A view of the Hernando DeSoto Bridge seen through fencing around Memphis City Hall
DeCarcerate Memphis has outlined recommendations for new Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “C.J.” Davis. The coalition hopes Memphis City Council will support the measures by passing ordinances to uphold them  File photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50

A little over a month ago, DeCarcerate Memphis released an open letter to then-incoming Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “C.J.” Davis, outlining 10 actionable items on police reform for the first 100 days of her administration.

The clock started on June 14 when she officially began her job. We will release a progress report at the 50-day mark.

DeCarcerate Memphis — a coalition of community leaders, activists, attorneys, strategists, clergy and concerned citizens — exists to apply common sense strategies and a community-oriented approach to the problematic system of policing. We do this by demanding funds be equitably allocated and by resisting the criminalization of the poor. We believe prioritizing and meeting the needs of the people will yield results that will uplift community welfare and public safety. 

One hundred days is plenty of time to enact policies and practices that support these recommendations and to show us what MPD will look like under Davis’ command. It’s not enough to simply change the figurehead; we must have a shift in the internal culture of law enforcement, which MPD has consistently resisted.

We believe that Mayor Jim Strickland put Davis at a disadvantage by not providing her with a chance to interact with community members and police reform organizations ahead of her appointment. We hope, however, she will take DeCarcerate’s recommendations as an opportunity for engaging and building trust and accountability with our members. 

We also hope this opens a door for other individuals and grassroots organizations to meet with her to voice their experiences with the practices and culture of Memphis law enforcement.

Our recommendations include:

  • We would like to see Davis publicly commit to ending MPD’s participation in the Federal 1033 program and similar programs that enable MPD to obtain military and surveillance equipment, and return or destroy equipment obtained through these programs. There is no logical reason to weaponize local law enforcement unless the police are planning to go to war with the people. And some might say that is exactly what is happening, especially with the support of federal funds and intervention.
  • End MPD’s cooperation with all federal task forces such as the Multi-Agency Gang Unit and any federal agency that falls under that umbrella, including the U.S. Marshals who are responsible for shooting a minor last year and the death of Brandon Webber in 2019. We want to see this happen due to the lack of clear policy, protocol or accountability to keep federal agents from acting outside of local policy.
  • End the practice of pretextual traffic stops (i.e., broken tail lights, window tinting, loud music) that would result in unnecessary interactions with police that have proven to be deadly.
  • Deprioritize citations and arrests for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana.
  •  Begin holding monthly meetings for input and inquiries from the public related to police matters, at which the police chief and other MPD representatives are available to answer questions. Allow for public comment and questions to be made anonymously. Community meetings should be held in accessible locations that are not police precincts or police stations and should include online accessibility. 

To strengthen the new policies, we would like to see our Memphis City Council support these measures by passing ordinances to uphold them.  We have seen similar reforms adopted across the nation, often with the support of mayors and state legislators.

Chelsea Glass of DeCarcerate Memphis speaks to press members outside of the Clifford Davis-Odell Horton Federal Building.
Chelsea Glass (left) with DeCarcerate Memphis speaks during a press conference in August 2020 outside of the Clifford Davis-Odell Horton Federal Building. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50

Our recommended action steps are not ours alone. Community leaders, activists and organizers have been asking for and demanding police reform for well over 10 years

In 2016, we witnessed a wave of uprising in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. At that time, Memphians were made many promises regarding transparency, accountability and opportunities for community input. The results since then have been lacking, if not abysmal.

We are looking for a fresh start, with hopes that a new police chief will usher in a new era that will honor and espouse a shared value system. No more spying. No more hiding and concealing the truth. No more broken promises.

We are far beyond the precipice of calls for accountability, which itself is a bare minimum that should be provided. We deserve bold leadership. We deserve action.

Will a commitment to all of these recommendations leave us satisfied? Will we go quietly once these things have been accomplished? No. We won’t. There is so much more work to be done beyond these reforms.

We cautiously but optimistically welcome Davis to Memphis. This is just the beginning of a long road ahead, but we look forward to small steps towards progress. 

Chelsea Glass grew from activist to activist/organizer over the last eight years. She spent many years in the corporate world, but after losing her job during the COVID-19 pandemic, she threw herself into full-time organizing for social justice. She now works for DeCarcerate Memphis.