Mayor Strickland: City won't break laws to remove Confederate statues

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Mayor Jim Strickland responded to the activists who called on him to remove Memphis' Confederate monuments and ban white supremacists.

Strickland attended the grand opening of the Novel Bookstore inside Laurelwood Shopping Center. It is replacing part of Laurelwood Booksellers, which closed in February.

Strickland addressed removing the Confederate statues in Memphis.

Strickland was very direct in saying that he wants the Confederate monuments taken down throughout the city.

"I think there's a difference between learning history and honoring people and putting them on a pedestal," Strickland said. "Statues, you know every city only has five or 10 statues, and you want to do that for people that you want to honor and really hold up literally and figuratively on a pedestal. And I don't think these two gentlemen fit that definition in 2017, and I think that's the reason we need to remove them."

However, he made it clear that he would not break the law to do it.

"I'm not above the law," Strickland said. "I don't have special privileges that the average person doesn't have."

He also said his employees aren't either.

"I'm not above the law, the same laws apply to me that apply to them," Strickland said.

It's the reason he says he has not ordered Memphis police officers or city employees to take down the two Confederate statues standing in Memphis City Parks.

"Breaking state law comes with a lot of consequences," Strickland said. "First of all, I, as mayor, and the city council, we take an oath, and that oath requires us to follow the law, including Tennessee state law. When our police officers are sworn in – which we had 85 of them last week, which I'm very excited about – they took an oath to follow the law, including the laws of the state of Tennessee. Therefore, we can't just go out there and won't go out there and just remove them in violation of state law."

The Heritage Protection Act passed in the Tennessee General Assembly in 2016, which prohibits the relocation, removal, or alteration of a war monument unless it is approved by the State's Historical Commission.

But with public outcry mounting, Strickland says the administration is looking at all legal options.

"We started this process four years ago and didn't really have an outcry from the public in support of it," Strickland said, referring to his time as a member of city council. "I'm very happy that now people are energized."

He said one of the factors that the commission takes into account is what the public thinks.

"Now this is building momentum, hopefully, they'll communicate that to the commission and maybe we'll have a hearing in September or October and get this thing passed," Strickland said.

Wednesday, a group of activists stormed City Hall demanding the immediate removal of the statues "by any means necessary."

"The few folks that are asking us to do that there is a reason that they're not doing it themselves," Strickland said. "Because it's against state law and they would be arrested."

However, one state lawmaker wants action now.

"It's an insult to the African American community to have these statues up in the middle of the city," said State Representative Antonio Parkinson.

Parkinson said with cities like Baltimore and Birmingham taking action, Memphis should too.

"Build a wall, cover these statues up, until they get through the process of the state," Parkinson said.

We reached out to the State's Historical Commission, the group responsible for giving the city approval to take the statues down. We have not heard back yet.

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