Shelby County is giving up its half-hearted (and failed) attempts to end its pattern of treating black children more harshly than white children.
After five and a half years of trying, “(t)he court will never — because it cannot — reach the statistics desired by the DOJ and the monitor,” wrote county attorney Kathryn Pascover in a June 29 letter to the Department of Justice, which has not been reported on until now.
In 2012, a DOJ investigation found that Shelby County Juvenile Court treats black children more harshly than white children, in violation of their constitutional right to equal protection. The investigation also found that the court failed to protect children from self-harm and failed to protect their due process rights. That year, Juvenile Court voluntarily entered into a memorandum of agreement (MOA), which would require major reforms in the area of equal protection.
But late last month, even as Pascover acknowledged that the court has failed to meet many of the memorandum’s requirements, including 17 of the 32 equal protection provisions, she asked that the court be released from the agreement.
“…There are some areas where the Court and the County cannot achieve substantial compliance for reasons not of their own making, as has been demonstrated here,” she wrote in the 16-page letter, first reported on here. “…The parties must move toward termination of the MOA as a whole.”
Just over a year ago, the county’s top three elected officials sent a similar letter to the DOJ, to the surprise and ire of several county commissioners who lit into Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell at a commission meeting.
Three white men from the South asking a 4th to be excused from oversight of how they treat black children. It will go down like you think. https://t.co/XaDTzBjeOG
— Josh Spickler (@joshspickler) June 18, 2017
After the county’s June 9, 2017 letter, more than 20 groups — including the NAACP Memphis chapter, Just City Memphis, Stand for Children, the Official Black Lives Matter Memphis Chapter, the Mid-South Peace & Justice Center and Sister Reach — sent a detailed missive outlining all the areas in which the court has fallen short, asking the DOJ to continue its oversight.
Again, it appears that Shelby County Commissioners have been kept in the dark. Commissioner Van Turner, one of the most vocal critics of the county’s efforts, learned about the letter today from MLK50.
Leaders of the local NAACP branch, Mid-South Peace & Justice Center and the Black Lives Matter chapter also said they were not aware of the letter, which is annotated below. (Click on the highlighted areas for more context.)
Shelby County Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael did not respond to a request for comment. Through a spokesman, county mayor Mark Luttrell declined to comment. “This a pending legal matter, and the Mayor has no comment at this time,” spokesman Dan Springer said by email.
However, last year Luttrell, a Republican, talked at length with MLK50 about the June 9, 2017 letter he signed.
“We’ve tried to show good faith, we’ve tried to show a commitment and we’re just being asked to be given a little latitude,” Luttrell told MLK50 last year.
“The fact that we’ve haven’t made progress in some areas does not indicate a lack of commitment… The fact that that not has been accomplished should not be intrepreted as a sign of racism or insensitivity.”
This is a developing story.
This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit reporting project on economic justice in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by the Center for Community Change and the Surdna Foundation.