MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee (ACLU-TN) intervened in a lawsuit against City Memphis after the city hall 'black list' was released.
ACLU-TN contends that the 'blacklist' "violates the First Amendment and a 1978 ACLU-TN consent decree prohibiting the Memphis government from monitoring constitutionally-protected political activities.
The Blanchard v. City of Memphis lawsuit was filed after the release of the 'blacklist,' which included members of the Black Lives Matter movement, Mary Stewart, the mother of Darrius Stewart, who was killed by an MPD officer, and several representatives from local non-profit organizations.
"This lawsuit asserts that many of the people who were on this list participated in protected free speech activities such as protests and rallies, but have no criminal record or history of causing disturbances at City Hall — which suggests that the city is once again conducting political intelligence actions against its residents," said Thomas H. Castelli, ACLU-TN legal director. "If any surveillance was conducted for the purpose of gathering political intelligence, it would flout the consent decree that's been in place for nearly four decades. Likewise, the creation of a police escort list based on people's speech, assembly, or associations would clearly chill protected expression, in violation of the First Amendment."
Even though MPD Director Mike Rallings announced Wednesday that protestors were removed from the police escort list, ACLU-TN said the initial list still "indicates potential violation of the decades-old consent decree."
"Almost forty years ago, ACLU-TN challenged Memphis government's spying on innocent people because it completely undermined their right to assemble and speak freely and their right to privacy. It's disturbing to find that we have come full circle despite the court's strong order to cease such activities decades ago, but if the city needs another reminder from the courts, we are prepared to see it through," said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-TN executive director. "Trampling on free speech rights and attempting to intimidate people who want to take part in the civic process did not make us safe in 1978, and it does nothing to make us safe in 2017."