the room for either of those meetings even though their names were initially on lists provided to FOX13 by the mayor’s office or Hill.

RELATED: Activist believe city officials are committed to change

“I’m accountable for the conversations I have and that what I sign off on and last time I checked, I had not given anyone permission to include me on a list without checking with me because since I wasn’t at the table I can’t speak specifically to what was discussed at the table,” said Davis.

Turner said he believes all the meetings should be open since the proposed reform would impact the entire city.

“What we seek to do in a democracy is to include all of those voices and make sure those prevailing voices are heard and so the meetings might continue but if the right people aren’t at the table, I really am concerned and skeptical about what outcomes we’re going to get if there’s any plan for the outcome at all,” said Turner

FOX13 reached out to Mayor Lee’s office, and MPD to see if those agencies received this joint letter but haven’t heard back.

The group said they’re optimistic that they’ll get a chance to meet with these officials soon.