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J'Accuse! Memphis City Council Or
"O what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive."
--Sir Walter Scott, Marmion, 1808

a commentary

(BenQQ 12.26.17) Queued up in the long checkout line in Kroger the day before Christmas Eve, my eyes drew to a raspy voice edging over the background noise. A big older white man wearing a red hat that first I thought was Christmas head gear was exhorting about something. The red hat wasn’t about the season. It was a MAGA—Make America Great Again—cap. The other people in line, mostly black, looked bemused or tried to ignore him, except for woman who unfortunately stood right behind MAGA man and to whom he directed his untargeted wrath.

What was the MAGA man exhorting about? In a textbook means-justifies-ends stratagem, city leaders had magically disappeared the city’s Confederate monuments before national media flocked to the upcoming 50th recognition of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. It was a perfect picture moment. As a photographer I wish I had had my camera. It could have been a common scene as drawn by the media of a typical Trump supporter inveighing against abusive government, complicit media and rotten politicos. He announced he would never again vote for (Memphis) Mayor Strickland.

MAGA-man's fulminations were not without merit. The City Council craftily had kept the vote effectively from public view, reportedly calling it an "emergency," on Dec. 20 to remove Confederate monuments from two city parks. With no debate on the ordinance and under cover of a late substitution the measure crept under the radar. It was slick, the type of administrative sleight of hand performed in front of everybody. Nobody noticed--or wanted to.

Just hours later with rapid cold efficiency under cover of fog and night cranes extracted the offending statues as a dentist would a bad tooth. To the mayor, City Council members as well as corporations and Chamber of Commerce types, the statues were a visual abscess in the smile of the city. Out they must go with or without anesthetic by "whatever means necessary."

Only no political anesthesia was used nor would have done much good anyway. Apparently no one on the scene felt any pain. The progressives who had long claimed the issue had the usual liberal support from news media. But little was seen nor heard from groups such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans whom the media ignored as if a crazy uncle.

At the extraction were elected officials and wannabes like Tami Sawyer of TakeEmDown901. (Another TakeEmDown group, TakeEmDownNOLA, is working to remove the statue of Andrew Jackson in New Orleans.) Opposing groups such as the aforementioned Sons of Confederate Veterans whose members relate a view of the old South drawn from familial experence apparently had not been tipped.

As such the politicians accrued 2 benefits in one stroke: avoidance of having to discuss a contentious local community issue while getting politically aligned with the perceived winning side on this issue. However, the unknown price that yet may have to be paid by their unnecessarily deceptive gambit are the lawsuits from a variety of stakeholders, especially those that claim you just can't give away valuable city property in order to sidestep government responsibilities.

Perhaps it was too democratic for someone on the City Council to suggest a solution the outcome of which would have most probably been palatable to everyone: a referendum. This would have been the history making community conversation that turned, if indeed that is necessary, the city to the future. By my relatives and cohorts (white), I found no one who disagreed with taking the statues down but everyone objected to how it was done. A popular vote would have put an end to the issue honorably and would have shown the media, to which Memphis "leaders" seem to be so sensitive, that the city can prevail on its own terms.

So what were they thinking? Did they think whites would overwhelmingly not support statue removal? Or did they not want to even risk the appearance of being on the wrong side of politics? The desperate move appears to me to be much like the Metoo movement. You don't want to be tainted so you join the chorus of condemnation Cultural Revolution style.

But this shabby affair does not end with the covert nocturnal operation of physically removing the statues. Our local government decided to give away two city parks for a token few dollars to a hastily created nonprofit in order to claim the parks were now private and the owner, Memphis Green Space Inc, could do what it wanted with the statues. One wonders why the parks were not put out for bid for any group to purchase at fair maket value. It appears as pure orchestration toward a predeterminedpurpose, especially when you consider the rewarded nonprofit shows little experience in managing open areas of any kind on its web site http://memphisgreenspace.org, nor does it present why Memphis parks currently are so deficient that the city must turn some of them over to its control. The topper of this affair is this nonprofit is owned by County Commissioner Van D. Turner, Jr.

The mission of this new non-profit (set up Oct.10), elsewhere oddly referring to itself as an “entity,” declares, “Parks over the past 40 years have suffered a significant “disinvestment” where many of the parks in our community have deteriorated from a lack of maintenance, funding and erosion of community engagements in planning for preserving, maintaining and enhancing parkland.” Now, as far as I know from producing a short documentary (link below) on the group, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, one group reportedly bringing a lawsuit, had voluntarily maintained it when it was called Forrest Park.

The wording within the Memphis Greenspace mission statement is rich with rhetoric and poli-code: “…provides park-based recreation within the City of Memphis to start, strengthen and support neighborhood and community involvement.” What parks do not have community involvement nor for that matter inherently does not invite neighborhood participation? Never does the web site, the contents of which are obviously drawn for the purposes of getting virtually free city property, mention monuments. Further, the web site itself provides little ways to communicate with only providing a form allowing for 150 characters. No emails are listed.

It turns out, analogy to Trump era continuing, County Commissioner Turner made a killer deal and the city got killed by giving away Health Sciences Park the County Assessor's Office values at $950,000. The date was recorded at 8:19 AM Dec.21 but the deed itself is dated Dec. 20. However, the mayor's signature is witnessed on the 15th of Dec. That begs the question: why did they introduce it as an "emergency" item on the agenda? There was plenty of time to get it on the Council's agenda. Further, where did the mayor get the authority to sign it. There had not been a vote. It would appear to me from notarized records the mayor and the city attorneys knew the fix was in. Did the City Council?

Oh, and now sure to be brought up in this new wave cultural tableaux of group and class virtue signaling certainly will be calls to remove statues of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for his well documented road sexcapades. But let's not ignore Elvis for his own reported pedophilic activities in full view of the winking authorities as well as of numerous politicians and entertainers about which there has emerged reports of various levels of social disapproval. Already mentioned of the monument killers: America’s first official ethnic cleanser Andrew Jackson who created the Trail of Tears.

Even though the take-downers have a valid argument about Confederate statues on public property, I suspect taking down monuments and its related activity, erasing disagreeable history from textbooks, becomes the easy political drug of each suceeding generation. I could see the whole movement evolving to its most successful activist having a statue holding a sledge hammer standing on a pile of burning books.
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Just to get a view of the the other players you probably will never see in any media, watch Ghost and Symbols--Last Stand of the Confederacy--a look at the convention of the Sons of Confederate Veterans national convention I made somewhat by accident ten years ago, held at Forrest Park.
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Ben "BenQQ" Harrison is a writer, photographer and web worker in Memphis, TN. He runs www.memphispixnews.com and other sites. His bio can be accessed at the "BenQQ" link on www.benjharrison.net.
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