Behind the Headlines – February 24, 2017

Behind the Headlines – February 24, 2017


– [Announcer] Production
funding for Behind The Headlines is made possible in part by the WKNO Production Fund,
the WKNO Endowment Fund, and by viewers like you. Thank you. – The City Hall’s
surveillance list, news from the
legislature, and much more tonight on Behind The Headlines. (bold music) I’m Eric Barnes, publisher
of the Memphis Daily News, thanks for joining us. I’m joined tonight
by Bernal Smith, new Tri-State Defender,
thanks for being here again. – Glad to be back. – And Bill Dries,
senior reporter with the Memphis Daily News. Once again, we’re
doing a round table, there’s been a whole lot
going on here in Memphis and here up in Nashville,
I spent three days or so up at the legislature,
but we’ll start with what people are calling,
Bill, a surveillance list, a black list, what is this list of some 80 people who
are being monitored when they go in City Hall,
there’s a lot of confusion, there’s a lawsuit now, walk
us through what’s going on. – Alright, there is a list
at City Hall of 81 people who, if they come to
City Hall for any reason, the police look at that list, the police who are at the
entrance to City Hall, and if your name
is on that list, then you cannot go
anywhere in City Hall without a uniformed police
officer escorting you. The commercial appeal filed
an open records request to get the list
after several of us had heard from some folks
who have been involved in the demonstrations we’ve
had over the last year, that this was happening. And all those people
who were talking to us were on the list. Some of the people on the list appeared to have been on there for legitimate security
reasons for quite some time, but most of the
people on that list seem to have been involved
in the demonstrations that we’ve had in
the last year or so around various causes,
from Black Lives Matter to the Greensward. – [Bernal] The Fight for 15. – Right, even to the
people who were involved in the Valero pipeline protest, 14 people who were
involved in that protest, the day after the protest,
the Memphis police added their name to
the City Hall list. – And Bernal, you
said the Fight for 15, which was the $15 minimum wage, people who were protesting and trying to raise some
issues about that, some of them ended up. – Yeah, some of them
ended up on the list. Folks that ended up that
were in front of Graceland. Folks that showed up
at the mayor’s house at the beginning of the year. I mean, the interesting
thing that they’d discovered that the city of
Memphis purchased a piece of software
for about $10,000 that is literally
sort of tracked many of these individual’s
social media postings. That is in violation of
a, I think a 1978 order, which basically prohibited
sort of tracking people for political reasons, and
then retaliating against them. And so the suit, I
think, is relative to sort of that tracking
and retaliation. – And the suit is
filed in federal court. – [Bill] Right. – And it goes back that
there’s this violation. You covered the 1978 as a child, (laughing) You covered the 1978, tell
us the back story of that, because clearly, there was
no social media back then, there was tracking
of a different kind, and why that consent
order is, what, 40 years later still in place. – Right, this is all
moving pretty fast. The lawsuit for
the immediate list was filed on Wednesday
in Memphis federal court. Alright, it alleges
that with this list and the surveillance
that it’s alleged the police department has
done on these protesters, that it violates a
1978 consent decree in Memphis federal court. The consent decree was over a
unit of the police department known as the Domestic
Intelligence Unit, that had existed at least during
the protests of the 1960s. In the mid 1970s, a former
university of Memphis student named Eric Carter,
who had been involved in some Vietnam
War protests here, went to the police department,
as a lot of people did during the Watergate
era, and the revelations that the FBI had been
spying on a lot of people, Carter went to the police
department and said if you have a file on
me, I want to see it. The police department
said you’re not going
to get the file. That precipitated the
lawsuit in federal court, and the consent decree
that the police department agreed to, which
said in effect that it would not video
tape, surveil, or in any other way
track the movements of anyone in Memphis engaged
in political activism, in anything like that. The police department
signed off on that, the allegation in the lawsuit. The attorney on the
lawsuit, by the way, is Bruce Kramer, who
was one of the attorneys who sued the city in
1978 and actually signed the consent decree. – [Eric] Right. – And the allegation
in the lawsuit is that the city has
violated that consent decree which is still in effect. – And part of what’s, forgetting
the legalities of this, there’s also the confusion. You’ve got Strickland saying,
and I’m paraphrasing here and I didn’t bring my
notes on this part of it, that he signed part of the list, signed part of it after
there was the die in protest on his home, at his property,
which he was very annoyed by, and frustrated by,
but also there’s, so that’s one part,
there’s this confusion, who’s on the list? Yeah, help me, Bill. – Actually, to be
specific about it, Mayor Strickland signed
four separate lists that were what is
called an authorization, and it was I don’t
want these people on my property, and his
property in that case was his home. – [Eric] Okay. – Now, there were about
30 names on the list there were, at the most,
about a dozen people involved in the die in on
the front lawn of his house, and he says some were
looking in the window, too. He says that the
police department, he went to the police
department and said look, I know what you’re
talking about now in terms of maybe
beefing up security. They said great. Do this authorization
on your property that says these people
can’t trespass at your home. And he said, okay, you come
up with the names on the list, and I’ll sign it. He signed, they came
up with the names, he signed it, he
says he doesn’t know how they came up with
all of the names, and then he says the
next thing I know, this list goes
public and I discover that the people who were
on the list for my home are now on the
list for City Hall. – [Bernal] For City Hall. – Right, and so all this,
there’s this murkiness about it, which I think that’s
disturbing to people. Because no one would say, look, if you’ve got a person
who’s got a history of mental illness, and violence, and I don’t know that
any of these people are. – [Bernal] Right. – There are appropriate
lists for people who shouldn’t be wandering
around City Hall alone, right? – [Bernal] Right, but — – But no one’s saying
these people are — – If you look at the list — – [Eric] Intellectually
opposed to you or something. – These folks have basically
done peaceful demonstrations in most cases. They haven’t shown any
propensity for violence or being overtly mentally
disturbed or any kind of way. – [Eric] Right. – So how the list was developed, the information
that went into it, I think there’s a
lot of questions that have to be answered,
and I think most of them will probably be answered
in a court of law if this lawsuit
continues down the road. Who actually
determined the list? – [Eric] Right. – What individuals went into it? What did the mayor, did
the mayor know that? Outside of the
situation at his home. I can understand
someone saying hey, I want to protect
family and my home, but then when it comes
down to public places such as City Hall, etc. – [Eric] Right. – Then you cross the
line into another space. – And we’re also in this phase, from really in recent
years, for me it’s been the Tea Party movement,
which was in part a reaction to Obamacare
and Obama’s presidency then the Black Lives
Matter movement, now we’ve got protests in favor of the Affordable Care
Act around the country. Kustoff was in
town, David Kustoff, one of the local U.S.
reps was in town. There were not protestors,
but there was the potential that there would be protestors. We’re in a protest
phase in various ways from different sides. Protests at the
Capitol this week that very much
frustrated certain, which we’ll talk
about in a little bit. So, I guess the rules have to be a little bit more
established I think is part of the lesson in this. – [Bernal] Right. – How you balance
safety, security, we are a country of tremendous,
horrific mass shootings and terrible things happening, but we’re also a
country of free speech, so it’s interesting to see
people struggle with this. – But, here’s the thing. Michael Rawlings, who’s
the police director, a lot of this falls with him,
and what he says happened, and he’s reviewing the
list, and he will not say how people’s names
were put on the list. He has denied that
the police department did what has been termed
political surveillance, and I think what
we’re going to find is that he’s parsing
his words there because he’s also said I have
an obligation to public safety and I think in his mind,
he’s making a distinction between following
people, videotaping them, for what he defines
as public safety versus for their
political views. Well, the lawsuit, I think
is going to point out that it’s a distinction
that has no meaning. – Right, no mayor, and
because you have people like Paul Garner, who
has been very clear about times when
he’s been followed. Mix up peace and justice. You have a number of the other, and the interesting
thing is had it not been necessarily about race. – [Eric] Right. – Which I think was
somehow interjected into this at some point,
but it’s really been a number of individuals
who have voiced opposition to a number of things that
have gone on in the city. And particularly have
voiced opposition to this particular
mayoral administration, and I think that’s where
things begin to get real murky. – And there is evidence that
police have been doing this. I mean, in following
the uptick in protests in the last year, all of
us in new media I think have been hearing things,
so you show up some place to see if there’s
a protest there, and the police are
usually there, too in great numbers. – [Eric] Right. – So, you know — – Which gets back in
part to the software that Bernal mentioned. – [Bill] Right. – It allows, there’s
nothing illegal about that, I don’t think anyone’s,
unless it’s a violation of the consent order, but the
software in and of itself. – It takes your
public posts, so … – Yeah, it’s public
posts, it’s not that, so in and of itself, the
software’s not illegal, there are all kinds,
we could buy it and track people
if we wanted to. – Right. – But, yeah, it may
violate the consent rule, but anyway, back to you. – But the point is that the
phase of protests we’re in now is a phase that is uncomfortable
for a lot of people no matter what side
you are on an issue. But, the right to dissent, the
right to state your opinion even if it’s not
a popular opinion, and even if you do it in a way that may be abrasive,
but which you feel you have to to get attention, that’s different
than public safety and your comfort
is not something that’s guaranteed
by the Constitution. – Right, alright,
we’ll move from there. I mean, obviously a whole
lot to still happen on that. But, we’ll move to Beale Street, and I’ll start with you, Bill. In council this week, we
talked about it last week, there’s again this
kind of murkiness about where we’re going
with Beale Street, and who’s in charge and
why a particular group was not given the
contract to manage Beale, and some more information
came out this week that I think many people
hadn’t fully realized. – The Memphis City Council has
had three committee sessions now in the last two
months on Beale Street. Basically, this started
with council members saying we hear all of these different
acronyms and initials for who is running Beale Street, and we want to know
how that works, and furthermore, the
council wants to know why the Downtown Memphis
Commission is still running day-to-day affairs on the street for three years running,
when it was supposed to be about a six month
interim assignment. – As it found a manager,
a new manager — – [Bill] Right, right. – And who has been on (mumbles). – Which was supposed
to be the first job for the Beale Street Tourism
Development Authority out of the box. Along the way, they’ve
also been discussing why the Tourist
Authority decided to end contract negotiations
with 21 Beale Street, a group of people from
Chicago and from Memphis, Memphians in Chicago,
to run the street, who had emerged as basically
the last man standing among three or four different
proposals to do this. This week, it got real,
so to speak, at council because some issues
that had probably been talked about in the
private contract negotiations were put out right there on the
committee table in the open. One of the principals in 21
Beale had been disbarred some — – [Bernal] 28 years ago.
– Almost 20 years ago. – [Bernal] 28 years ago. – Yeah, 28 years ago. And the other principal
had been an owner of a Chicago nightclub
where there was a stampede in maybe 10 years ago or
so in which 21 people died. Things that both of these
individuals had talked about very openly and knew
were going to come up in the contract negotiations. Now, it’s kind of all out
there before the council and the council is
still talking this over and Bernal, you were there
as a tenant on Beale Street, new Tri-State
Defender has offices in the Beale Street
district, and you as one of the tenants there, expressed
your opinions about it. – And on this, you are not
objective, and that’s okay. – Right. – But just so we say it
and disclose it completely. – Yeah. – This is a less
objective issue. – Right, because clearly
we’ve been in the midst, we’ve been both in it and of it, and so in this
particular instance I spoke at the council meeting from my experience as a tenant, but also sort of representing
a group of tenants, predominantly African
American tenants who’ve had a less than
favorable experience not only through
this transition, but through all the
various transitions that have taken place pretty
much over the last four years. From going from Elkington
to, and Performa, to DMC and now with
the various changes with the Tourism Authority,
the reality is that from our perspective, there’s
been a group of merchants or tenants, if you
will, who’ve really been driving this conversation. And although the
Tourism Authority is supposed to be an
independent entity, they’ve pretty much
as we’ve seen it taken their cues from the Beale Street
Merchants Association, and the Merchants Association has primarily been
driven by those with the preponderance
of businesses which happen to be
largely well-heeled white business
owners on the street. And so, we just felt
like, and I spoke to this at the council meeting,
that the process has been less than transparent, it’s been less than
fair, and the reality is that there’s a disparity
between those of us on the east, predominantly on
the east end of the street, which is where the majority of the African American
tenants on the street are, and very few of us, you
know, I’ve never been asked or talked to about being a part of that Merchants Association. Don’t really know a
whole lot about it, but there are a few of those
businesses I represented there. – Would they say that,
well, we’re generating most of the dollars,
most of the taxes, most of the traffic. I mean, the Tri-State
Defender isn’t going to generate a whole lot of traffic. That’s not why you
were there, that’s — – And we’re different
kind of tenants, so I may understand why
we haven’t been invited to that party, per se, but
we still have an interest in ongoing development
of the street, and the other components of this just relate to support
and structure of bills and just transparency with
how you build a street and build the businesses
that are a part of the fabric of the street. And a lot of it goes
back to the history. One of the things I
vote, when you look at what Beale Street is
quintessentially about it goes back to
the black culture and experience and music
and all those things that were, at one point,
Beale Street was the center of commerce and social activity for the African
American community. – [Eric] Right. – When we couldn’t
go on Main Street. When we couldn’t go
to those other places. And so to now go
back and say, well, we’re going to take that,
all that experience, and exploit it
economically and not have African Americans participating in that economic
opportunity I think is not a good
reflection of anything, particularly as the city
of Memphis is concerned. – And we should point
out that 21 Beale is an African
American partnership, which is also another
element in the discussion and in fact, 21 Beale
in making their proposal did some focus group
studies specifically on another critical
piece of this discussion and that is that
despite the history of African American commerce,
culture, and history, that is Beale
Street’s contribution to the Memphis we know today,
the street has a problem. The nightclubs have
a problem drawing significant numbers
of black patrons. – [Eric] They don’t. – They don’t. – [Eric] Yeah, they
don’t, they don’t. – I don’t think I’m telling
any trade secrets there. – [Bernal] Right. – I worked on the
street for eight years at a radio station
that had its offices where the new
Tri-State Defender is, and it is a predominantly
white crowd, it is a predominantly out
of town tourist crowd. – Yeah, I mean most of it. I remember that people forget,
I have family come in town, they say, well how often
do you go to Beale Street? I don’t. And that’s, I don’t
mean anything, it’s just i go to
these other places. It is kind of a tourist area. Is your point, and then
we’ll wrap this up, is it to say that
well, we’d like to see more African American
traffic and visiting, or is it, like what’s
the angle here? – I think, well,
a couple things. One is that the city of Memphis and particularly
the city council move in a way to create,
to move barriers from the opportunity for
transparent negotiation. So, you’ve got this
Tourism Authority which essentially
has not done anything that it was designed
to do in the two years that it’s been there,
that needs to go away, and so that’s one of the things. The other thing is
that when you look at appointing a permanent manager, then hey, we need
to move on that, and then the last thing
is, relative to supporting the businesses that
are on the street, particularly those
of us who essentially have been sort of,
and it’s so complex I won’t get into all the
details of our situation, but pretty much most
of those businesses have been the same way. They haven’t participated
in the marketing. They haven’t participated
in any of the things that benefits most of the
businesses on Beale Street. And so the goal is to
really get to a point where there’s equity
on the street. – And if people joined us
late, you are a tenant there. – [Bernal] Yes. – And so, you’re not objective,
you don’t have to be. – Sure, absolutely. – We disclose that. We’ll move on to
the legislature, and a variety of things
are going on there. I did spend, as I
think I mentioned, three days up there and
everything’s about the gas tax. I talked to lobbyists, I
talked to legislatures. You go into talk
about one thing, and inevitably you
talk about the gas tax, or as they like to
call it the user fee. I was at a thing where
some joked about that, it’s not a gas tax,
it’s a user fee. All this, the sense
up there is that it’s still not unlikely,
but it’s certainly the governor’s plan
is going to change, and you’ve got people,
particularly in the House, who don’t want to vote for
what is a tax increase. Even though, every structure is it will not be new net revenue. So, for every new dollar
they raise in gas taxes, they are cutting, and talking
about cutting other taxes. But, there are just,
particularly in the House, a whole lot of people who
don’t want to vote for, are afraid to vote for any
kind of increase in taxes. – Clearly, and a lot
of those legislators have run on no new taxes. – [Eric] Right. – And particularly those
that are in rural areas where the level of
income is not there. Any incremental increase
in the price of gas potentially has a real
impact to families and so I think they’re
going to be reluctant to support that in
any significant way without some changes. – Also, you bring up the rural, and there’s a lot of talk about, and we’ve talked about
this on the show, there is a real divide in this, it seems fairly obvious,
rural versus city. – [Bernal] Right. – And the way that
the deal is structured I think 40% of the money
that would be local options. So, Memphis would be
able to stay focused on Lamar Avenue and the
distribution corner. National really wants to focus
on that mass transit, etc. These local areas just aren’t
going to get that much. – [Bernal] Right. – So, if you’re a
rural legislator, and you want to be up there,
you’re not going to get a whole lot because you
don’t have the population, the drivers, the gasoline
being sold there. – You don’t have the
incentive to really, yeah. – Yeah, so Bill, I don’t
know, your thoughts on this, what you’re hearing from here. – Well, at the outset of
this, Bill Haslam said that what made this the right
time to raise the fuel tax, gasoline and diesel, what
made this the right time was the state’s two billion
dollar budget surplus. What’s happened to
him, and the reason that I think this is likely
to be put off yet again, probably for next year,
the last year of his term, is that legislators
have looked at that two billion dollar surplus and they have said this
is the exact right time to use that surplus
on infrastructure as opposed to
raising the gas tax. – Yeah, I mean you’ve
got a lot of legislators saying hey, why are we
going to raise taxes when we’ve got a two
billion dollar surplus? – [Bernal] Right. – I was at an event, Haslam
spoke, and he said look, if you start putting,
for one, and it’s a thing that you can’t underestimate. We’re one of the only states
that doesn’t issue debt for roads and infrastructure. I think we’re one of only three. We’re a zero debt
state on that front. Two, his point,
and there were some college university
people in there, he said if you
start pulling roads and infrastructure and so
on out of the general fund when we have a recession or
we have a slower economy, suddenly you’re
choosing between roads and teacher’s salaries,
university salaries. You know, in the
funding of the state. And so, he would like to keep it in different buckets
than other people would. But it’s a compelling
argument that others make. Look, you’ve got two
billion dollars in the bank that is uncommitted. You can, why do we need to
be raising taxes right now? The other thing was interesting, he talked about why
he brought it up now. He said, you know, at
the end of his term, he’s term limited
out, he didn’t think, he said the need is huge,
the state is growing, there’s this huge backlog, he
doesn’t think, didn’t think, that the next governor,
whoever it is, will propose it in
their first term because it’s such a
controversial thing
to raise taxes. So that we’d be
looking at six years before anything
significant would happen. That was interesting. He also talked a
little bit about you can sort of get a
little of nostalgia, a little looking back
on what it’s like. He talked about how
he’s met, he thinks, with all of the unofficial
candidates for governor and it was interesting
in that sense. You or, David
Kustoff was in town. We’ll switch real quickly
with just a minute left. What did you hear
from David Kustoff? – We heard that he
expects there to be Medicaid block
grants of some kind, the terms obviously
still to be worked out. He believes that the
Republican majorities have about three to six months to get on the road what they
want to do legislatively. They have a quick
time frame here in which to go with
what they think took them to Washington. – Yeah, and I heard a lot
about that up in Nashville. A whole lot of people,
some high level people, saying, you know,
Republicans mostly, careful what you wish for. They’ve wanted to
overturn Obamacare. Tennessee never expanded
the Medicaid expansion, but they’re, what,
100, 200 thousand. They’re many, many people
using Obamacare in Tennessee. That’s a tough
thing to take away. A benefit that they’ve received. That is all the time we have. Thank you, Bill,
thank you, Bernal. Thank you for joining us. Join us again next week. (bold music) (guitar strum)

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