Officers wait in a briefing room at Memphis Police Department’s Ridgeway precinct police station ahead of roll call Wednesday. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50

As our community grapples with the evolution of racism in the 21st century, the Memphis Police Department must help prevent racial profiling and show more concern for us, the youth. We demand a seat at the table.

In an effort to help Memphis become a safer place for everyone, at MICAH Memphis’ upcoming public meeting on Sunday, Oct. 25, we will ask to join the search process for the new police director. We know that we cannot change something without having a deep understanding of it. Accomplishing our goal of reforming the police system begins with inserting ourselves into the process. 

MICAH Memphis’ Youth Council, launched in January 2019, engages young people like us in the work of justice in our community. We are middle school and high school students with a heart and passion for equity, which makes the work that we do that much more purposeful. Our voices are often forgotten or minimized in the pursuit of a more just and equitable Memphis. No more. 

The MICAH Memphis Youth Council selected community and police relations as one of our three pillar issues in response to the 2019 killing of Brandon Webber. Our first step was conducting interviews with police officers to learn more about the Memphis Police Department’s non-bias training and the experience of being an officer. We look to continuing these interviews, as well as learning from those negatively impacted by policing.

Now, we are prepared to present two requests  to the MPD and Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland. After four years serving as police director, Michael Rallings announced plans to retire in April 2021. This gives us an opportunity to use our voices to be agents of change. 

We believe that MPD is a part of the system of policing in our country that is rooted in inequity. We want a chance to learn from, give feedback to and build a relationship with the new director, so people who look like us can also feel secure and supported.

We are coming of age hearing, learning and experiencing the ways systemic inequity and racial profiling continue in policing in our community. We remember how in 2018, an MPD officer violated policy by having his body cam turned off during the shooting of Martavious Banks, and when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement whisked away immigrants to detention centers as federal law enforcement increased  in Memphis and Shelby County. We have been watching, and it is now time to have our voices heard. 

Racial equity is not up for debate. It is pertinent that the new police director not only acknowledges the problems, like abuse of power, but also implements policies and procedures that make a positive difference. We want the new director to also acknowledge the racist roots of policing in America, how that manifests itself in today’s law enforcement systems and come up with ideas on how to move forward.

She or he should be just and fair, in addition to being open to new ways of thinking and getting feedback from members of the community. We also want to find someone with a deep passion for Memphis and its youth. 

Our hope is that having a say in who the new director is and building a relationship with them brings us one step closer to bridging the long-standing gap between the community and MPD. We look forward to presenting our requests on Oct. 25 and the opportunity to serve our fellow Memphians. Join us to hear our requests.  

The MICAH Memphis Youth Council is (from left to right): Mercy Miller, Alleia Bakker, Ximena Villa, Sandra Summers (youth advisor), Marco Villa, Grace Miller and Faith Miller. Photo courtesy of MICAH Memphis Youth Council.

This story is a collaboration by MICAH Memphis Youth Council members Mercy Miller, Alleia Bakker, Ximena Villa, Marco Villa, Grace Miller, Faith Miller, and youth advisor Sandra Summers.

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