Memphis police officers stand in front of the "I Am A Man" statue in Memphis.
Members of the Memphis Police Department including deputy director Mike Ryan and director Michael Rallings (center) stand for a photo with the statue at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the I Am A Man Plaza in April 2018. Photo by Andrea Morales

City officials have told the Memphis City Council that they’ll hold a virtual, live-streamed forum with the mayor’s pick for police chief, Cerelyn “C.J.” Davis, who now heads the Durham, North Carolina police department.

The development came via an email sent after Tuesday’s council meeting, at which members unanimously voted in favor of a resolution to hold a town hall session with the police chief. 

“After reviewing the resolution regarding a virtual question and answer session with Chief Davis, the mayor has agreed, in this single instance, for the administration to work with the Personnel Committee Chairman and council staff to create a Q&A session that will be live streamed,” wrote Memphis’ chief human resources officer Alex Smith in an email obtained by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism. 

“We are very open to the public submitting questions to the council that can be answered virtually by Chief Davis in a respectful manner,” the email reads. “As a next step, I will reach out to Personnel Committee Chairman (Chase) Carlisle to develop the format and logistics for the session.” 

For months, community advocates have asked to be included in the process to replace retiring Memphis Police Department director Michael Rallings. And while they support a town hall forum, a more inclusive approach would have involved more community members before Mayor Jim Strickland made his selection, some said.

“There are plenty of groups and activists who have not been invited to the table,” said Janiece J. Lee, vice president of the Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and Hope. 

“And all in this process it has been handpicked by select invitation who is going to be included and who is going to be engaged in the decision making,” 

Smith’s email was sent the same day that criminal justice reformers allowed themselves a moment to hope that the Derek Chauvin guilty verdict might lead to greater police accountability. That hope was rattled with news that also on Tuesday, Columbus, Ohio police shot and killed a Black girl who’d called 911 for help.

Davis has been Durham’s police chief since 2016. Like Memphis, that city saw a spike in gun violence last year, with a nearly 70% increase in shootings when compared to 2019.

While interviewing for that job, Durham held at least one public forum with Davis and another finalist, something advocates have noted while asking for a similar event here. Previously Davis was Atlanta’s deputy chief of police. According to her online biography, she also was president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.

Hannah Grabenstein is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. Email her at hannah.grabenstein@mlk50.com


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